Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Summer of Spam

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Seriously. Don’t these people have anything better to do than bug me?

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

Monday, May 5th, 2008

The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation.

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, a book about organizing without organizations, gave a speech recently (16-min. video here, via Making Light; transcript here) in which he argued that the information age is akin to the industrial age, and what society has been spending its cognitive surplus on over the past decades is not gin, but sitcoms.

Shirky’s a good speaker; I recommend taking/making time to watch the video. He says that projects like Wikipedia are a societal shift away from consuming alone, toward consuming, producing and sharing content. He implies there is a limited future for passively received media. I see the self-destructing music industry as a good example. I also think that the more cognitive surplus there is, the greater the tendency for information to be free, meaning both available and at no cost.

I’m probably preaching to the converted and singing to the choir here, since many of you are bloggers and commenters who produce and share. But Shirky’s ideas have lingered since I watched the video, and I’m interested to see how many examples of movement beyond consumption to production and sharing I’ll notice in the coming days.

The Girl Detective Army

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Nancy Drew Spider Sapphire cover
My friend Duff sent me a link to The Girl Detective, which is much more political than mine. In addition to the pseudonym, we both run WordPress, have both read Scott Pilgrim volume 4, and I’m currently reading The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (thanks, Amy!), which she recently finished. There’s also Girl-Detective, the home of mystery author Diana Killian, fan of vintage crime fiction and films, both of which I only dabble in.

Seeing these other Girl Detectives sent me to my shelf for Kelly Link’s excellent story collection, Stranger Things Happen, which contains the short story, “The Girl Detective”. I thought this excerpt captured what I think is cool about there being multiple Girl Detective sites:

Some people say that she is not one girl but many–that is, she’s actually a secret society of Girl Scouts. Or possibly a sub-branch of the FBI

Vivent les Girl Detectives!

How Not to Sound Like a Pretentious Twit

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing (link from Bookslut and Morning News.)

Stretching for the fanciful – writing “he crafts or pens” instead of “he writes”; writing “he muses” instead of “he says or thinks” – is a sure tip-off of weak writing.

Harris mentions one of my personal non-favorites, limn, at the end, but he missed brio. It’s a musical term hijacked by the pretentious. I’ve only seen it in book blurbs, never actually IN a book, and I’ve never heard it used in conversation.

While I agree with Harris, I must shamefacedly admit to using his deadly words in reviews on this blog. I am duly chastened.

Just Say No

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

I yearn for a simple life, without literal or metaphorical clutter. Two kids, a house, and modern life, though, seem to conspire against me. Near constant vigilance is required to stem the tide of too much stuff. I give baby items my boys have outgrown to friends. I donate regularly. I take myself off mailing lists, but still, the crap creeps in. One of the most superfluous bits of modern junk is the podcast. I steer clear because life is too short, and my limited time too valuable.

M. from Mental Multivitamin periodically expresses the need for “no”. I recently agreed with Lazy Cow that I often hear M’s advice in my head, and count myself fortunate for it. She is a passionate advocate for the value of one’s time, especially as it relates to learning and writing.

I recently attended a writing workshop. I enjoyed it, and thought the writing within the group was very good. When the address list for the class was passed around, though, I didn’t add my email address. I feared looking snobbish and exclusionary. But I couldn’t subject myself to a mailing list, no matter how well intentioned. Some might argue that it’s quick and easy to delete. But it still takes time, and consideration that I want to spend on my current emails from friends and family, and the considerable backlog of correspondence I’ve got dating from when Guppy was born. The address list went around a second time. I think the woman sitting next to me thought I’d been skipped on the first time around. I steeled my resolve, though, and passed it on. I wish the others well in their writing, but I want to spend what little time I have on my writing, not on email about writing.

How to Concentrate

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Life Hack has a useful list of Ten Things for Concentration (Link from Scalzi’s Ficlets Blog)

I’m an aspiring writer, and a mother of two small children. I am easily distracted, and prone to feeling overwhelmed. This is a pithy list of good advice. I am heartened that I do many of these already: reduce noise, structure environment, isolate myself (I am typing this now on retreat, in a college dorm room by myself), try to get enough sleep, eat healthful foods, and avoid crappy ones.

This advice is not just useful for writers. It’s good for those who suffer from anxiety and stress, and for those who seek to simplify their lives.

Blog Rating

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Link thanks to SFP at Pages Turned:

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* hell (3x)
* sex (2x)
* ass (1x)


Sunday, June 17th, 2007

June 16 was the five year anniversary of Girl Detective. I have a new look, a new bio, updated copyright, and the most recent version of WordPress. I’ve also opened comments again. Apparently, I thought I’d have all of these soon after last year’s anniversary. Better late than never.

The Beginning


Thursday, June 7th, 2007

In “The Biology of Imagination” at Entelechy (link via Arts and Letters Daily), Simon Baron-Cohen argues that our capacity for imagination is based in biology:

So, what has all this got to do with the original question of whether the capacity for human imagination is, at its core, biological? For Leslie, the capacity for meta-representation involves a special module in the brain, which humans have and that possibly no other species possesses. In the vast majority of the population, this module functions well. It can be seen in the normal infant at 14 months old who can introduce pretence into their play; seen in the normal 4 year old child who can employ mind-reading in their relationships and thus appreciate different points of view; or seen in the adult novelist who can imagine all sorts of scenarios that exist nowhere except in her own imagination, and in the imagination of her reader.

But sometimes this module can fail to develop in the normal way. A child might be delayed in developing this special piece of hardware: meta-representation. The consequence would be that they find it hard to mind-read others. This appears to be the case in children with Asperger Syndrome. They have degrees of difficulty with mind-reading.v Or they may never develop meta-representation, such that they are effectively ‘mind-blind’. This appears to be the case in children with severe or extreme (classic) autism. Given that classic autism and Asperger Syndrome are both sub-groups on what is today recognized as the ‘autistic spectrum’, and that this spectrum appears to be caused by genetic factors affecting brain development, the inference from this is that the capacity for meta-representation itself may depend on genes that can build the relevant brain structures, that allow us to imagine other people’s worlds.

Biology, though, is not the entire story. The content of imagination, Baron-Cohen concludes, is primarily cultural. As always, it seems the answer is not either nature or nurture, but both/and.

Back to Blogging

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Hello, gentle readers. I was unplugged last week getting some serious R, R, R, and R: rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, and reading. What a difference it’s made. I think we all need extended down time periodically, but life as we know it doesn’t tend to support or encourage it. There’s always family to visit, and why don’t we take a short trip here, and this and that, and then the vacation time is gone. I would’ve benefited from a week away after I weaned Drake and we moved, yet instead I’ve been doing full-time childcare for about three years, now. This break was better late than never, and I’m enjoying every moment, and appreciating it as if it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity (though I’m hoping it’s not). Last week I didn’t feel like writing anywhere but in my journal or on a postcard; I didn’t turn on my computer at all. This week I’m hoping to ease back in, first on the blog and then onto the creative stuff. I’m excited to get back to blogging.

About Email

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

If you have sent me an email recently and I haven’t replied, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m swamped. Buried. I’ve got more than 350 emails in my inbox, and less time each day to manage them.

I read and appreciate each one, and thank you, thank you for all the kind words and thoughts. I do hope to reply, and soon, but digging out of 350+ is going to take some time. (Funny, the backlog dates from around the time Guppy was born, over 15 months ago.)

Michael Chabon, Fitzgerald Theater May 22, 2007

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

A few things, in list form about Chabon’s appearance, as I’m tired and feel a cold coming on.

One of Chabon’s favorite books is Pride and Prejudice. When the interviewer expressed surprise at this, his voice gently chided her as he asked whether she was surprised that he had picked it, or that it was considered great at all. He admired Austen’s ability to dial up and down her ironic and perfectly pitched voice in the service of her characters. He also said that Elizabeth Bennet is one of the very few main characters that he never tires of spending time with.

While he was writing three of his recent novels–Summerland, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union–people sent him books by other authors that had similar, out-there themes. He waited till after he’d finished his book to read them. (American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a book about comic strips, and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, respectively.)

Chabon no longer writes through the night, as he did when he was younger. He prefers waking early to spend the beginning of the day with his kids before they go to school, as opposed to 4 to 6 pm, which he noted is the hardest time of the day with kids. (Amen to that.) He also no longer writes short fiction, since the time he used to devote to it is now given to his four children, who range in age from four to thirteen. He likes to read fairy tales to them, since it’s something that can engage all ages.

Atwood: Read at Your Own Risk

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

A member of my writing group arrived last night saying she’d suffered a week of serious doubt: was her manuscript ever going to be finished, would it amount to anything?, would it be published, what was the point of it all?

The rest of us laughed sympathetically; we’d been in that writing slump before, and we will be again.

Later, as we were chatting about the books we were reading (because reading is an integral part of writing; it’s the yin to the yang), the doubting writer noted that she’d recently finished two books by Margaret Atwood, who she’d not read before. After a long period of avoiding Oryx and Crake for her book group, because she didn’t like futuristic fantasy, she finally began it, and was swept away and won over. She followed that by picking up Atwood’s Blind Assassin.

Aha, I said, seeing the connection. “Did you have your writing crisis after reading Atwood?”

“Well, yes, I guess I did,” she said.

“I did the exact same thing after I finished Alias Grace,” I told her.

Atwood is like a goddess of writing. We mere mortals pale in comparison. We should instead admire and learn.

While I haven’t read either of the titles that my friend did, I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber Bride, and especially Alias Grace. Cat’s Eye is an embarrassingly longtime denizen of my to-read shelf. To read excerpts of several Atwood books, visit The Daily Book Excerpt at The Sheila Variations.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Isn’t that a fab title? Too long, but funny enough to deserve its length. #12 in my 2007 book challenge was You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing by John Scalzi.

My husband G. Grod started reading Scalzi’s blog, The Whatever, a while back, and frequently shares entries with me. Scalzi is funny (Chapter 4: Science Fiction, or, Don’t Skip This Chapter, You Damned Writing Snobs), smart, and not shy about sharing how he manages to make a decent living as a writer. (Hint: it’s not book tours and Oprah, though he is coming to a city near you very soon to promote his new novel, The Last Colony.) Scalzi is a pragmatist, not a romantic. He writes for hire, and for fun. He picked the topic of his novel, Old Man’s War, by going to the bookstore and studying which sci-fi books sold well. He lives in what I grew up calling BFE Ohio, where the cost of living is low, the politics swing right, and culture isn’t entirely absent, though I would argue that fine dining pretty much is. (Scalzi also claims that central-ish Ohio is a great place to raise a kid. He’s entitled to that opinion. I was a kid raised in Ohio. I left at 19 with a drinking problem and a decided lack of worldliness. Both of those got better once I was out of Ohio.)

YNFA is a collection of his blog entries. Check out the archives at The Whatever. If you like what you read, you’ll like YNFA. Why buy it if the individual entries are available for free? One, you’ll contribute to the decent living that one writer makes. If you’re a writer aspiring to make money and be published, that’s gotta help to slough some karma. Two, the edition, by Subterranean Press, is very nice. It’s cloth bound with good typefaces. My quibbles? Page 271 has a typeface goof, and there are a sprinkling of errors throughout the text that a more careful editing should have caught.

Heartening, humbling, and fun to read.

P.S. YNFA sold out of its initial print run! If you’re interested, feedback to Subterranean Press might encourage a second printing.

Weekend Wellness

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

I woke Friday morning with a severe spike in my already considerable irritability. It was not long before I was angry and cursing aloud in front of the kids, which I’ve learned is a sign of rising anxiety for me. I sent off a quick email to a retreat center to see if they had any space. We have a babysitter helping us with childcare for now, so I left soon after she arrived, and went first to a yoga class, then to my regularly scheduled therapy appointment. I returned home better, though not feeling calm, and had almost forgotten about my inquiry to the retreat center. When I checked email at home, they’d replied and had a last minute cancellation at the hermitage, their private cabin for a solitary retreat. Figuring that the universe seemed to be answering my request, I said yes, then sent off a few emails and made some calls to alert friends that G. Grod would be on his own for the next 36 hours and could use some help with the boys.

My friend Becca recommended the ARC retreat center to me, and I will thank her forever for it. I’ve now gone twice, and it is a haven. The hermitage cabin has just what it needs and no more. Since I tend to anxious overdoing, I took way too much with me, but sorted things out when I got there.

Once I could think clearly, I realized what I did and didn’t need.

Did need: book, journal, fiction notebook.

Didn’t need: laptop, City Pages, two Entertainment Weekly’s, five books to review for the blog.

I also probably didn’t need any toiletries other than sunscreen, toothpaste and toothbrush. (And I would’ve liked to have fluoride-free toothpaste, since the cabin doesn’t have running water.)

The staff at ARC is wonderfully supportive, and the food they make is vegetarian, hearty, sustaining AND delicious. There was fresh bread at almost every meal, some wonderful gingered beets from a recipe in Sundays at Moosewood. I had a restorative 36 hours. During that time, I tried and succeeded at doing only one thing at a time; I didn’t multitask. I didn’t read while I ate (or in the outhouse). I also tried, and mostly succeeded, at not making a to-do list. I did one thing at a time, and allowed myself just one, “and then”. This worked surprisingly well, probably because I was in a tiny cabin in the woods by myself and chose to limit my options to: eating, sleeping, reading, journalling, novelling, and walking.

I have a huge crush on the book I took with me, that I finished this morning in between my first breakfast (yogurt with strawberry rhubarb sauce and granola, bread and butter, coffee with almond biscotti) and second breakfast (egg scramble with cheddar cheese and hummos). It’s Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

READ THIS BOOK. It’s funny, sad, honest and intelligent and it’s got some GREAT stuff on religion and spirituality. Gilbert is instantly accessible and empathetic. My only quibble (oh, I always have one, don’t I?) is Gilbert’s overuse of male pronouns for God. A little equal opportunity time for goddesses would have been lovely.

I came back this morning rested and with some little reserve that helped me to handle the boys screaming and poking and crying that has sporadically filled the day. I really needed to get away, and I’m so thankful and fortunate that I could do so. Thanks, G. Grod. Thanks, friends who helped G. Grod. Thanks again, Becca. Thanks, ARC staff. Thanks, whoever cancelled your hermitage reservation. Thanks, Liz Gilbert for writing an awesome spiritual memoir. Everybody rocks.

Friday Haiku

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

What Do They Put in There?

Stonyfield yogurt
crack for the younger set, in
cup, bottle or quart.


Sunshine gives, and takes
You banish suicide skies
Yet highlight all the dust.

A Cold, Well-Lighted Place

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

I’m writing in our basement, where the temp hovers in the mid-fifties. I have on a coat, scarf, warm socks, slippers. I put on gloves when the cold impairs my typing; I take them off when their bulk does same. Why type in the cold basement? The light is bright, even augmented by a few windows. There are fewer distractions. And it is two floors down from the napping boys, so I am less likely to wake them if I move around.

Sadly, Drake is having one of his ever-more common non-napping days, and baby Guppy did not get the memo that afternoon naps should last over an hour. Since I believe strongly in 2-hour naps, we’re having some conflict. It would seem I’m cold down here for nothing.

The Ironic Speed of Longhand

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

I have begun work on my second novel in longhand rather than on my computer. This didn’t start consciously but rather circumstantially. I found myself without my machine, so I grabbed a journal and started to write. Ever since, I’ve continued in longhand, typing up passages later for my writing group. This works well for me, since baby Guppy doesn’t nap often or for long. Though the computer seems like it would increase efficiency, it’s a false economy. By the time I boot up the computer, open the programs, and attach the mouse, precious minutes have gone by, and my resolve to work has lessened.

The Elements of Style, Third Edition by Strunk and White

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

#68 in my reading challenge was Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I don’t know how long this slender volume has been sitting on my shelf. A while, I suspect, since it is a third edition, published in 1979. (A fourth edition was published in 1999, and an illustrated edition in 2005.) More than once, a writing instructor has said it’s worth reading, not only as reference, but also cover to cover. I found it by turns perceptive, funny, and irritating. An example of the latter:

The use of he as pronoun for nouns embracing both genders is a simple, practical convention rooted in the beginning of the English language. He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances. The word was unquestionably biased to begin with (the dominant male), but after hundreds of years it has become seemingly indispensable. It has no pejorative connotation; it is never incorrect.

I disagree, for reasons detailed in the usage note on he from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:

Traditionally the pronouns he, him, and his have been used as generic or gender-neutral singular pronouns, as in A novelist should write about what he knows best and No one seems to take any pride in his work anymore. Since the early 20th century, however, this usage has come under increasing criticism for reflecting and perpetuating gender stereotyping. · Defenders of the traditional usage have argued that the masculine pronouns he, his, and him can be used generically to refer to men and women. This analysis of the generic use of he is linguistically doubtful. If he were truly a gender-neutral form, we would expect that it could be used to refer to the members of any group containing both men and women. But in fact the English masculine form is an odd choice when it refers to a female member of such a group. There is something plainly disconcerting about sentences such as Each of the stars of As Good As It Gets [i.e., Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt] won an Academy Award for his performance. In this case, the use of his forces the reader to envision a single male who stands as the representative member of the group, a picture that is at odds with the image that comes to mind when we picture the stars of As Good As It Gets. Thus he is not really a gender-neutral pronoun; rather, it refers to a male who is to be taken as the representative member of the group referred to by its antecedent. The traditional usage, then, is not simply a grammatical convention; it also suggests a particular pattern of thought. · It is clear that many people now routinely construct their remarks to avoid generic he, usually using one of two strategies: changing to the plural, so they is used (which is often the easiest solution) or using compound and coordinate forms such as he/she or he or she (which can be cumbersome in sustained use). In some cases, the generic pronoun can simply be dropped or changed to an article with no change in meaning. The sentence A writer who draws on personal experience for material should not be surprised if reviewers seize on that fact is complete as it stands and requires no pronoun before the word material. The sentence Every student handed in his assignment is just as clear when written Every student handed in the assignment. · Not surprisingly, the opinion of the Usage Panel in such matters is mixed. While 37 percent actually prefer the generic his in the sentence A taxpayer who fails to disclose the source of ______ income can be prosecuted under the new law, 46 percent prefer a coordinate form like his or her; 7 percent felt that no pronoun was needed in the sentence; 2 percent preferred an article, usually the; and another 2 percent overturned tradition by advocating the use of generic her, a strategy that brings the politics of language to the reader’s notice. Thus a clear majority of the Panel prefers something other than his. The writer who chooses to use generic he and its inflected forms in the face of the strong trend away from that usage may be viewed as deliberately calling attention to traditional gender roles or may simply appear to be insensitive.

The Elements of Style is a classic, and deservedly so. Much of it details the kind of common sense that is easily forgotten or confused. It is limited, though, both in scope and adaptability. I recommend The Chicago Manual of Style for the former, and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for the latter.

Good News on the Writing Front

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

After three false starts, my writing group says I’m on the right track with my latest draft. Attempt #1 was my draft from NaNoWriMo ‘04, #2 was modifying that to a single character, #3 was making that a four-person narrative, and now attempt #4 at novel #2 is something completely different. The three previous attempts are shelved, perhaps permanently. If I’m lucky, some stuff may work its way into this manuscript, or a future one.

I attended a panel discussion on writing at the Minneapolis Central library earlier this week. Sandra Benitez said she’d once written 50 pages that she’d had to junk. I’m fairly chagrined at the 200+ pages I have to junk, but it’s a huge relief to feel I’m finally on the right track.

The other writers on the panel were Judith Guest, her daughter-in-law Patricia Weaver Francisco, and Kate DiCamillo. Absent was Allison McGhee. All are part of a ten-person writing group, though they claim not to talk about writing, ever.

“We drink,” quipped DiCamillo, who also subverted her children’s book author persona by reading from an adult short story.

“_Adult_ adult?” asked Guest, in mock horror.

DiCamillo denied it, but the excerpt she read contained not only profanity (”I used ‘asshole’ so you know I mean business,” she joked) but a 60-foot tall sculpture of a knight that she described as “erect.” The suggestive adjective was one that Charlotte Bronte used several times in Jane Eyre, a book DiCamillo also evoked in her Newbery-award book The Tale of Despereaux, with her direct addresses to the reader.

The panel was fun, though superficial, and the few things I took away were only implied: writing is easier without kids, or when kids are older. Minnesota is a good place for a transplanted writer to live. And a late start isn’t a barrier to writing success.