Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Probably Not Fatal

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Was it possible to die of loneliness, Nicole wondered. She lay alone in the giant king bed, listening to the neighbors having raucous sex, and didn’t doubt it for a moment.

[this is another fragment of a bigger piece I recently unearthed, one that I thought worked as flash fiction on its own.]

“After Julian”

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Right after Julian left town, people missed him. Time passed, and they began to miss other things. One of his roommates, Adam, couldn’t find his portable CD player. Their other roommate, Jason, couldn’t find his concert T-shirts. The bookstore discovered it no longer had a copy of the Hardcover Oxford Abridged English Dictionary. A co-worker couldn’t find his favorite bong. One of his exes couldn’t find her favorite sweatshirt or U2 CD. As people talked, they began to put it together. The conclusion was unmistakable. And in the NW corner of the country, Julian was safe from reprisals.

About a month after Julian left, everyone still missed their things. But they’d pretty much stopped missing Julian.

[Found this when I was putting together a writing sample. It was part of a larger manuscript, but I wondered if it worked as flash fiction.]

Who Wielded the Most Literary Influence?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

From “Dickens, Austen and Twain, Through a Digital Lens,” (hat tip friend V)

Any list of the leading novelists of the 19th century, writing in English, would almost surely include Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain.

But they do not appear at the top of a list of the most influential writers of their time. Instead, a recent study has found, Jane Austen, author of “Pride and Prejudice, “ and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of “Ivanhoe,” had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.

Numbers aren’t everything, but I find it interesting to ponder that Austen and Scott–reductively romance and adventure, hers and his–come out, literary DNA-wise, as the progenitors.

Also, how awkward is the punctuation of the article’s title, given the NYT choice not to use the Oxford comma? Perhaps only we copyeditors (copy editors?) would care or notice.

This Might Be Irony

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

But it might only be irony is the Alanis Morissette aspect, in which it’s just fitting, thought it’s not sucky.

I started blogging nearly 10 years ago over at Blogspot to increase my writing practice, which was sporadic at best. I didn’t yet have a kid, though I did have a full-time job as a copyeditor. Over the next few years, I wrote a bad novel, had a kid, resigned that job, moved, had another kid, survived a prolonged bout of post-partum despression, and hung around long enough that Kid 2, Guppy, started kindergarten last fall.

Over the past 10 years, I wrote a few things that got published in obscure places. I’ve revised that novel several times. (I’m _still_ working on it.) I started writing for my grocery store, the Eastside Food Co-op’s newsletter about food and wellness. Based on that I got a gig writing for a local-food website Simple Good and Tasty. Then I got a gig writing about kids and food for Minnesota Monthly’s food blog.

Over the past year, blogging here has gotten less and less frequent. I realized just this morning that it’s because I’m doing so much other writing. So the blog I started 10 years ago has resulted in a regular writing practice. (NB: not a lucrative writing practice, alas.) So regular, in fact, that I rarely have time for the practice that led up to this regularity. Huh.

I’m not saying I’m going to stop blogging. It’s a hard habit to break. (Apologies to you if that puts the Chicago tune in your head.) But it may help me stop feeling so bad for how infrequently I post nowadays, compared to those early, kidless, gigless years. It’s a higher class of problem, or a nice problem to have, as friends of mine might say.

“Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson was recommended to me originally in the mid ’90s by one of my first writing teachers, Diana Cavallo. I took a copy from my in-laws’ basement on my trip west from Philadelphia to Minneapolis in 1998. It sat on my shelves until this year, when the same friend’s author mentor recommended it to her and she recommended it to me as happened with Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.

Anderson’s name is barely recognized today, and his most famous book relatively obscure compared to those of some of the writers who came after and credited him as an influence, like Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck.

The book is a novel in linked stories. Even though each story was about different people in the town, they all orbited one young man, George Willard, a reporter at the small town’s paper. His story is the anchor at the end.

The town is full of complex people leading quiet lives. They have painful pasts and often long for a lost love, or present sexual shenanigans. For a book from 1919, it’s quite sexually frank, I thought. I found it tough to get into but once the stories began to accumulate, I became involved in the town and its people, even when they thought and behaved badly, just as real people do.

Surfacing

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Greetings and Salutations, Friends and Readers! It’s been a while, no? Life’s been life-y lately, volunteering for an event at my kids’ school, applying to a writing contest/program, reading and struggling to understand Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, a case of double pink eye, plus the usual merry-go-round of family stuff like sports and piano and reading and writing and such.

I’m out of practice with blogging, but eager to get back in the saddle. I’ve got book reviews, a few anecdotes, maybe even some food posts, all banging like Athena in my head, trying to get out. I hope you’ll see some of that in the next few days, now that things have settled down a little bit. (Fingers crossed.)

Writers on Writing

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

My friend Amy of New Century Reading sent me a link to 25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer on The 99 Percent. I’m sure you’ve seen some variation of this article, where writers give advice on writing. It’s always useful, though, and this is a nice update with many modern writers. I’ve made good progress lately on the current draft of my novel, and these were particularly useful:

3. Esther Freud: On finding your routine…
Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

4. Zadie Smith: On unplugging…
Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.

Once, when I was lost, I took this advice and was able to quickly get back on track:

7. Bill Wasik: On the importance of having an outline…
Hone your outline and then cling to it as a lifeline.

And #25 is a great “grain of salt.” Hope you enjoy this, too.

Other Writing

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I need to leave for a meeting directly, and am frustrated with myself for yet another morning of not writing. (Please do not point out that I am actually writing. Writing anything of consequence is what counts, here.) My blogging habit is off, and I fritter my mornings away on Facebook, email, this, that and the other, then it’s lunch, nap, and time to get the boys from the bus. Poof. The time I thought was so free and open is gone.

I have been doing other writing, though, so I’m not an utter deadbeat. I also rejoined my writing group once 5yo Guppy started kindergarten, and am having another go at a novel. The fiction writing moves like atrophied muscles, or old, unused gears. But there is movement.

Here is some of the other writing I’ve done elsewhere, until I get back on the blogging horse/wagon/what have you:

Easiest Pumpkin Pie


Easy Turkey Pot Pie

My First Concert

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

This morning at the bus stop, one mom said she’d saved all her concert Ts, imagining she’d make a quilt out of them. I asked what her first concert was.

“Tesla!”

I asked the dad next to us, and he said, “Yes.” I was about to repeat the question when I realized he had answered it, which he clarified by adding “90125.” Which, thanks to my husband, who introduced 8yo Drake to Yes, gets played way more (meaning, at all) in our house than I’d like it to. Yeah, I remember the many versions of Leave It on MTV, and I owned the album on vinyl, but still.

My first concert was Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles tour. I told my friends this morning there was a story which I couldn’t tell while the kids were still around. I realized later I’d gotten mixed up in my head. The Sting concert isn’t much of a story.

I went with my friend P. We lived outside Columbus OH, and the concert was at a new outdoor stadium near Cincinnati. I drove. I think we bought some beer and waited to drink it there. Once in the stadium, though, when nature called, we discovered something upsetting. The venue had no bathrooms. And if we went outside the venue, we wouldn’t be allowed back in. In retrospect, this seems unbelievable. And perhaps it wasn’t true. We had been drinking. My memory of that concert is of holding it for 2 hours until we could finally leave the venue, and then waiting in what seemed an endless line at a porta-potty. Someone later told me that bladders don’t stretch. I’m pretty sure mine grew two sizes that day.

See? Not a great story. The one I was thinking of involved the same friend and going to see Desperately Seeking Susan. But that is another story for another day.

Back to School

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I started fifth grade on the second day of school. I was sick on the first day, with one of the terrible sore throats I’d have for eight more years till I got my tonsils out. While sore throats were normal, I’m suspicious of the timing; I was starting a new school. Again.

My sisters started first and third grades on time, but Mom took me to work with her at church. I forgot my book, so I spent the day paging through Christian family magazines. I’m not sure if I felt better the next day, or was more willing to face a new class than the church basement, but I went to school.

Kindergarten through fourth grades were in the elementary school, but fifth graders were bussed to a squat brick building on the outskirts of town. The Union school had two classrooms on two floors, with music and tornado drills held in the basement. At recess, my teacher told me to go with Renee, a tiny girl who introduced me to the other kids. Everyone wanted to know why I hadn’t been in school yesterday.

“Sore throat,” I said, using few words because it still hurt. I might also have been shy. It was my fourth school by fifth grade, while most of the other kids had been together since kindergarten.

At the end of the day, the bell rang and four classes of students clambered onto one bus. The driver was an old man named Dickie. I sat by myself in the seat behind him, reading the book I’d forgotten to bring the day before. It was a Trixie Belden mystery that belonged to the best friend I’d just moved away from. Our parents said we’d see each other, but she’d given me the book as insurance.

Off the bus and into the car, I pled my sore throat and let my sisters tell Mom about their days. On the forty-five minute drive to the apartment we stayed in till our new house was ready, I read Trixie Belden and wished we hadn’t moved.

###

(P.S. 5yo Guppy started full-day kindergarten yesterday. I said I’d get back to writing fiction when that happened. As with fifth grade, I’m starting on the second day.

After the move, my friend’s and my parents were true to their words. We continued to see each other. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and her mother just friended me on Facebook.

This sounds sadder than I thought it would when I started. I think it also sounds like my parents might be divorced; they’re not. Finally, while places and people might resemble those in real life, this is not necessarily truly true. It’s “pretty much all true,” as Olivia the pig might say.)

Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

I’m reading about Louise Erdrich as I prepare to discuss The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse tomorrow. In an interview she did with Bill Moyers, she includes this piece she wrote to herself as an encouragement to keep writing:

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew in a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls under the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzle
or the doll’s tiny shoes, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic.
Go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementoes.
Don’t sort the paperclips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience.

On Margaret Atwood and “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

From Nathalie Cooke’s Margaret Atwood: A Biography

Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale in spring of 1984 while living in West Berlin and finished it later that year. It was published in 1985 to critical acclaim and would go on to be short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. While she wrote it, her husband said to her, “You’re going to get in trouble for this one.” Though she was well known in Canada previously as both a poet and novelist, this brought her a larger, international, mainstream audience. Her American publisher ordered a second printing before the first was even released.

She claims the original idea came from a dinner-party conversation about the dangers of religious fundamentalism. “No one thinks about what it would be like to actually act it out,” she or someone else said. Then she said, “I think I’ll write about that.”

In 1983 she began to compile a scrapbook about “the religious right wing, no-cash credit-card systems, on the low birth rate and prisons in Iran.” While the setting for the book is Cambridge and Boston Massachusetts, Atwood had traveled to Iran and Afghanistan, and the repressive rules for women she encountered there were also part of the inspiration for the near-future dystopia of Gilead.

Cooke quotes Atwood’s argument that The Handmaid’s Tale is not science fiction:

Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn’t this book at all. The Handmaid’s Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid’s Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now. (277)

(Interestingly, this rejection of the SF genre is one speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy writers and readers would likely both agree and take issue with. They’d likely agree it was speculative fiction, but take issue with her separatism, since most works grouped in the sci-fi and fantasy genres can be better described as speculative fiction.)

In spite of this protest, The Handmaid’s Tale won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in 1987.

What I Am, Is Sick of Spam

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Hat tip to Bread and Jam for Frances.

Every time I sign in to my weblog, I have oodles of spam; the Wordpress filters seem particularly inept of late.

7yo Drake, who is looking over my shoulder, (watch what she types, Guppy!), added:

What a piece of work is spam.

!!! My seven year old is making puns on Hamlet. I’m so proud I could burst.

This is actually not (so much) a post to gripe about it, but instead to say thanks to longtime commenters and now friends (virtual or otherwise and not in a particular order): Amy R, Kate F, Weirleader, Steph, Carolyn, Vince, Sarah, Thalia, Jessica, my aunt, my father in law, MFS, Susan P, Inquirer, Camille, and others who I can’t go on to name since I have a boy at each elbow and am no longer at leisure. Many thanks for your ongoing conversations. While this blog is my attempt to practice regular writing, it’s made much more enjoyable and challenging by the discussions and perspectives you bring!

“Stop When You are Going Good”

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Scott Gavin has a great excerpt from an interview with Roald Dahl in which he talks about his writing process:

But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, the you are in trouble!

I found it synchronous with my own thoughts on both writing and being online, and my attempt to limit bouts to 20 minutes. If I stop at 20 minutes, rather than trying to finish up, I don’t end up going to a next thing, and a next thing, and looking up and hours have passed without doing much at all.

Having the confidence to “stop when you are going good”, coupled with the ability to crank it up again the next day, feels like a more mature place to be in terms of one’s personal creative process.

Yep.

Making Time, Again

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

In recent entries about the answer to “where do you find the time?” (here, from McSweeny’s, and a holiday version, in which I can’t believe I forgot to write: Don’t send cards, especially if all you’re doing to do is send pre-made cards with your signatures.) I noted my favorite Lee Smith quote about women writers. I was remiss in not mentioning my friend M who blogs at Mental Multivitamin, who has also influenced me, both in my attitude toward taking time, as well as in helping me teach myself what I value enough to take time for, like reading, writing, and, as she calls it, the life of the auto-didact.

If you struggle with finding time to read and write, or if you find yourself wrapped up in shoulds to the exclusions of things that nurture your self, be it emotional, intellectual, physical or spiritual, then this entry, and the links within it might help.

From “Where Do You Find the Time“:

I make time for the things without which I could not live — my family, my work, and my studies. And then I make time for the things among all the rest that will enliven my sense of self; and, of course, this has and always will include involvement with my community. But — and this is essential — it will be on my terms, not someone else’s

Finding Time to Write

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

One of my favorite quotes about writing is one I’ve posted before, but it bears repeating, if only for myself, though I bet for many other of my readers, by Lee Smith, for an interview she did at Indiebound:

My advice for young women writers is just do it. Don’t wait for some ideal point in your life when you will finally have “time to write.” No sane person ever has time to write. Don’t clean the bathroom, don’t paint the hall. Write. Claim your time. And remember that a writer is a person who is writing, not a person who is publishing. If you are serious about it, you will realize early on that (particularly if you expect to have children) you can’t take on a high-power career in addition to writing. You probably can’t be a surgeon, and have children, and “write on the side.” (On the other hand, you could marry a surgeon, thereby solving the whole problem.)

I have learned to live with levels of dirt, mess and laundry that I previously would not have tolerated. Writing is on my Maslow’s list of basic needs somewhere after sleeping, eating and reading. I do use the TV as a babysitter. As I write this, my boys are playing Gran Turismo on the Playstation downstairs. But isn’t that fair? I’m having screen time, so are they. Yeah, I’d like to restrict them to an hour a day. Most days I do. But how can I do that when I don’t restrict myself to that, and wouldn’t want to, or even think I should?

I have been writing for years. I’ve been published in other places beside this blog. This year, for the first time, I began to be paid for some writing. I am a writer. And writing with kids is hard. They’re smart. They recognize they’re not getting my attention, and clamor more for it till they get it, for better or worse. A friend of mine had her 3yo throw her laptop on the ground. So I find ways to squeeze it in. While they’re watching movies. Playing outside. My husband and I trade off chunks of time with them so the other of us can work. I trade playdates with other moms on a regular, scheduled basis so I get chunks of time to work; I work better in chunks than in slivers.

I write. I keep writing. Writing begets more writing. It’s a habit, just like exercise. It IS exercise. I’ve put fiction on hold till my 4yo Guppy is in school full time. That may be Fall 2011, or if he only gets into half-day kindergarten, it may not be till September 2012. And for all those platitude-spouting people who say the time goes so fast? I don’t find that’s the case; September 2011, and definitely 2012, feel a long way off. The only time I find going fast is the quiet time apart from kids when I take time to read and write. I love my kids and spending time with them. I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom by choice. But I also love spending time by myself. And writing.

Irony

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Yesterday’s blog post was supposed to be about making time to write. You’ll notice that it didn’t appear, as it hasn’t yet been written.

Instead, my husband asked yesterday if I’d make cookies so he could participate in his friends’ cookie swap at work. So I’ve been nerdishly finding recipes, making trips to _3_ different stores (though all were part of 2 combined trips for other things.) And not writing. (This doesn’t count. This is thinking “aloud.”)

Anyone care to wager how many of five recipes I’ll end up making? Here’s the pie-in-the-sky (or rather, cookies-in-the-sky) list: Metropolitan millet muffins (which I wrote about before but am not going back to find the link for; sorry! See–not writing; thinking aloud.) 2 types of cake-mix cookie (to compare, of course), red velvet whoopie pies, buckeyes and mint thumbprints. Also prepping to take a meal to a sick friend for tomorrow.

So, writing? Not so much. Also, please feel free to leave comments, as many of you do. I’m getting SLAMMED with spam lately, so approving (or not) comments has gotten discouraging.

Long Live the Colon!

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

For all my punctuation-geek friends, (of which I know there are many) “Colonoscopy: It’s Time to Check Your Colons” from the Millions (linked from The Morning News):

The jumper colon is a paragraphical Red Bull, a rocket-launch of a punctuator, the Usain Bolt of literature. It’s punchy as hell. To believers of short first sentences–Hemingway?–it couldn’t get any better. To believers of long-winded sentences that leave you gasping and slightly confused–Faulkner?–it also couldn’t get any better. By itself this colon is neither a period nor a non-period… or rather it is a period and it is also a non-period. You choose.

Sugar? Oh, Honey, Honey

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

For my foodie friends, I just finished a piece on sugar and sugar alternatives at Simple Good and Tasty.

Sugar is enjoying a resurgence in popularity after years of being vilified for empty calories and its role in things like tooth decay, obesity and diabetes. As the negative effects of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have become better known, sugar’s profile has risen. Cane sugar, as opposed to cheaper beet sugar, has especially benefited from HFCS’s bad press; it is actually being touted as a healthful ingredient. Yet cane and beet sugars are highly processed, refined and provide no nutritional value. Other, less refined, sweeteners have some benefits that sugar doesn’t. Yet nearly all of them raise blood sugar, and have little nutritive value. So why bother?

Here’s what I learned/confirmed:

Honey can’t be organic. Maple syrup and honey are the only sweeteners local to MN. All sugars are bad for you, though some are better than others IN MODERATION. Almost all sugars/sweeteners, even if natural, are processed (except raw honey). And finally, I still prefer to bake with not-completely refined cane sugar for the best results. Oh, and Stevia kind of scares me.

On Francine Prose

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

from “In Praise of Prose” at Commentary Magazine:

In a literary age dominated by absurdists, genre benders, hysterical realists, and post-modern transgressives, Francine Prose quietly goes about her business within the great tradition of the novel, coming out every year or so with a new book that unravels human complexities by telling an interesting story about them. Although she has received far less critical attention and praise than other novelists of her generation (Marilynne Robinson, Richard Ford, Jane Smiley, or Richard Russo), and though she has never received the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, or even the Orange Prize for fiction by a woman, Francine Prose has produced a body of work that, taken as a whole, is without peer in contemporary American fiction.

I’ve now read three by Francine Prose, A Changed Man, Reading Like a Writer and Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife. All are excellent, and I plan on reading more as I’m able. She is erudite, but accessible, and her work makes me want to read and learn more. Is there higher praise?