Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Ah, New Year's Day. One of my favorite holidays. Better than Christmas or Thanksgiving. There's none of that frenzied pace, but a day of R&R--at least in my house: Relaxation and Resolutions.
Relaxing-- post-party-- from the night before (with maybe a hair-of-the-dog Mimosa to kick off the day.) And then a languorous afternoon of reflection and writing down (or about) the year's resolutions.
And of course, on the stove, big pots of collard greens (seasoned with olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper) and black-eyes peas (soaked overnight, then cooked for hours). Corn bread baking, and potatoes mashed and buttered. Also, something chocolate.
Beans and greens on New Year's Day bring good fortune and wealth-- the "greens" are cash, the peas are coins. I've heard this traditional menu started after the Civil War, when collard/turnip/mustard greens and black-eyed peas were about the only crops left in the South.
I wouldn't start a new year without it.
Friday, December 19, 2008
In my family it is pink and cold.
Read the rest over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, where' I'm guest blogging. Happy weekend.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The Writing Room is a program we started here in Upstate SC offering classes to writers of all levels. It's sponsored by the nonprofit Emrys Foundation. January's offerings include a seminar on dialogue by yours truly and a 9-week advanced class, taught by novelist Ashley Warlick, for folks who have a manuscript. Here's a link for more information.
SEMINARS AND WORKSHOPS, WINTER 2009
with Mindy Friddle
When dialogue in fiction and creative nonfiction is working, it helps to create rich, believable characters and drives the story forward. So how do you write believable dialogue? When should we hear a character speak? And how might dialogue be used to complicate a character or story? In this seminar, we'll examine dialogue in several fiction and nonfiction pieces. We'll discuss how to create conversations between characters that sound spontaneous and lifelike--not monotonous. Participants will be invited to do in-class writing exercises designed to help write sharper, richer dialogue that rings true, reveals character, creates tension, and adds depth through subtext. This is designed to be a fun, informal seminar for writers at all levels who are looking for fresh approaches to writing dialogue.
Level: All levels, Beginner to Advanced
Saturday, January 17
2:00- 4:00 pm
Location: Innovate Building Conference Room, 148 River Street, Greenville, SC
Fee: $25; $20 Emrys member
Works in Progress: Focusing on Your Book Length Manuscript
with Ashley Warlick
This popular class is for experienced writers with a book-length manuscript of either fiction or nonfiction in progress. Each student will submit 40 to 50 pages of their work to be closely read and carefully considered by both the instructor and the group, providing the center of one full class period's workshop. Through constructive, frank critique, both given and received, students will learn to identify and address what works in a manuscript and what does not. Expect to come away from the class with specific reading assignments and concrete recommendations on how to improve your novel, memoir, or collection.
This workshop may be taken more then once.
9-week class, 3 hours each class,
Starts January 20
Tuesdays,6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Location:Furman University, Modern Languages Department
Fee: $360; $340 Emrys member
Class size limited to 8 people.
Registration [and the waiting list] for this class closes January 16.
Seminars and Workshops, Spring 2009
[To be announced soon]
Monday, December 15, 2008
Guggenheim Fellow & Wally fiction writer Vyvyane Loh talks about her 42 minutes of daily writing and her 12 pet bunnies.
Cindy: A few months ago, we were talking about whether—and how much—we were writing. I was failing to get enough writing done, and you told me I was setting my goals too high. You shared with me your own strategy, which mirrors the strategy you use with your patients who are trying to lose weight. It’s a strategy I think every writer strapped for time (certainly all moms!) should know.
Vyvyane: I try to set laughable goals. 20 minutes of writing per day, or 40 minutes if it’s an easy day. I tell my patients who are trying to lose weight to walk for NO MORE THAN 5 minutes for the first week of their weight loss program, and they always come back saying they felt so silly only exercising for 5 minutes that they walked for 10 minutes, or 20, or even 30 minutes. The extra time is fine, but you get points for doing the minimum, which is how I try to set up my writing time as well. I write for 42 minutes each morning—the extra 2 minutes makes me feel very virtuous. I use a timer and there are lots of days when I have one eye fixed on the seconds ticking away and one eye on the screen, and when the timer goes off—relief! I’m done! Yippee yay!
I did write lots in spurts—50 pages over 3 days, 25 pages over a couple of days, but most of it was written in my 42 minutes per day!
I am reminded of the spin class you used to teach—a hard-driving hour of cycling at 8:00 on Saturday mornings. One day, I found myself sitting in front of these two burley guys, who obviously thought this would be a walk in the park. They chit-chatted their way through the warm up and into the first song, and then after a bit of panting, I heard, “She’s kicking my ass!”
Yeah, I figured we should work as hard as possible for the hour and then forget about it for the rest of the day. It’s not too different with writing. There’s so little time to write, so I try to go full steam ahead for the 42 minutes and then not agonize over not doing more for the rest of the day. Remember our motto of keeping the small picture in view and forgetting the big picture. I think you told me that one time, and I keep reminding myself now when I feel overwhelmed: just stay with the small picture.
It’s a bit paradoxical, isn’t it, that you say you focus on the small picture, and yet your work is decidedly big picture. Your first novel was set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore during WWII. And this second novel tackles suffering in Rwanda, Haiti, and Afghanistan. Time and place and how your story reflects or interprets the world are very important to you. Can you talk about this?
Yes, I suppose I do keep the big picture in mind when I write. I am always conscious of how various events in my book are seen through the lens of what is happening in the world. I have never forgotten what I learned when I was a Classics student in college: that when Agamemnon left Greece to fight in the Trojan War, he chose—not a general, not a politician—a poet to rule in his place, because he felt that the poet was the moral conscience of the people and that this conscience would steer his kingdom on the right path. That really stuck with me, and it’s always at the back of my mind when I’m writing.
Let’s talk for a moment about starting places. We’re often encouraged to start with character or place—even an image that ignites us. For you, though, the impetus is theme. Can you talk about this?
You’re right that I don’t start with character or plot. I tend to start with ideas and yes, I suppose, theme. I spend a lot of time reading non-fiction on things or ideas that fascinate me and sometimes they captivate me so much that I want to write a book about them. And often, it’s because there’s something that I’m struggling with—a concept or an idea that I want to embrace but can’t for whatever reason—that I end up writing about it.
It feels a bit narrow to categorize you as a fiction writer. With Breaking the Tongue, you were certainly a historian. And with your new novel, you have taken on the role of translator—a role I think you’ve particularly enjoyed.
I’ve been interested in literary translation ever since I took a translation seminar with Rosanna Warren in college and read George Steiner’s After Babel. I still go back to that book every year, believe it or not. I taught myself Portuguese because I wanted to translate Drummond and Pessoa and Machado de Assis. My current book deals with translating a poem by Paul Celan. I wrote poetry when I was in college. I only started writing fiction about a year and a half before Warren Wilson. I was tempted to apply in Poetry but chickened out. There are lots of things I would love to get round to writing if I had the time (or if Oprah would give me a break): poetry, more translations, plays.
One last question: You have no fewer than twelve bunnies in your house. These are animals that you’ve fostered or adopted when they needed homes. Is this yet another example of everything-Vyvyane-does-she-does-with-intensity, or is this your moral conscience at work? Or is this, perhaps, your human attraction to things soft and fuzzy?
I have 12 bunnies, 1 dog and 1 parakeet, 1 hus-bun. Cleaning up after them takes 2 hours of my day! (Well, I’ve sort of trained the hus-bun to fend for himself). I’m a big animal advocate. I think it’s part moral conscience—I hate the way we’ve messed up Nature and blame her for everything. I mean, you’ve heard of people who move to the wilderness and then complain about those damn bears in their garbage all the time and then plot to shoot them to make the place “safer.” The bunnies I’ve adopted were mostly Easter dumps. They have wonderful personalities and one of them, Oolong, is my personal paper shredder. I show her stuff that I’ve written that I’m not too hot about and she chomps on it and poops it out later. Her way of saying, “This stuff is s**t.” Literally.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
With waves of laid-off journalists (the Chicago Tribuen going under? WTF?)and talented writers, historians, editors, researchers around these days, there's word it might be time for another FWP.
Here's an article on why President-elect Obama should resurrect the WPA and bail out laid-off journalists and a cheeky essay on how a modern FWP might work (bottom line: writers aren't in it for the money anyway. They are compelled to write. They can't help it.)
I think this is an excellent idea. I just have one question. Where do I sign up?
Monday, December 8, 2008
My interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago by the above cartoon, because a caption flew into my head when I saw it:
But I thought you always wanted a lot of kids.
Since then, I turn to to the back of each new issue of the New Yorker so I can see who won the weekly cartoon caption contest. In fact, I've started to spend way too much time trying to think up pithy, biting captions. Some people have crossword puzzles or that sudoku math thingy, but this is a lot more fun. It's also way harder.
Who would have known the contest has its own obsessive subculture? Here's an essay in Slate about how to enter and win. Each week something like 6,000 people submit captions. Some really lucky (or long-suffering, depending on your point of view) staffer's sole job is to pluck out 50 from that brier patch, which are then weeded down to three finalists by a Wise, Knowing Editor. The public/readers are invited to vote on the winner.
I didn't send it in the goat cartoon caption because it was too late. So I just decided to wait until the next week's cartoon, not knowing that the chance of an ideal caption popping in your head is a rare, joyful occurrence. Like falling in love. Or having your book optioned for film. Or finally voting for a guy who actually wins the White House. So. Here is the actual caption winner and two finalists for that cartoon:
"Come sweater season, you'll be back."
"Could you bring me back a goat?"
"You're the one who left your fertility drugs on the counter."
I'm sure I was overly fond of the "line" pun--as in dance/ chorus line... But it didn't make it out of the thousands of other brilliant witticisms. I have to admit the three finalists have been blessed by the caption fairy. My favorite: I'd suggest you keep them away from the gingerbread men.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Ooooh this sounds like fun. If I lived in Brooklyn OR if I had one of those Ford/Chrysler/GM corporate jets, I'd definitely be attending tonight's Dorothy Parker Society party. Here, from the Dorothy Parker Facebook page (surely she'd love FB if she were alive today), are details:
Thursday, Dec. 4, 7-11 p.m., join us at the Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street in DUMBO, with Michael Arenella and his 11-piece Dreamland Orchestra for a festive evening of music and dancing. Come out in Twenties attire too, if you can manage it. Tickets are $12; cash bar. This is the orchestra that performed on Governors Island last summer; they are the best Roaring Twenties orchestra in the city.Oh, well. Guess I'll make a martini (two at the most*), crank up Ella singing Cole Porter on Itunes, and read a few of my favorite DP quotes:
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.
Take care of luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.
Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.*I like to have a martini, Two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Jupiter, Venus and the moon put on quite a show last night. And if you'd had a glass or two of pinot, you were probably smiling back. Yes, you were grinning, swaying a little as you stared up, braced by the cold air.
Apparently, Venus was once habitable for a brief 400 million years, with beautiful oceans, but it was constantly bombarded with asteroids, which changed the atmosphere. Now it's dry, with an average temp of 850 degrees F. As soon as scientists come up with the doo-dad thingy that controls weather and atmosphere, Venus will be the first to be colonized. Egad, hate that word,"colonize." Reminds me of raping, pillaging, stealing. Not that there are any Venus creatures to rape or pillage. Just hope it won't be a planet full of golf courses and casinos-- a gated Vegas. We-- human beings--are evolving into a higher consciousness aren't we? Maybe Venus can be a big ol' meditation/yoga/retreat center left natural and untouched. Or better yet--move all the shopping centers and gold courses to Venus so Earth can heal and go wild again.
So what does this have to do with anything? Not much, other than it was an awesome sight, and talking about the heavens is a good way to procrastinate from the task at hand on this bright morning on Earth. When it comes to procrastinating about writing, I can get pretty creative. When I get desperate I start to clean. When I have a clean house-- I'm not writing--or not writing enough. Which reminds me, I'm out of Swiffers again.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Reading from a computer screen, listening to an audio download on your ipod, or cracking a hardcover-- it's all reading.
Not to be Pollyannish about it (beats cynicism!), but the digital paradigm shift is bringing about unprecdented opportunties for folks in the storytelling business.
One of the best discussions I've read so far on this is Gleick's piece. You might say he really nails the issue: "As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete."
Publishers may or may not figure out how to make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of literary forms. Read the article here.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Shivers of anticipation for a local writer and friend, John Jeter, whose first published novel, THE PLUNDER ROOM, will be in stores in January.
The co-owner of The Handlebar, a phenomenal concert hall, John was one of the first to sign up for the Writing Room, our local program for Upstate writers, sponsored by the Emrys Foundation.
He took Ashley Warlick's advanced fiction workshop, and met with success.
Here's more about the book from John's blog, along with blurbs from Ashley, Karin Gilliespie, and Ron Rash, and the story behind the book.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Never have been a fan of the Black Friday insanity, and proudly abstain from the 5 a.m. lines. I guess I'm not much of a hunter/gatherer.
<--- It's easy to lose your head over stuff.
But I sure do love being outside on a day like this one: 60 plus degrees, gorgeous sapphire sky, rosemary and pansies to plant.
A glimmer of good news today. Ron Rash's novel, Serena, made Janet Maslin's cut of "Books that Tower Above the Rest." So, yay. Ron is a mentor of mine. A good soul and an immensely talented writer who is getting some well-deserved attention lately-- but then folks from around these parts always knew he would.
Other books named that I just have to move up on my own list: Lush Life by Richard Price, Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, A Mercy by Toni Morrison....and more.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I've been bad. Haven't blogged. But I'm back. First, with some book recommendations.
In the epistolary tradition, two novels who tell their stories through letters:
Dear American Airlines by Jonathon Miles "a scathingly funny, deeply moving story of a stranded airline passenger, whose enraged letter of complaint transforms into a lament for a life gone awry."
Bennie Ford, the protagonist, is a 53-year old failed poet turned translator who manages to leaven the dark disappointments in his life (failed marriages, estrangement from his daughter, alcoholism) with searing bits of wit. In short, he's a character you won't mind spending hours with at the airport bar, just to hear his biting, poignant story. I felt I was there at his elbow, listening, buying him another round.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is told entirely in letters-- between a group of post-WWII correspondents. Warm, tender, and despite the tragic period of history it touches on, optimistic. The kind of novel your book group will agree is "charming."
Monday, October 20, 2008
One of my favorite lines:
If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it take for your art to reach its true level.
I guess you might say contemporary patron equals spouse.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
In today's NYT's Home section: a not-to-be-missed article, Public Spaces Meant to Heal by Anne Raver, about the TKF Foundation and its mission to fund community gardens in public (unlocked, ungated) spaces. From the article:
They include healing gardens in hospitals; teaching gardens and a community-built arboretum; a garden planted by inmates at a prison in western Maryland; a columbarium, or place to store ashes after cremation, for the poor in a garden in Falls Church, VA; and a tree-planting project at the University of Mryland...These gardens, which are open to all, very widely, but they have one thing in common: each is a sacred space, a place that somehow 'transforms you, where you are willing to give yourself up,' (Tom) Stoner explained...The TKF Foundation--they have a TERRIFIC website--about the only one you can visit that will leave you feeling calm-- has just published a book, Open Spaces, Sacred Places about the dozens of spaces transformed into "homes for the soul." I plan to read it soon.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Weekly Craft Talk
|by Mindy Friddle|
Scene Breaks: The Power of Space
Let's say you're working on your novel and you're pleased with your pages so far -- you've got some narrative tension here, you've got two well-developed characters (with complex inner lives and secret yearnings) who are heading for a showdown, an emotional meltdown, a clashing. Ah, conflict! The stuff of dramatic tension. Things are coming to a head in your story -- you've parceled out some events, thrown in some foreshadowing, and now -- it's time to deliver. Maybe the crumpled receipt from Pandora's Boxxx is discovered in the laundry, or the DNA test comes back positive, or the mailman's shoes are under the bed, or the political rival is caught foot tapping in the public restroom -- the guano is just about to hit the propeller, and your characters are finally confronting each other and they scream? Sulk passively? Brandish firearms? The thing is -- you realize with growing horror -- you've got to write it -- this quarrel. Dialogue dripping with bitterness or fury or numbness, along with the usual pounding hearts, dry mouth, lump in throat, clenched fists, slamming doors. How are you going to do this?
Try skipping it.
Or at least skipping ahead. Take up with a scene after the emotional showdown -- an hour later, weeks, even years, down the road. Start with the ramifications, the shards of the relationship, the heartbreak, the epiphany after the falling out, and work backwards. You may find you don't even need to write the actual argument. Besides, that's a lot of work, capturing all that emotion. Get the reader to do it!
Here are a few examples:
When David Lurie, the protagonist in 's splendid novel, Disgrace, visits his daughter, Lucy, on her remote farm in post-apartheid South Africa, both become victims of a brutal assault. After his daughter is gang raped, David blames himself. Again and again in the novel scenes cut away -- just as David's rage boils.
For example, David relents and goes to the farmer's market for his daughter, Lucy. The catch is, he must go with Petrus, an African farmer whom David suspects is complicit in Lucy's rape. We do not see David discuss his misgivings with Lucy, hear his agonizing demands that she confront Petrus -- the actual argument between them is off the page. Instead, the scene ends with David's fuming (through internal dialogue); the next scene opens with him, having swallowed his anger, at the market alongside Petrus. Nothing else needs to be conveyed; any discussions or further actions would be superfluous.
Similarly, when Lucy's female friends seem resigned to the violence and dangers of white homeowners living in South Africa, the shrugging off of Lucy's assault enrages David:
Do they think he does not know what rape is? Do they think he has not suffered with his daughter? What more could he have witnessed than he is capable of imagining? Or do they think that, where rape is concerned, no man can be where the woman is? Whatever the answer, he is outraged, outraged at being treated like an outsider.
And then there is a break. Here is the next scene:
He buys a small television set to replace the one that was stolen. In the evenings, after supper, he and Lucy sit side by side on the sofa watching the news and then, if they can bear it, the entertainment.
At the end of the former scene, David is "outraged." Outraged, but impotent. For a while he seethes with fury, but he soon follows Lucy's wishes to put aside his anger and embrace the appearance of normality. Telltale signs of damage are embedded in this deceptively domestic setting just as wounds are buried in the characters' psyches: the television is "to replace the one that is stolen" -- a reminder of the robbery. And the two will watch the entertainment -- "if they can bear it."
The shock of the attack is still fresh; they are not yet capable of humor and conversation. But the quick scene change from fury to a false normality -- perhaps even denial -- again illustrates David's attempt to honor Lucy's insistence to forget the rape ever happened. In this fashion, there is no tedium in Disgrace. The scenes provide a startling snapshot of intense emotion before moving succinctly into a contrasting scene.
The "space" in Suzanne Bern's novel, A Perfect Arrangement, occurs between parts One and Two. Berne chooses not to include the actual climactic moment when Howard and Mirella, the husband and wife protagonists, confess their secrets to each other -- secrets festering for a hundred pages, mind you. Howard has had an affair he regrets, while Mirella has hidden her pregnancy from Howard, fearing her husband doesn't want another child. Neither has mustered the courage to discuss the troubling signs of delayed development they've both observed in their young son.
The confluence of these pending secrets increase tension in the novel, especially after we realize the impact of Mirella and Howard's secrets will be far worse on their family than even they fear. After all, we understand their relationship is limping along, though both don't acknowledge it yet. So after a number of false starts -- Mirella has attempted to broach the subject of her pregnancy with Howard over the phone, Howard has tried to launch his tale of betrayal over dinner -- Mirella and Howard reveal their confessions at the end of Part One:
He let his hand slide down her head, trailing his knuckles along the side of her face ... Howard went back across the room to his closet and opened the door again to reach for his bathrobe ...
But before he had finished tying the belt, she pressed her hands to her cheeks and said, "We need to talk."
White sheets of paper slipped across her knees, sliding across the blue floral comforter like playing cards from an oversized deck.
He said, "I know."
Part One then ends. Part Two takes up days after this scene:
"They say we're in for some rain," said Mirella, coming into the living room. "As if we haven't had enough already." It was the first time she had spoken directly to Howard in nearly two days.
We are not privy to the actual argument between Howard and Mirella --only the resulting emotional turmoil of their confessions. Howard sleeping on the couch, the chill of their silence -- much has happened, and we're eager to know more. Meanwhile, as the present events unfold, we are able to reconstruct Howard and Mirella's previous argument and witness how their confessions rocked their marriage.
Ask any Gestalt theorist -- if you can find one these days: we're wired to fill in blanks, connect the dots. This "self-organizing principle," as they call it, is responsible for our tendency to perceive the whole as greater than its parts. Perhaps that's why the spaces between scenes often engage the reader -- by allowing the reader to make connections, fill in the blanks: prompting her to imagine what happened, pulling her in. The next time you're tempted to write about an argument between characters -- a brawl in a biker bar, say, or a seething row between host and hostess at a dinner party -- take a deep breath, and skip it.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
The following interview with Nicholas Sparks appears in my "Author to Author "column in this week's edition of The Greenville Journal.
The Author: Nicholas Sparks
The Book: The Lucky One (Grand Central Publishing)
The Event: Nicholas Sparks will be at the Open Book signing copies of his new novel, The Lucky One, on Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 6 pm.
Nicholas Sparks is the author of 14 New York Times bestsellers. Several of his novels have been adapted into major motion pictures, including The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle and Nights in Rodanthe. Sparks graduated valedictorian of his class from Bella Vista High School in California, and received a full track and field scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. A former resident of Simpsonville, he wrote The Notebook at age 28 while working as a pharmaceutical salesman. The novel was published in October 1996 and quickly made the New York Times best-seller list. A major financial contributor to the creative writing master's program at Notre Dame, Sparks recently donated nearly $900,000 for a high school track program in New Bern, North Carolina. He lives with his wife and five children in North Carolina.
Q.Nights in Rodanthe (now a movie starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane) centers on a middle-aged couple, rather than an older couple (The Notebook) or younger characters. What was it like writing a love story about middle-aged characters?
A. To that point in my career, it was different, and as such, a nice change of pace. Prior to that, the characters either tended to be teens (A Walk to Remember), couples in their twenties or early thirties (The Rescue, A Bend in the Road) and older (The Notebook). Writing about middle-aged characters had a few challenges, but nothing extraordinary. The main issue I had to keep in mind was that both Paul and Adrienne had issues with their children and made sure that played into the love story in the appropriate way.
Q.You’re quoted as saying The Lucky One started with a simple image of a marine finding a photograph, and it grew from there. Do your novels usually start with an image that intrigues or inspires you?
A. Sometimes it’s an image, sometimes it’s a character’s voice, sometimes it’s an idea for the conflict that keeps them apart, sometimes it’s a character. It depends on the specific story, but for the most part, even if inspiration strikes, it never fills in the blanks for the vast majority of the story. The rest of the story comes through active thought, considering outcomes, and trying to imagine what the story will be like when it’s completed.
Q. The Lucky One involves the war in Iraq. A previous novel, Dear John, did as well. How did you go about researching combat in Iraq for both novels?
A. I read books, I read articles, I talk to people. Nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I like to make them as accurate as I can because I know that if I make errors (and I’m sure I do), I’ll receive tons of letters from veterans telling me what I got wrong.
Q. Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” That certainly seems to be true in your case. You manage an incredibly disciplined schedule of writing 2,000 words a day, You read more than 100 books a year. Do you ever experience lags in creativity, the stress of looming deadlines, “writer’s block”? How do you cope?
A. I hate deadlines. I think all writers do, because creativity can’t be turned on and off like a switch. All novels have their share of “writing that isn’t hard” and “writing that is hard”: originality and creativity is always, always challenging. I just do my best to keep things in perspective. At 2,000 words a day, I always know in the back of my mind that it means I have to write 120,000 words or so to reach the 90,000 words that end up in the final draft. That’s only 60 days of writing. Usually, it takes 120-175 days to get those 60 days, but that knowledge is enough to keep me fairly balanced about the whole thing.
Q. Your website is a rich resource for writers who want to learn more about the process of writing. For example, you mention, “After coming up with an original idea, structure is always the most difficult part of crafting a love story.” Do you usually outline your novels? Are there other trusted readers who read your work before your editor sees your manuscript?
A. I don’t usually outline my novels because it doesn’t seem to work for me. As long as I know, in general terms, what the story is going to be, I’m able to start writing. That’s just me; there is no correct way to do this, and I’ve learned that every writer is different. As for readers who see my work before the editor? Only one. My agent, Theresa Park. If it gets past her, trust me, it’s a good novel. She’s probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever met.
Q. You’ve said that, “Publishing is a business. Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars.” You’re one of the most successful and prolific authors working today, and yet you’re also quoted as saying, “I don't know that I love to write these days.” Does writing ever get easier for you? Is the process of writing each novel different?
A. Writing is easier in some ways, and more challenging in others. It’s harder to be original, for instance, since I’ve already written on a number of topics. It’s hard to be original in the specifics, since my characters have experienced a number of different ways of falling in love. It’s easier in that the quality of my writing has improved over the years, and that’s a goal I set for myself long ago.
Q.You are as loyal to your readers as they are to you. You mentioned that you “don’t want my readers to think I had strayed too far from the type of novels that I originally wrote. Many authors do exactly that -- stray too far -- and lose readers in the long run for doing so.” Can you see yourself ever departing from the love-story/tragedy genre and writing an entirely different kind of fiction? (Perhaps, as Stephen King has, under a nom de plume?)
A. Three Weeks with My Brother was a memoir, and I wrote an original screenplay last year. I’m also writing another screenplay this year, though I can’t say much more about it. As for writing a thriller or a horror or an adventure . . . I suppose I could, but I have no desire to do so. Many other authors do those things very well, so there’s no reason for me to do it. I’d rather stretch the love-story genre by incorporating different elements; danger, or the supernatural, for instance. Which I did in The Guardian and True Believe respectively.
Q.You’re quoted as saying that there are three ways a novel becomes a bestseller: the Oprah Book Club, critical acclaim, or word-of-mouth, and that “Over time, quality work will lead to an audience for your work. In the end, readers always choose.” From your perspective, do you see the digital world, print-on-demand technology, the Internet, the blogosphere, etc. opening new avenues or limiting opportunities for books and authors—our society’s stories and storytellers?
A. Both. But always, in the end, it comes down to the book, the author and the quirks of fate. People like to “curl up” with books. I just don’t see a computer ever being able to do that.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
We know it's fall at our house when the 20-foot Helianthus Augustifolios, aka Swamp Sunflower, is in burnished bloom.
It's a perennial--the only perennial sunflower I know of. Some folks cut it back in July to get a bushier plant, but I prefer mine lanky and swayin' in the autumn wind.
Great companion plant with something spikey and purple and cool--Russian sage, for example-- to play off its bright drama. Plant them in full sun and the two become fast friends.
Purple and yellow have emerged naturally as the dominant colors in my garden. And right now the color purple is stunning-- in an eggplant.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
"I'm listening to the rain," I wrote today, joining a chorus: from a fellow freelance writer: "Lydia is done with the chefs and is now working on Madrid," to "Betty attended a Rotary event at the newly renovated Carolina First Center last night," "Julie is missing her friend Richard today, ""Mike is missing bocci and zeppolis and the san gennaro festival in nyc," "Joshilyn is not sleeping. Ever again. Apparently."
So now I learn, from this fascinating NYT magazine article by Clive Thompson, that sociologists call this kind of social networking, "ambient awareness":
Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I want one of these in my backyard-- the ideal writer's studio.
Through Kithaus you can order one and put it together and actually live there... fairytale cottages are the new McMansions. According to this NYT article.
I managed to put together my own faux-Shaker desk in January--New Year's Eve, to be exact-- I wanted to get a fresh start. It came in a box from Target and had screws, knobs and its own L-shaped little tool thingy in shrinkwrap-- and directions in Chinglish. ("Please be contented to affix tight screws.") Assembling my own Kithaus? A breeze.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The rain is a godsend--everything has greened up overnight. I'm sitting here at my laptop at the window, looking out onto the garden and it's buzzing with life.
Two hummingbirds are zipping around. A redbellied wookpecker--her head & belly are traffic-cone orange--is flying back and forth from the birdfeeder to the top of the telephone pole where three of her brood wait. She stuffs them with suet and sunflower seeds--flying back and forth, back and forth-- and they're beginning to follow her, and take her lead.
Heavenly fragrant Moonvine...isn't it beautiful? Wish it were a scratch n' sniff pic.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Here's the sex part:
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cukes, carrots, nasturtium, marigold. And I love the vibrant pallet-- sort of...moorish.
Here's the death part: The lone pumpkin I had was halfway there but the squirrels got it, and there's nothing but a pile of rinds and stems. Savage beauty sounds like a bodice ripper, but it's an apt description for my vegetable garden-- it manages to be both Darwinian and holy.
Makes one wonder if George Bernard Shaw was being ironic when he said:
The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. ~George Bernard Shaw, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, 1932
And now for something completely different:
Also a reminder of tonight's Reading Room, featuring Joshilyn Jackson and Katherine Min.
7 pm, The Handlebar, 304 East Stone Avenue, Greenville, SC 29601.
|Published writers read from their works |
The season begins with blockbusters. Joshilyn Jackson’s short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies including TriQuarterly and Calyx, and her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. Her bestselling debut novel, gods in Alabama won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the Year Award and was a No. 1 BookSense pick. Between, Georgia was also a No. 1 BookSense pick, making her the first BookSense author to receive No. 1 status in consecutive years. Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was published in March. Katherine Min’s short stories have been widely anthologized, most recently in The Pushcart Book of Stories: The Best Short Stories from a Quarter-Century of The Pushcart Prize. She received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her novel, Secondhand World, (Knopf, 2006) was a finalist for the PEN/Bingham Award. She teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.
| Links: Joshilyn Jackson, Katherine Min, Emrys Foundation|
$2 for Emrys members, $4 for non-members
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The Writing Room's Fall 2008 schedule of workshops and seminars is up, and registration is running. Visit the website, www.emrys.org for details. (Emrys, a nonprofit arts foundation, sponsors our classes.) Curious? Read our students' testimonials.
Also visit us on Facebook.
We're kicking things off with a seminar from fabulous, hilarious, bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson:
Marketing Yourself on the Web at ALL stages of your Writing Career
Whether you have just begun to draft your first short story or are currently shopping your third completed manuscript, there are things you could be doing, right now, to build a reader base and create a web presence. As writers we like to think of ourselves as artists, but in the publishing world, we are expected more and more to act as our own publicists and be savvy businessfolk. The Internet has opened up the world to anyone with a modem, and it can be a powerful professional tool for writers at all stages of their career. While the main focus of this seminar is prepublication (especially preparing for submission before one's first book first sale), we will also spend a little time on the crucial period between sale and publication. This seminar is for fiction and non-fiction writers, focusing mainly on those interested in placing book length manuscripts.
Level: All levels, Beginner to Advanced
Saturday, August 24
2:00- 5:00 pm
Location: Innovate Building Conference Room, 148 River Street, Greenville, SC
Fee: $50; $45 Emrys member
Joshilyn Jackson’s bestselling debut novel, gods in Alabama won the SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s) 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Her second novel, Between, Georgia was also a #1 BookSense pick, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to receive #1 status in back to back years. Jackson read the audio version herself, winning a Listen Up award from Publisher's Weekly and making Audiofile's Best of 2006 list. Both books were chosen for the Books-A-Million Book Club. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies including TriQuarterly and Calyx, and her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. Joshilyn’s third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, a national bestseller, was released in March of 2008. Visit www.joshilynjackson.com and Joshilyn’s popular blog, Faster Than Kudzu, for more information.
Friday, August 8, 2008
The author: Suzanne Kamata
The books: Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press) and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs (Beacon Press)
The event: Suzanne Kamata will be signing copies of her novel at The Open Book on Saturday, August 16th, 2:00pm. 110 South Pleasantburg Drive, Greenville, SC
After graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1988, Suzanne Kamata was eager to leave the country, to “experience a non-Western culture.” To git, as we say around these parts. She applied to the Peace Corps and was assigned to Cameroon, but, on a lark, decided to head to Japan after being offered a one-year assistant teaching position with Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET), a program her brother had read about in the newspaper. “I figure I'd spend a year in Japan and then go to Africa,” she said. “But one year in Japan didn't seem like enough - there was still so much to see and do and learn.” Kamata decided to renew her contract for one more year.
She’s been there ever since.
Two decades later, Kamata makes her home in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan with her husband, Yukiyoshi Kamata, and their nine-year-old twins. She teaches part-time and writes in her “pockets of free time” when her children are in school. A productive writer, Kamata’s work has appeared in over 100 publications. She is fiction editor at the online magazine Literary Mama and the author of the novel Losing Kei. She has edited two anthologies: The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan and the Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.
“I think mothers all over the world have a hard time finding time to write,” she said. “Much to the dismay of the other mothers [at her daughter’s school], I would often sneak off to a cafe or to the school library for an hour or so to read and write. I wrote my novel and edited Love You to Pieces that way.”
Kamata’s twins were born prematurely, and her daughter has cerebral palsy and is deaf. “I realized, when she was diagnosed that I had no idea how to raise such a child. As a literary sort of person, I first went to books to try to figure out what was going to happen and to try to find solace.” The result is Love you to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs, an anthology Kamata edited about raising children with special needs. The collection includes short stories, essays, and poems by renowned authors (such as Brett Lott) as well as emerging writers about families coping with autism, deafness, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome and more.
“The best novels, short stories, and memoirs can pull in the lives of their characters and provide a deeper understanding of others,” Kamata said, adding she hoped the book “will serve as a kind of support group in far-flung places…”
Raising children outside her native culture is “bittersweet,” Kamata said. “'I’m happy that my son is bilingual and that my children have been exposed to various cultures. And I'm glad that they have a close relationship with their Japanese relatives.” On the other hand, she misses sharing “simple things like running through the sprinkler in the middle of summer,” or going trick-or-treating. “But these conflicts give me something to explore in my writing,” she said. “ As a reader, I tend to be drawn to multicultural stories, though I also read a lot of fiction set in South Carolina, especially when I'm feeling nostalgic.”
Kamata’s novel Losing Kei, tells the story of a young South Carolina painter who, as an American expat, loses custody of her only son to her Japanese ex-husband and then resorts to desperate measures to get him back. “When I write nonfiction, I feel naked. When I write fiction, I feel like I'm wearing a dress --or maybe a flimsy negligee! But seriously, I like being able to move events around and make sense of them—something that happens more in fiction.” Losing Kei is Kamata’s first published novel—she’s written five—and said she’s excited about working with Leapfrog Press, publisher of Losing Kei, to plan a stateside booktour.
When Kamata arrives in South Carolina this month, she plans to visit family, catch up with friends, and sign copies of her novel.
And maybe run through the sprinkler.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I feel for this guy:
Plant Box Battle Could End Up In Court: Retiree Deems Decision By Homeowners Association UnfairVideo: Upstate Homeowner Fighting For Garden Box In Yard
HOA's--they have their place, I suppose. (But maybe they should concentrate on policing above-ground pools and satellite dishes.) It's a new earth, kids. And there's no better place to read about it that in Michael Pollan's excellent article in the NYT Magazine:
"the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind."From my own front-yard veggie garden-- the pic of the week:
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I'm in the middle of Susan Choi's A Person of Interest. I'll have more to say about this wonderful novel when I've read the last page. All I can say now: Choi is a writer of enormous talent.
I finished reading Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors and Dry. Scissors especially is one of those fascinating memoirs you tear through, thinking, how did this kid survive his family? Dark, funny, honest, shocking. Not since Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, have I been so absorbed in a harrowing life story.
More later this week. Got lots of writing and revising to do. Not to mention a harvest of tomatoes and peppers to gather and a new batch of weeds to thin.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
When you're in the zone, you're not even YOU, you're watching this story reveal itself (in hard glimmering icy plinks or long, luxurious warm rains-- the story is fickle as the weather), and, then, somehow, you're writing it.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Tomatoes blushing here (hiding there in the foliage) while the sunflowers chortle--they're so gregarious, such flirts.
Meanwhile, the bedroom windowbox is thrillin' and spillin':
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Here's the latest good read I just devoured over the weekend:
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta is a real page-turner. I loved Little Children for its social satire, and the novel's appealing (and conflicted) characters, and I'm happy to say the Abstinence Teacher is a terrific follow-up, with humorous send-ups of suburban soccer moms (and dads), a born-again restless post-80's rocker, and a sex ed teacher who can't bring herself to cheerfully spout a new "abstinence" curriculum. As usual, Perrotta's tale crackles with inside jokes and laugh-out-loud moments, but his send-ups never lack heart, and his characters' internal struggles and conflicts with each other--make for a fascinating read.
Oh, and here's some good news I'm honored to share:
The South Carolina Arts Commission Board of Commissioners has approved the 2008-2009 Individual Artist Fellowship Award recipients. This year, the Arts Commission is presenting awards totaling $30,000 to six South Carolina artists — two each in the categories of prose and poetry, and one each in music performance and music composition. Fellows each receive $5,000 in recognition of their superior artistic merit. Panelists named alternates in all categories.
SC Arts Commission
Names 2008-2009 Artist Fellowships
The 2008-2009 fellows and alternates are:
Prose: Julia E. Elliott, Lexington County
Mindy Friddle, Greenville County
Jonathan Sanchez, Charleston County
Stephanie Young, Greenville County
And I'd personally like to send out a big thank you to the " Out-of-State Panelist" for Prose, Mako Yoshikawa.
- A scholar and novelist, Mako Yoshikawa is an assistant professor at Emerson College in Boston, Mass. She has an A.B.D. from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in philosophy from Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. Her first novel, “One Hundred and One Ways,” was published by Bantam in 1999. A bestseller in the U.S., it has been translated into six languages. Her second novel, “Once Removed,” also published by Bantam, came out in 2003. She has received numerous honors, including fellowships from the Bunting Institute at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I just finished reading The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman...a real treat. Hoffman's storytelling is, as always, whimsical and compelling. The novel is divided into three narratives--three characters in three different decades, yet the characters are connected through a London hotel, ill-fated lovers, and each other (although they don't always see how--the reader does, thanks to the capable omniscient narrator). It's an appealing, effective structure (think The Hours and Three Junes).
Thursday, June 26, 2008
A shotglass of oaky wisdom from Flannery O'Conner:
"...people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it's very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won't survive the ordeal. People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them. They don't take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is the refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience."--Mystery and Manners
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Say it ain't so. While Lily moving from Knoxville? It's the best flour and corn meal on the planet. Heavenly flakey biscuits.
Don't touch it, Smuckers!
I went right out and bought three huge brand new bags (flour and corn meal) at my local grocer's after reading this article in the NYT:
FOR generations of Southern bakers, the secret to weightless biscuits has been one simple ingredient passed from grandmother to mother to child: White Lily all-purpose flour...But at the end of June, the mill, with its shiny wood floors, turquoise and red grinders and jiggling armoire-size sifters, will shut its doors. The J. M. Smucker Company, which bought the brand a year ago, has already begun producing White Lily at two plants in the Midwest, causing ripples of anxiety that Southern biscuits will never be the same.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
It's a thrill, listening to one's novel being read by a professional.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
In NYC recently, I found myself snapping photos of statues (and those really cool gargoyles on buildings).
I love this statue of Gandhi
Here's Mike at the NY Botanical Garden, "cracking up."
My favorite, from Union Square, perhaps because he's pointing like the statue that figures in the opening line of novel two, Secret Keepers:
The town had moved the Confederate monument from the square to the gates of Springforth Cemetery some twenty years after the war of Northern Aggression, and General Robert E. Lee--who stood atop the mossy marble with a scowl--had never quite recovered. The general was listing, slowly sinking in the boggy soil, his finger pointing no longer at the ghostly Union brigade ahead, but just down and to the left, toward the new Ideal Laundry Factory, as if to demand extra starch.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I'm back from the Big Apple. I spent a week there, on business and pleasure. Pleasurable business, actually. It's one of my favorite places on earth.
Went to the Flatiron Building to meet with St. Martin's and Picador people, which was great fun, and involved lunch at an Italian place, and also a view from that gorgeous building.
Had to make the the NY Botanical Garden's Darwin exhibit in the Bronx.
Returning home, found the garden flourishing, thanks to my loved ones' meticulous watering--we're in a sever drought down here-- with the pumpkin vine jumping the fence and the zucchini and cucumbers ready for harvesting.
My sister said the zucchini I'm holding--here-- looked "happier" than the cukes maybe because it's bigger. Which strikes me as Freudian. Not going there.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Just finished Margot Livesey's latest novel, The House on Fortune Street. Loved it. Recommend it. The novel, told in four interlocking narratives (from four different characters), is compelling, chiefly because Livesey deftly handles characters' emotional (and secret) quandaries. Is a husband's hunch about his wife's infidelity true? Will a father act on his unholy urges? Why did a young woman take her own life? The suspense, along with rich characterization will keep you thinking for days after you finish the last sentence. Here's an excerpt.
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