I’m thrilled today to be blogging at Seattle’s Crab Creek Review, one of my favorite literary magazines, about putting time and space between yourself and a piece of writing (it’s true: absence really does make the heart grow fonder).
I’m thrilled today to be blogging at Seattle’s Crab Creek Review, one of my favorite literary magazines, about putting time and space between yourself and a piece of writing (it’s true: absence really does make the heart grow fonder).
Happy new year, writers!
There’s nothing like a new year to inspire us toward new writing resolutions (especially if some of last year’s goals didn’t quite make it to completion in 2010…or is this just me?).
One of my goals for the new year is to begin a regular writing practice — that is, not simply to focus on projects but on the joys of random writing (which, as we all know, can have marvelous effects on our writing projects, whether it’s generating new material or finding the perfect piece to an unresolved puzzle). So I’ve been getting up early (early! before sunrise, believe it or not) and taking the time to write before doing anything else (with the possible exception of making coffee, when necessary). And so far, so good.
I like to use writing prompts to jump-start my writing session (I need it, especially at such an early hour), and I’ve been using the revised edition of Judy Reeves’ wonderful book A Writer’s Book of Days. I also have a great many writing prompts saved up from years’ worth of teaching writing — and so I thought one way to stay inspired would be to offer them here.
So each week I’ll be posting a new writing exercise — one that I’ve made up, or I’ll feature one from another author’s collection. And if you have a writing exercise to share — or if you’d like to point me toward one — please contact me; I’d love to include it.
This week, I’d like to feature Judy’s prompt for January 3 (from A Writer’s Book of Days):
You’re in a courtyard.
Intriguing, isn’t it? Just the sort of prompt I love to see on an otherwise blank page.
Happy new year, and happy writing.
Ever wondered about the subtle differences in accents between an Australian and a New Zealander? Or how to tell by accent whether someone is from Florence or from Sicily? Check out the Speech Accent Archive, which exhibits a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English all read the same English paragraph, and you can listen to a recording and/or view the phonetic spellings.
And speaking of subtle differences, characterization is all about getting the details right. Does your character say soda, Coke, or pop? Check out this map to see in which regions of the U.S. which terms are used.
If you don’t already have enough ideas for how to procrastinate, check out this short animated film on procrastination by Johnny Kelly. It’s funny as well as spot-on.
This neat little program from Pilot will turn your own handwriting into a font, so you can type “handwritten” letters.
And finally, check out Underwood: Stories in Sound, founded by writer Nathan Dunne, who turned his love for short stories and vinyl records into a twice-yearly publication produced as a vinyl LP featuring two writers.
Okay, now on to Day 2 of the Richard Hugo House Writers’ Conference.
After much coffee on Sunday morning, I presented Think Outside the Book — a session on the myriad ways to market one’s book. We talked about Web sites, social media, blogs, building one’s platform, and the importance of “think not what your local bookstore can do for you, but what you can do for your local bookstore.” Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts from the session:
After my own session, I sat in on poet Kelli Russell Agodon‘s fantastic workshop on applying for grants and residencies. As both a winner of numerous grants and residencies as well as a panelist on award committees, Kelli had some terrific advice. Among the gems: Set yourself apart (selection committees read hundreds of applications, so it’s important to stand out); keep it simple (don’t offer too much information, which can be distracting, and remember that committees can be very diverse — send a work sample that connects with people on a human level rather than a strictly artistic one); and follow the guidelines exactly (one of the surest ways to be disqualified for a grant/residency is to have an incomplete application). She also emphasized that often winning is all about luck and timing, and quoted Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”
Attorney Mark Wittow’s session Know Your Rights provided a great overview of legal issues for writers, focusing mostly on copyright laws. I learned a couple of new and interesting things — for example, that research data is not protected by copyright (only the expression of the facts is protected). Copyright laws are fairly complex, but writers with questions can visit the U.S. Copyright Office web site for more info. Also, for a $20 donation, Washington writers and artists can visit a free legal clinic run by Washington Lawyers for the Arts.
This blog can in no way summarize the entire weekend, and it can’t capture the wonderful energy of so many writers together for two straight days, sharing ideas and information and enthusiasm. If you couldn’t make it this year, stay tuned to Hugo House, and register early for next year’s conference.
I spent the entire weekend blissfully immersed in all things writing at Richard Hugo House’s first writers’ conference, which centered around the theme of Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century. Panels and sessions were divided into three tracks: publishing, self-promotion, and writers’ tools. Other than the fact that I was, sadly, unable to be in two (or three) places at once, it was a fantastic weekend — and I thought I’d share a few highlights.
Saturday morning’s plenary with Matthew Stadler was inspiring. A novelist as well as a longtime publishing pro and co-founder of Clear Cut Press, Stadler believes that, despite all the current woes and gloom currently surrounding the publishing industry, the twenty-first century will be better for writers than the twentieth. He believes publication should be cheap and easy, and that our goal as writers should be to connect to our audiences one person at a time, one book at a time, and to develop lasting conversations within our communities. His current project, Publication Studio, is “an experiment in sustainable publication” whose books include works by Seattle authors Stacey Levine and Matt Briggs.
After the plenary, I sat on a panel about support networks for writers with Janna Cawrse Esarey, Tamara Kaye Sellman, and Jennifer Culkin, in which we shared our experiences of how writing networks have helped us market our work, from the submission stage through book promotion. Most important, we all agreed, is having clear goals in mind, meeting regularly, and not only sharing ideas but joining together for events and conferences.
Publicist Alice B. Acheson offered an invaluable session on book marketing, speaking on everything from a writer’s “pre-pub platform” to filling out that seemingly endless Author Questionnaire (and yes, every single paragraph of that thing is important for one reason or another). She had good, practical advice for planning events (BYO postcards and posters; always confirm in advance that books have been ordered), reminded everyone that marketing starts when you begin your book (think of your audience), and encouraged good karma: visit independent bookstores often.
Priscilla Long‘s Tricks of Virtuoso Creators focused on the balance between creating work and getting it out into the world, and she pointed out that most masters of their art are able to create masterpieces because they are constantly creating. She set herself a goal of submitting one work each day, and while she fell a little short, she did finish 300 submissions, and got 11 acceptances. Doing this, she points out, not only gives you an idea of your acceptance rate but also keeps the cycle going: In order to submit, you must create; once you create, you then have work to submit. A couple more tips from this session: Keep a list of everything you’ve ever written, and write for at least fifteen minutes a day.
More coming soon, covering Sunday’s sessions…
It’s been only a couple of years since National Short Story Month was designated by Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network — and as this Poets & Writers article notes, the idea was first floated by The Story Prize‘s Larry Dark back in 2003: “I think the story needs advocacy as a cultural institution the way poetry has done … There’s a national poetry month, and I think there should be a national short-story month, too.”
While National Short Story month may not yet have the organizational and institutional support of, say, National Poetry Month, it still deserves recognition, celebration, and support. Here are a few ways in which readers and writers can do just that …
— Read and support the literary magazines that publish short fiction. There are far too many to name here, but this month, consider one of the many magazines devoted solely to short stories — Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Freight Stories, and Fiction Magazine, to name a few.
— Mark your book club calendar. If you’re in a book club, designate May as the month you read a story collection, if you haven’t already. If it’s too late to make this month’s pick, mark your calendar for May 2011.
— Think about the last short story you enjoyed, whether it was in a journal or a book-length collection, then talk it up: tell your friends, family, colleagues, and/or book club about it. Share the love; spread the joy.
Happy Short Story Month to all.
In honor of National Poetry Month, poet and blogger Kelli Russell Agodon has gathered together 51 generous people to give the gift of poetry, i.e., free books. What better way to celebrate?
To enter the drawings, visit Kelli’s blog for links to the participating bloggers/poets/poetry lovers.
Enjoy — and spread the word!
Happy National Poetry Month.
I always enjoy presenting at the Southern California Writers’ Conference in San Diego, in part because it’s a great excuse to travel south from Seattle in February (it was not only sunny but in the 70s!) — and also because it’s an exhilarating, exhausting-in-a-good-way weekend. Even better, I get to see old friends and meet amazing writers.
Among the friends at this year’s SCWC were Clare Meeker, who presented on creating commissioned stories (she’s in San Diego all week promoting her book Charge Ahead, commissioned by KPBS public television in San Diego as part of a national “Raising Readers” grant to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from the U.S. Department of Education). Among the gems of Clare’s presentation were reminders that a writer always needs to be thinking outside the box, and not to take no for an answer: an editor who once told Clare that they only used in-house writers later published two of Clare’s books.
During the banquet I got to catch up with Judy Reeves, whose A Writer’s Book of Days will be reissued this fall; keep an eye out for that, even if you already have a copy — the new edition will have all new prompts and literary quotes. I also had the pleasure of sitting with Tammy Greenwood, whose new novel, The Hungry Season, was published in January. She gave an inspiring keynote that evening, as well as a great session the next morning on creating substantive characters.
I always enjoy the agent/editor panel, and this year, I felt a bit more optimism about publishing in the air. The panel talked about book promotion, making a few important points, among them: Writing and selling a book is half the process, while promotion is the other half; there’s less and less money available for in-house publicity, so this job is falling more and more to authors; authors must be creative with marketing and/or save some of their advance dollars to put toward hiring a publicist.
They also talked about e-formats, and none had any violent thoughts on the subject, which indicates that the non-retail part of industry is becoming more accepting. One editor noted that the e-formats do not affect print runs at her publishing company — they do the same print run they’d do with or without e-books, and adding e-formats only increases readership beyond what they’d be seeing with traditional paper books.
In response to a question from the audience, the panel addressed self-publishing, noting that they don’t normally take on self-published books (the average sales for a self-published book is about 100 copies), but that their interest is piqued whenever a self-published book sells 2,500 copies or more.
And of course, members of the panel talked about their pet peeves — and I always think this is worth noting in detail. The list seems to be the same year after year, but apparently this is because writers are making the same mistakes year after year. So take note: among the most common submission mistakes to avoid are…
– approaching an agent or editor the way he/she does not want to be approached (calling when guidelines specify email contact only, for example)
– sending material the agent doesn’t represent or the editor doesn’t publish
– sending work that has not been edited or proofread
– sending work that is too long (noted one agent: “Anything over 100,000 words is a red flag — it’s hard to sell anything over 90,000 words”)
– sending emails to multiple agents at the same time
– misspelled words in a query letter (including — and especially — misspelling the word query)
– telling agents or editors that they’re going to “miss out” or that the book is “a guaranteed bestseller”
– writing, “here is my fictional novel”
– forsaking professional writing when using email – queries should still be written professionally
Overall, the conference was informative and also inspiring. One of the best things about this conference is that because it’s in February, it’s still early enough to make good on the new year’s writing resolutions. So now, back to work…
Okay, I’ve just learned that today, September 24, is National Punctuation Day.
Now, parts of this national holiday are a little frightening (such as the recipe for Punctuation Meatloaf), but otherwise I have to admire any effort to teach people about proper punctuation. On the NPD site, you can learn about the proper uses of everything from the ellipsis to the semicolon, as well as how the NPD founders are taking punctuation programs into the schools. The site even offers suggestions for how to celebrate National Punctuation Day.
Happy, correct punctuating to all.
This is going to be one of those random posts about stuff I think is cool.
First, there’s today’s LA Times blog about a unique call for submissions: editors are seeking photos of literary tattoos. By this they mean sentences or drawings that have so moved readers that they’ve permanently affixed them to their bodies: in other words, Tattoo Lit.
Also, there’s a lot going on in the world of publishing — in particular, news and talk about all things “e” in publishing, but I’ve just noticed that Nathan Bransford’s blog has covered everything I was going to chat about, so check out his blog. There are some good links to agent info, too.
And finally, Red Room has named the Seattle Times review of Forgetting English its Best Review this week! I’m very grateful for Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett’s review and for Red Room’s featuring it. My favorite line of the review: “Parts of these polished stories, if read aloud, would sound like a smart patient describing a dream to a psychoanalyst.” My second favorite: “This isn’t Chick Lit.”
A little drama out of Oxford to start off the week, from The Guardian: Ruth Padel, the first woman in more than 300 years to be elected to Oxford University’s chair in poetry, resigned after admitting she tipped off journalists about sexual harassment allegations surrounding Derek Walcott, who was also being considered for the post.
The Guardian article notes the sadness surrounding Padel’s resignation (“It would not have happened to a man,” said poet Jackie Kay; “Oxford is a sexist little dump,” said novelist Jeanette Winterson) — while a NY Times story reports that this scandal has exposed “a culture of jealousy and mean-spirited connivance at sharp odds with the university’s public posture of academic tolerance and reason.”
And yet another article, in the Telegraph, makes the point that, really, what poet isn’t a little scandalous? Dylan Thomas, for example, “drank like a drain, begged and stole from friends, fought with his wife in public, had affairs, and on at least one delightful occasion is said to have defecated on a host’s floor.” TS Eliot wrote “lines that could be construed as racist, and others as anti-Semitic.”
And it doesn’t end there: “Byron: womaniser. Coleridge: drug fiend. Pound: fascist sympathiser. Yeats: snob. Crane: alcoholic. Keats: smackhead. Kipling: imperialist. Hughes: another womaniser. Poe: married a 13 year-old. Verlaine: jailed for shooting one of his friends. Lawrence: pervert. Betjeman: had a bit of a temper on him, apparently. And don’t let’s get started on John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The booze, the sexually transmitted diseases, the mistresses, the page boys…”
To me, the real story is Padel, who seems to have felt, despite her obvious merits, the need to taint her main rival (ultimately causing him to withdraw from consideration), rather than letting the vote happen (the Times reports that Padel not only noted Walcott’s sexual harassment allegations but also “noted Mr. Walcott’s age, claimed that he was in poor health and pointed out that he lived in the Caribbean, not Britain” — and that she condemned the very reports she instigated: “it seems horrible, this anonymous campaign”).
Kay and Winterson both said this wouldn’t have happened to a man — but should it have happened at all? The allegations in Walcott’s past might have surfaced eventually — or not — but at least Padel would have won or lost the post honestly. Clearly she had no choice but to resign — and she left, as novelist Rose Tremain told the Guardian, “a moral question here – and I think it is unanswerable.”
May is Short Story Month! At least, it is according to Emerging Writers Network — and it seems to be catching on:
– BookFox has an all-time best short story list (held together by a “secret theme”)
– Poets&Writers presents an article making the case for National Short Story Month (after all, we have National Poetry Month)
– The literary magazine Ninth Letter posted a blog about in honor of Short Story Month
– Andrew’s Book Club features an appreciation of Alice Munro’s “Differently”
And of course, short stories aren’t just for the month of May … join me at Hugo House in July for The Art & Craft of the Short Story, Tuesday nights, 7-9, from July 7 to 28.
My plan was to write about Get Lit!, from Get Lit!, on a daily basis — but I soon realized that I wasn’t going to have that kind of time (they kept us busy, in a GREAT way). So here are some highlights and insights, all wrapped up into one nice tidy little post.
Arrived in Spokane on Thursday afternoon, with the sun shining and the temperature at something-warm-enough-so-I-didn’t-need-a-jacket-for-the-first-time-in-six-months. John and I had some time to explore so we walked around the falls a bit …
… before heading to the authors’ reception at the Spokane Club, where we met other festival authors. John and Jane Smiley talked about where they went to high school (it’s a St. Louis thing), and I was happy to meet (in person at last) the wonderful people at EWU Press who brought Forgetting English into the world.
Afterward we went to the Bing Crosby Theater for a hilarious reading by Laurie Notaro, followed by Jane’s reading from Ten Days in the Hills and a Q&A afterward. Among the things she discussed were the pros of living in a small town (Ames, Iowa, in her case), where distractions are few, day care is good, and everything is close enough so that the time you might spend driving around a bigger city can be spent writing … how, after writing 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, she no longer compares books to one another but takes each on its own merits, appreciating them for their individual idiosyncrasies … how she tackles research differently for each book … and how she no longer reads reviews, knowing that not everyone is going to like everything she writes and not minding it at all.
The conversation continued in the morning at our panel, A Female Perspective on Writing — where Laurie, Jane, Kate Trueblood and I talked about our writing processes; inspirations; and thoughts on topics from humor, style, and writing from a female point of view.
That evening, Charles Baxter read a piece he’d never read in public before: “Conversation Piece,” a lovely, poetic work that he’d written to accompany a dance performance. He then read from his novel The Soul Thief, which was inspired by a friend of his who had, inexplicably, started impersonating him, going around Southern California telling everyone he was Charles Baxter and even doing readings). The friend eventually called and confessed, asking afterward, “Do you think I should go into therapy?” (I don’t think a writer’s material gets much better than that.)
Baxter spoke afterward about, among other things, his process (to write, he needs a room with a window, but no phone or Internet connection) and about why so few stories are happy ones (“stories begin when things start to go wrong”).
On Saturday I did a reading with Brenda Miller, who read from her beautiful new book, Blessing of the Animals, and then co-taught a workshop on revision. That evening, we went to a fantastic reading and talk by scientist-environmentalist-author David Suzuki, which was a call to action to save the planet that was somehow not depressing but amazingly inspiring and uplifting. Visit his web site for info on anything from global warming to human health to sustainability — it’s worth it.
Sunday: left Spokane in the morning, stopped at a winery along the way (used the “it’s five o’clock somewhere” rule to justify tasting eight different wines), and got home to find that spring has arrived in Seattle at last.
I’m heading to Spokane for Get Lit! tomorrow, which is very exciting — but also wanted to mention what’s going on in Seattle, particularly tonight’s Letters from Temuko: A Bilingual Evening of Poetry, Story and Song at Richard Hugo House. Seattle poets Eugenia Toledo and Carolyne Wright will present a literary travelogue of their recent cultural exchange to Chile and read from a bilingual chapbook of work by Chilean poets as well as their own poetry and reflections.
I’m looking forward to Get Lit! this weekend — especially to An Evening with Jane Smiley tomorrow night, In Conversation with Charles Baxter on Friday night — and all the other readings and workshops taking place all weekend.
And, as if there weren’t enough to look forward to, I’m packing for sunshine and temperatures in the sixties.
As readers of this blog know, I get a little cranky when I hear about memoirs that turn out to have been made up. Today’s NY Times has an interesting story about the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano, whose two recent novels (2666 and The Savage Detectives) are not in question but whose biography is.
Apparently Bolano, who died in 2003, was not into heroin, nor was he in Chile during the military coup that brought Pinochet to power, as he has claimed. And American critics and publishers are being taken to task for “deliberately distorting the writer’s past to fit him into the familiar mold of the tortured artist.”
It’s no secret that writers and publishers need to think about sales — and aside from the writing, it helps to have youth, beauty, or some other angle or platform that helps sell books. But when writers have to start re-creating their own personas to sell books, we might be taking things a little too far.