Monday, September 05, 2011

My Blog Has a New Home

From now on I'll be posting on my new blog platform, which is part of my web domain,

Within a week or so I will have set up a permanent relay so that readers will be transfered over automatically, but for now, I invite you to visit by clicking HERE.

My first post on the new blog, "Before Writing Pays the Bills," is waiting for you there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Memoriam: from this morning's walk

I often walk through a park when I'm in Boston. As the sun was rising, I took off and found this portrait--along with a stray baseball cap, a notice about lost sunglasses, and other local info--tacked to the park's bulletin board.

Not sure if you can read the words. The bullets note how long the dog was a member of the park community and squirrel patrol. Moxie's political views favored off-leash legislation. Moxie was named for the drink, not for courage.

In just a few bullets we get to know Moxie and the humans with whom the dog shared a long, joyful life. Last bullet: Best Friend

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Mother's Bad Advice

When I was in high school, my mother told me: "Don't take typing. That way you won't end up being a secretary."

This is probably the worst advice ever. I had to pay friends to type my long papers in college. Remember: back then white out ruled and carbon paper. Cut and paste? Didn't exist. One mistake and you had to retype the entire page, sometimes the entire manuscript.

My husband says typing was the most useful course he took in high school. "No homework." He even enrolled in Typing II after a year of Typing I.

One summer in my 20s, I finally taught myself on a machine like the one pictured here. My husband and I were working on an estate in northern Maine--a remote spot where I had afternoons off. We had no car, nowhere to go anyway, and I had a series of interviews to type up. So I found a touch typing book and got started.

A traveling typewriter sales and repair man actually made house calls, bringing me new ribbons and taking machines away for repairs. Typing took a lot of finger strength.

My daughters say: "Mom, you bang so hard on your poor Mac."

And I say, "Yeah, and you girls learned how to type in high school."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Book in Hand and a Reading Tonight

The journey started a few years back when I offered a reflective writing workshop for a group of burned out women ministers and Christian educators--they gathered each month for a restorative morning together. We met again, and again, and began to envision a book of their writings. And now, voila! The first group reading from the book is tonight.

None of us had any idea on that crisp fall day back in 2007 that in 2011 we would be offering readings, reflective writing time, and workshops based on a book of their writings.

Writing begets writing. Meaning grows on the page.

Keep going. Even when you have no idea where you're going. Even when pages--and the hair you're yanking out--litter the floor.

Hang in there. Content yields to form, eventually. And the writing will take you places you never imagined.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I'd Rather Be Teaching

“Devote myself to my students, my teaching," writes Joyce Carol Oates in her raw and oh-so-real memoir, A Widow’s Story: A Memoir. "This is something that I can do, that is of value.”

She writes these words in the desperate weeks after her husband's death, when she can barely leave her bed but can’t stand being in her house, or anywhere, alone.

She continues: For writing—being a writer—always seems to the writer to be of dubious value.

Being a writer is in defiance of Darwin’s observation that the more highly specialized a species, the more likelihood of extinction.

Being a writer is like being one of those riskily overbred pedigree dogs—a French bulldog, for instance—poorly suited for survival despite their very special attributes.

Teaching—even the teaching of writing—is altogether different. Teaching is an act of communication, sympathy—a reaching out—a wish to share knowledge, skills; a rapport with others, who are students; a way of allowing others into the solitariness of one’s soul.

Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche—so Chaucer says of his young scholar in The Canterbury Tales. When teachers feel good about teaching, this is how we feel.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cats Get a Bad Rap

Walter had never liked cats. They’d seemed to him the sociopath of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals’ lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He’d never seen anything in a cat’s face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest. . ." from Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Excuse me, Jonathan Franzen. Cats are curious.

No sooner had I set those blue manuscript files on the couch and turned away to sharpen my edit pencil than Lucy curled up on them.

Both of our cats make our business their business. Always. Get out a suitcase? Lucy is in it. Tune in to the French Open Tennis on TV? Lucy's got her eye on the ball. Meet with a client? Lucy is there. That's not curiosity?

And as for self-interest: Well, living creatures no longer experience self-interest only when they're dead.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Forget what you learned in high school English

Like everybody else, I had plenty of topic-sentence obsessed English teachers and I've had plenty of students who have trouble breaking out of dreary opening beats.

Listen here to "This American Life" genius Ira Glass show how to drop that bad beginning and get to the guts of good story telling.

I found this on Jane Friedman's newsletter. Check it out.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Gotta Love Doing It .. . Writing that is

In Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Elizabeth Berg says, "What you have to be is in love. With writing. Not with ideas about what to write; not with daydreams about what you're going to do when you're successful. You have to be in love with writing itself, with the solitary and satisfying act of sitting down and watching something you hold in your head and your heart quietly transform itself into words on a page."
I saw this quote here.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Brand-Building? Just Do It.

In Sunday's Times Book Review, Tony Perrottot discusses all the ways authors have promoted
themselves, for millennia:

In 440 B. C. author Herodotus funded his own Aegean book tour.

In 1887, Guy de Maupassant launched a hot-air balloon with his latest short story title emblazoned on the side.

Hemingway made Ballantine Ale ads in 1951.

And so on. Feel no shame. Just get out there, like my press agent--pictured here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whatever Helps . . . To Get the Writing Done

Beverly Cleary, 95, author of the Ramona books and many others, writes:

"When I am writing a book I also enjoy ironing, an idiosyncrasy that probably makes me sound more domestic than I really am. Working with my hands frees my imagination."

After three delete all sessions and staring at the blinking cursor, I got out the old metal ironing board, pushed it open, and locked it into place. My writing companion cats skidded for shelter, puffed and shedding. Not a good sign.

I will take a short break, I told myself, and iron a blouse.

Okay, done. No aha moments. No breakthroughs. Sigh.

Hmm. Suddenly, I remember a rumpled shirt of my husband's. Opening his closet I am struck by the center-stage placement of the two suits he wears only to weddings and funerals--his everyday clothes jammed in the corner. No wonder he's a sartorial mess.

Fast Forward: His closet looks like the OCD fairy waved her wand: short-sleeved shirts stand at attention--like marching soldiers--all facing the same direction, neatly pressed, top button buttoned. Open my closet: more of same.

But the chapter I was writing?

Blinking cursor.

Fast Forward Again: I have put the ironing board away, especially since it quickly became home to piles of manilla files, bills, and magazines.

At last, I have found a spark, an image. Yes. Back to the computer and the project, cats by my side.

My mother and Ironing:

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Platform? What is it?

Everyone in my classes is asking about the author "platform."

A woman last night said, "I think it's getting out of control, all these blogs and websites and people putting so much time and effort into creating a presence on the Internet. Some day we'll all be laughing about this."


Some day, but not today.

And that woman, by the way, is finishing a memoir--and starting a blog.

For information and help, check out publishing pundit Jane Friedman's latest.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Coming Soon

Every week, I'm going to be posting a prompt, an excerpt with reflections about something I'm reading, and a quote or insight from a writer. The approaching spring is inspiring.

Anaïs Nin said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection."

"No matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom." Michel Montaigne

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Good writing. Duh

After reading a recent essay, I sent up a silent entreaty to the powers that be. Spare my writing students from coming across this. (I'm not linking to it yet, on purpose.)

You see, they are working really really hard to make their memoirs powerful: to engage the reader with compelling scenes, a reliable (or intentionally not) narrator, seamless compression and expansion, well-placed flashbacks and backstory, resonant dialogue, dimensional characters, a strong story arc, and so much more.

And this writer was knocking the memoir genre: "You think you have a story to tell? You're not special enough." That sort of thing. Sometimes I go into mother-hen mode. I didn't want folks to get discouraged. They shouldn't. Their writing is good and getting better.

So, I didn't blog about the piece, didn't want to attract attention to it because writers are incredibly vulnerable. They (we) have to work hard not only at our writing but at silencing the gnarly little gremlins that sit on our shoulders and spit in our ears: "Who's gonna care about this memoir of yours? Why bother? You and your little story suck. Ha! Loser."

The problems the essayist was lamenting were not, however, in the choice of subject matter. The problems were in the writing.

Sill,l I hesitated.

Then I found this succinct rebuttal and said: Yes, yes, yes.

Onward and upward everybody.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A New Imprint

Clearly the book world is a bit topsy turvy these days, like a Chagall painting.

Still, listen to this: The Pub Lab at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, has a new imprint. Lookout Books.

Under the direction of Emily L. Smith, the imprint has published its first book, a collection of short stories by Edith Pearlman. Never heard of her, right? A glowing review landed on the front page of the Sunday Times Book Review.

This is rare, for an unknown spanking-new publishing venture to hit pay dirt with book number one.

I remember the Pub Lab. I worked with it a few years back to publish a posthumous book of poems I co-edited by Sue Versenyi. A student helped with layout and production. We met in part of a prefab trailer-ish building. The lab's function was to teach students about publishing. I saw a bunch of Macs in a messy space and listened to the then-director complain about not having money for projects.

Writers take note: Many of the authors Lookout Books plans to publish will have first appeared in the UNCW journal, Ecotone.
“We want to publish poetry, essays and debut novels,” Smith said.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Thorny Undertaking

"It is a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of the innermost folds, to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings that agitate it."

I read this Montaigne quote sitting in a pub at the airport yesterday waiting for my flight home from Philadelphia. I had traveled to the City of Brotherly Love because my mother was dying and indeed did die with me at her side.

Where to begin with the jumble of thoughts, images, and feelings all vying for air time. Finally I had time to sit and reflect. But where to start amidst the flutterings? I knew it didn't matter where I began--I just had to begin. Something my father said burst into my kaleidoscopic mind and lingered long enough for me to tackle it.

When my sister told him that her Episcopal priest was coming to deliver (or is it offer?) last rites and pleaded with him to be civli (my dad is a Quaker with little tolerance for religious traditions) he said:

"Hell no. I'm gonna punch the guy in the nose."

Aha. Go from there, I told myself. And I did. Sometimes a line of dialogue offers an excellent springboard into writing.

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