Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Radical Revisions

I promised to touch on some highlights of Lauren Groff's seminar, "After the First Draft." The three-hour seminar on Sunday was sponsored by the Writing Room and the Emrys Foundation. Lauren is the author of the NY Times Bestselling novel The Monsters of Templeton and the prize winning short story collection, Delicate Edible Birds. But you knew that, right?

Lauren had some terrific things to say about revision-- re-visioning-- your draft.

For example, she recommends several "radical ideas" for seeing your work in a new light. From her lecture and handout:

--Turn over your finished stories and start anew. "This is what I do with at least two drafts of everything. Believe it or not, it makes your work stronger, and teaches you to not be attached to the individual text. If there is a metaphor or moment in your first draft that you love and want to hold on to, it may not be necessary if you don’t remember to put it into the second draft. Plus, you can go through the first and cannibalize it for the good stuff."
--Get out the scissors, and cut each paragraph out. "Put the paragraphs in order on the floor, so that you can see your work as a whole, and then shift them around, so that they’re in the proper order. Flannery O’Connor used to do this."
--"If you write by computer, on the draft that has all structural and character questions addressed (the draft in which you’re only concentrating on language), print it out and rewrite by hand, line by line, bearing down hard on your language. Then rewrite back onto your computer.

Sound time consuming? Lauren says these methods save her tremendous amounts of time, by forcing her to see her drafts in a fresh way, and letting the story that wants to be told reveal itself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lauren Groff and Deno Trakas read tonight

If you're in the Palmetto State [or even NC], don't miss two fine writers reading from their work tonight for the Reading Room, the Handlebar. 7 pm. In a BAR. With Q&A. Books available for purchase. btw, Lauren gave a great seminar yesterday, on "After the First Draft." More about that--and some great tips-- tomorrow.

Lauren Groff grew up one block from the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals, including The Atlantic Monthlyand Ploughshares, and in the anthologies Best AmericanShort Stories 2007, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008. She received the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville and has had residencies and fellowships at Yaddo and the Vermont Studio Center. Her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton (February 2008), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Bird, is a collection of stories. Both books are published by Hyperion/Voice.

Deno Trakas has supported and been supported by Hub City since its first project and is featured in Hub City’s New Southern Harmonies, a collection of short stories. He has published fiction and poetry in more than two dozen journals, including The Oxford American and The Louisville Review. He is the author of two chapbooks, The Shuffle of Wings and Human & Puny. His novel, After Paris, was a finalist for the James Jones Award for a First Novel, and his play, The Old Man and the Tree, won Harvey Jeffrey’s Original One-act Play Contest at Lander University. Trakas has a master’s degree from the University of Tulsa and PhD from the University of South Carolina. An English professor at Wofford College, he serves as director of the writing center and coordinator of the creative writing program.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Handling Criticism...

My guest post on the assigned topic of "criticism" at A Good Blog is Hard to Find:


Avoid looking for it.

Stop Googling yourself! Especially late at night when you think no one is looking. You won’t go blind or grow hair on your palms—well, probably not—but it’s habit forming…and after a while, the thrill is gone, anyway. Save your blocks of isolation for writing--not reading about your writing. ...CONTINUE READING...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ode to Book Clubs

I met with three book clubs this week, three days in a row.

It's a great gig-- meeting with people who read and talk about books, ask intriguing questions, ask you to sign their books...and [often] drink wine.

Pictured here is a book club from Anderson, SC. They drove all the way to the Coffee Underground in Greenville to meet with me on Wednesday. The nice waiter took this photo so I could be in the picture, too. [That's me in front with the circle necklace--it's made of recycled cobalt bottle glass from the wonderful "outsider art & funky jewelry" Christopher Park Gallery...TMI I know.]

Monday, October 12, 2009

Homer & Langley

Finished E.L. Doctorow's latest novel, Homer & Langley...and it's around here somewhere, among the stacks of newspapers, under the magazines, grand pianos, baby carriages, cardboard boxes...kidding. Kidding.

Loosely based on a pair of famous hoarders, the Collyer brothers, the novel is sad but intriguing, a study of eccentrics [with a fiction writer's eye], and how they fascinate. Especially wealthy eccentrics who hoard, or opt out of tradition and BIG ASS QUOTE "normal" BIG ASS UNQUOTE life. If you're a fan of the documentary Grey Gardens, the biography, The Secret History of the Lonely Doll, the novel, Housekeeping, as I am, you'll want to read Homer & Langley.

On an interview on CBS News about his latest novel, Doctorow mentions that he still finds writing difficult. "I try to write 500 words if I can. That's an enormous achievement usually."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Inherent Intelligence of Wildness

In last week's Novel Writing class, we focused on creating compelling characters. I encouraged everyone to note how telling details, yearnings, inner conflicts help build complex characters.

Trolling for character sketches? The obituary pages never fail to offer up fascinating characters....I mean people.

Case in point: Today's obit from the NYT about a Zen abbot and photographer:
He set up an institute to apply Zen principles to environmental matters, hoping to bring people closer to “the inherent intelligence of wildness.” He also began a program to teach Zen to prison inmates...
The monastery [he helped found] fit right into a Catskills spiritual scene that already included Zen, Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, yoga and various New Age centers. Abbot Loori decreed that 80 percent of the 230 acres he had just bought would have to remain “forever wild,” which meant no manicuring of the landscape.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Introduce a Rock Star

The scene: yesterday's Book Your Lunch author series. A sold-out crowd.

I had the honor of introducing Ron Rash, whose prize-winning, break-out novel SERENA is just out in paperback.
Besides the usual "he was born in....he holds a degree from...he's the author of..." yadda yadda stuff, I wanted to add a little zip, especially because I've known Ron since way before he up and got famous.

An excerpt from my intro of said lit rock star:
SERENA has been described as "a gothic tale of greed, corruption, and revenge with a ruthless, powerful, and unforgettable woman at its heart, set amid the wilds of 1930s North Carolina."

Ron has said SERENA was the most challenging of his novels to write. I believe his quote was “it about killed me.” About SERENA, he has said, “While there have been many novels about women who have wielded great power within a family, how many have been about a woman who is a ‘captain of industry,’ especially in novels set in the past? This aspect of Serena made her even more intriguing to me.”

And intriguing to a slew of readers and critics, too:
SERENA was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) named it Book of the Year in July.
SERENA Made New York Times literary critic Janet Maslin’s list of her 10 Favorite Books of 2008—no small feat.

For those of us locally, regionally, who have for decades admired Ron’s work as a poet and fiction writer—the fact that he is is being recognized nationally—internationally—well, we say finally. For the yankees to fawn over him—The New York Times no less— we say what took ya’ll so long?

After reading from SERENA, Ron took questions from the audience. A few highlights:

ONE FOOT IN EDEN, Ron's first novel, has just been translated and released in France, to high acclaim, although just how Appalachian-speak gets translated in French is, shall we say, curious. One French critic referred to Ron as "the bumpkin writer"... the term "bumpkin" apparently used with no disparity, but with sincerity... like "mystery" writer.

Serena, the character, is based in part on Lady Macbeth and Queen Elizabeth. You many have noticed she speak in iambic pentameter.

Serena is a villainous character, even evil, as Ron admits. Like most villains, HOW they chose evil is not important, and Ron notes that exploring why-- childhood incidents, for example-- diminishes them. Evil characters are mysterious, because evil is beyond description. Ron pointed out that when Thomas Harris wrote about Hannibal Lecter's past, and how it drove him to his murderous deeds, Hannibal became less interesting. You can't humanize evil, perhaps.

Ron thinks of his first drafts as clods of clay-- awful at first, barely readable-- to be shaped with subsequent drafts. I was happy to hear this...it's my process, too, and one I recommend in my classes-- the whole $%#$@! first draft thing.

All in all, a splendid event! A looooong line of readers to sign Ron's books, too. Even the $8 parking ticket waiting for me on my ancient Volvo wagon outside did not dampen my spirits.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall Garden equals Middle-Age

The harvest is in, the full bloom is near fading, seedheads rattling.

The hummingbirds have stopped buzzing through, loading up on nectar for their migration to Central America... a few Monarchs flutter by.

Autumn is poignant.

Shown here: swamp sunflower, cosmos, gourds

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