Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

No friends like old friends (publishing together!)

Hi All,

Cathy and I have some great—and most unexpected—news! Next year we’ll have short stories published in the same issue of Gargoyle Magazine. Not only are we thrilled to be appearing in this esteemed literary journal, we are amused and deeply grateful to appear side-by-side in print.

gargoyle

We’ve been friends for—gulp—thirty years. We’re former roommates. We puzzled our way through an MFA program together. We entered the publishing trenches. All along, we’ve edited and listened and supported each other. Cathy has been instrumental in my growth as a writer, and I think I’ve come in pretty handy for her, too. There are no friends like old friends.

Cathy and I will be saving Gargoyle’s Issue #74, scheduled to be out around Labor Day, for our grandchildren. We hope you’ll enjoy it, too!

–Karen

 

How to START writing a novel

feet

Summertime. The days are long and lovely, and the grill is fired up.

But what’s that? You say the time has come, at last, to write your novel. You’ve got a story. You want to tell it. You just have one question:  how, in the name of all that’s sane and just, do you begin?

chapter 1

Good question. And you’re in luck. Best-selling novelist Michelle Richmond addresses this very thing in a recent blog post. I’m always happy to plug Michelle, because she runs the small press that published my debut a few years back, and because she’s a super helpful and compassionate human being. She’s also a true friend to writers, whatever their career stage.

A snippet from Michelle on diving into the novel waters:

“Get past thinking, ‘I’m writing a novel.’ Instead, tell yourself, ‘I’m writing a few words today’ or ‘I’m writing a piece of my novel today.’ Writing a novel is a daunting challenge and a major, time-consuming endeavor. Looking from the starting line to the finish line, miles away, can be mentally paralyzing. The only way to start your novel without psyching yourself out is to break it up into small, daily tasks. Approach each day as a mini-project, not a major project. The mini-project is your scene, your chapter, or your page for that day.” Read the rest.

Good luck, friends, and be gentle with yourself. You’re embarking on a courageous journey.

write your book

–Karen

 

Essay for a new day

I’ve been a journalist and a fiction writer. But essays? Not since school, and that was more, well, academic in nature.

I don’t know exactly what possessed me when I learned the Collegeville Institute was looking to build up its stable of freelance essay writers. I love the Collegeville Institute and its mission, and I think my heart just leapt at the prospect of being a part of it.

I’m thrilled to have published my latest this month. Take a look. I think the photo they chose way overshadows my essay, but in a good way.

mt-equinox-flickr-768x512

Essay writing has been such a gift. It’s an unexpected platform, one whose benefits and challenges I am just beginning to understand. I feel lucky, blessed, to have stumbled upon this opportunity to write—in a different way—about the things that move, and resonate with, me.

The “me” part is a big leap. Writing as yourself—for fiction writers—can be a bit unnerving. But it can also be liberating and empowering. One of the reasons we write in the first place, I think, is to have the sheer pleasure, to experience the power, of matching our thoughts with just the right words. The pleasure of saying what you mean.

Essays are challenging in different ways than fiction. But some of the benefits are similar. They help me think through issues and sharpen and organize my understanding. In a nutshell, they help me make sense of it all. Isn’t that what writing is for?

Anyone else out there dabbling in a new different genre? Let us know.

Write well, friends.
–Karen

Take heart and keep writing

I came across the loveliest quote today that I want to share with all my writer friends who are toiling away over manuscripts, many of them in some form of lock-down. Ironies abound there, but we’ll set them aside.

This quote comes courtesy of the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. It’s a comment from the great storyteller Katherine Paterson. I love its humility and its profound truthfulness.

I know my gift is limited. I know I cannot stand toe-to-toe with philosophers or theologians and solve for myself or anyone else the problem of evil, either natural or moral. But we who are writers can tell a story or write a poem, and where rational argument will always fail, somehow, miraculously, in metaphor and simile and image and simple narrative, there is both healing and illumination.

Take heart, friends. Keep writing to and for each other. It’s a great thing we do, even if it doesn’t always seem so.

— Karen

 

Write (or Not) Despite

—From Cathy

So…how you holding up out there?

Karen and I did a check-in with each other yesterday. An honest-to-god phone call. Not email. And it was lovely hearing her voice – and having a full-on bitch session about all that’s happening right now. Believe me when I tell you: Karen and I perfected marathon bitch sessions. We practiced lots when we were roommates in college.

imageSailors would cover their ears. Just saying.

Anyway, are you doing the same? Taking care of yourselves physically and mentally, and do you have a support system to reach out to?

You do. If you’re reading this, you do.

Please let us know how you’re coping during this far-fetched alternate universe we find ourselves in now.

Are you writing?

Personally, when it comes to writing fiction, I can’t even. Maybe because:

  • Reality seems so fictionalized right now that I’m unable to dream up anything on my own, or
  • I can’t imagine the characters I’ve been developing so long living in the particular world we’re in right now, or
  • I don’t want to imagine them there, or
  • I can’t picture them in a normal world either.

So, I find myself stuck.

A1lUEn3EH3L._AC_UY218_ML3_Anne Tyler has a new book out. She’s my fave, so of course I’ve read it already. (Redhead By the Side of the Road—it’s a good one. Check it out.)

Tyler’s given numerous interviews about the book, and of course the COVID question pops up, and here’s what she had to say about writing at this time:

“For the first few days, I seemed to keep writing the same three pages over and over again. I just had a general feeling of distractedness. Eventually, though, I did sink back into my work. I happened to be writing about an Easter dinner with a lot of people attending, some of them behaving a bit snarkily with each other. I thought, Oh, now I remember why I write. I write because it makes me happy.”

I guess that’s the key. Write if you can, because it makes you happy. And, in a blessed stroke of luck, what you write will hopefully make others happy too when it makes its way into the world.

onward-cover3Speaking of which, since I’m unable to write, I’ve been focusing on submitting. And I’m happy to say my story “Gently Used” is now up on Wordrunner’s Onward anthology. Yay.

So, if you’re like me and you can’t write, read. Or submit. Or call a friend, zoom with your mom, walk the dog. Do what makes you happy.

Please know we’re pulling for you, and sending you all the positive vibes you need to write despite—all of it. We wish you good health and enough peace and comfort in your lives to keep writing, always.

In the beginning

The first 10 pages make or break your novel manuscript. Why? Well, as we’ve all been told (and in truth have probably experienced), no one reads beyond them if they’re not great.

And that goes double for agents and editors, who are wondering how they’re going to sell the thing.

In other words, your opening has to rock. I’m overhauling mine for the umpteenth time right now, and it’s moving along. Something is happening. It’s kicking and wiggling and strutting a bit. But rocking? I dunno.

images

I come now seeking advice. What hooks you in a novel’s opening pages? What makes you keep reading? What turns you off? Please share in our “comments” section.

Cathy has already weighed in, of course, and her advice—as usual—was spot on. Cathy has a new publication of her own, just out this week. The opening of her novel-in-progress is featured in Embark: A Literary Journal for Novelists. This nifty journal is dedicated to novel openings, and it’s becoming a go-to for agents seeking new clients. Congrats, Cath! Check out her piece. It’s going to grow into one helluva book.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 9.14.39 AM

Write Well, Friends and Happy New Year

–Karen

Last-Minute Gifts, Anyone?

Well, we’re super late with this post, but for those of you who are still shopping (and yes, count us in), we decided to list 10 books we dearly love and frequently give to friends and family. So, if you’re still looking for ideas, you’re welcome. And happy holidays, everyone!!!!images

From Cathy

These are all books I’ve given, some over and over again, in no particular order.

  1. Fair and Tender Ladies (Lee Smith) – You won’t forget Ivy Rowe and her story, written entirely in letter form. ‘
  2. The Christmas Letters (Lee Smith) -Another Lee Smith book of letters, this one just perfect for the holidays.
  3. The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler) – If I had to pick a favorite book (please don’t make me), this one, this one.
  4. On Writing (Stephen King) – Best down-to-earth advice on the craft I’ve read.
  5. State of Wonder (Ann Patchett) – Oh, what a ride. Scientist heads to the Amazon to find a researcher and uncovers a mystery of sorts. But, yeah, SO much more.
  6. Single, Carefree, Mellow (Katherine Heiny) – This little gem of a short story collection about dating and love and friendship is spot-on funny, sad and smart.
  7. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (David Sedaris) – Love so many of David Sedaris’s books, but this is the one I’ve given out the most.
  8. Turtle Moon (Alice Hoffman) – My first experience with Alice Hoffman, and the one I still think about all the time. Love her!
  9. The Humans (Matt Haig) – Read this with my book group and I’ve given it to my son and others to enjoy. Wish they’d make a movie of this curious alien who comes to earth and just can’t figure out the human race.
  10. Where I’m Calling From (Raymond Carver) – My go-to, rarely leave home without it, collection of stories by the master! If you’ve never read “Fat” or “A Small, Good Thing,” you’re truly missing out.

From Karen

So, I took a different route. I decided to focus on children’s books that I loved when I was in elementary school. I’ve given some as gifts, and encouraged other parents to check them out. These books are all for, I’d say, fourth grade and up. As you can see, I was a child obsessed with animals. Now, I’m an adult obsessed with animals.

  1. Hurry Home Candy, by Meindert DeJong – Probably my all-time favorite. A sweet little dog lost in a world of cruel people!!! This is an outstanding children’s story, sophisticated, compassionate, evocative. I bought a new copy and I’m reading it with my son.
  2. Julie of the Wolves, Meindert DeJong – Anything with wolves, I was in.
  3. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins – I read this Pulitzer-Prize winning novel too young, but it made a major impression on me, with the beautifully detailed relationship between the boy and his fawn, and the descriptions of the natural world. Plus [SPOLER!] the deer dies at the end, which killed me.
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington – Okay, this is a weird pick. I discoveredit on a bookshelf in my parents’ house and read it alone at night in bed. I don’t know why I was drawn to it. I think I think it was the vivid descriptions and well- drawn characters. The larger themes of this novel sailed well above my head!
  5. Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong – Yep, Meindert was my go-to guy. Loved his books.
  6. The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong – Even read a book about people, just because Meindert wrote it. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak helped, too. What a team, they were.
  7. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry – Who wouldn’t want to tame a wild pony and get her foal as a bonus?
  8. Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard – A dog in trouble? I’m there.
  9. Snow Dog, Jim Kjelgaard – I’ve always had a soft spot for Huskies. Must be the wolf-thing.
  10. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – A horse who suffers nobly and needs saving! Like crack to my kiddie brain.

 

 

Flash of Inspiration

—From Cathy

Keep it short. Cut to the chase. Spit it out. Just the facts, ma’am.

I’ve long been a long-winded writer, and have adhered to exactly none of these suggestions. Until I tried writing flash fiction.

FlashIt started with a workshop run by Kathy Fish (known widely, especially on Twitter, as The Great Kathy Fish), which was a game changer. Her workshops offer one inspiring prompt to write from, every day, for 10 days, and they introduce you to a whole group of writers who give support and encouragement. Pieces can be no more than 1,000 words. Sometimes less. You may have to choose from a list of words to include, or an object or image.

I went into this class utterly baffled by how to write such short pieces, but dove in and  felt my way through. And I’ve gotten a few decent stories from it. And hey, here’s one of them that was just pubbed on Pithead Chapel this month!PC

Have you tried flash? If not, and you’re as puzzled by it as I was, or even if you’re a seasoned pro, here’s one of the best articles I’ve found for how it works:

The Review Review – Flash Fiction: What’s It All About?

Once you’ve chopped and sharpened and shined up those stories, here are some great journals, several of which sponsor flash contests, to submit them to.

Give it a try! And remember, brevity is the sole of wit. And, uh, never use two words when one will do. And…okay, I’ll cut it short. Write well, everyone!

Journals:

Brevity

Every Day Fiction

Flash Fiction Magazine

Flash Fiction Online

Hobart

Jellfyfish Review

Pank

Pithead Chapel

Smokelong Quarterly

Wigleaf

 

Takeaways from a Writer’s Conference

—From Cathy

I attended the one-day Conversations & Connections writer’s conference again this year, hosted by Barrelhouse Magazine, and wrote up all the best advice and lessons learned—just for you guys. Enjoy!

C&C

First Panel: “What you Show: How to Choose What and When”

Speaker: Fiction Writer Stephanie King

Characterization is what you show in a character, plus context, plus situation. Ask yourself, what is your character’s biggest fear? What is he/she struggling to do? What will she/he learn in the process? What your characters do now shows what they’ve done in the past.meme

Consider “The Gift of the Magi”—O. Henry doesn’t go into the characters’ past. But there are select scenes that show who they are instead. Or “Hills Like White Elephants,” which is almost all dialogue. Jig wants the man she’s with (we’re never given his name) to love her again. Her insecurities, her neediness is evident through their conversations. She relies on him for nearly everything. We don’t even know what she looks like, but her character is clearly seen in the way she watches him look at the hills. Use subtle clues like this to show who your characters really are.

Create a logline for your story–that one-line “hook” that makes readers take notice. Tape it in front of you and refer back to it as you create.

lecter2Think of some of the most memorable movie characters that really had an impact. Hannibal Lecter was only on screen 15 minutes. Alien only four minutes!

Checklist for revealing your characters:

  • Character sketch
  • The slice of life you choose to show
  • How they express themselves
  • Context—how all this fits into their life

Second Panel: Invite, Beg, Snare, Broadcast, Brag: How to Open Short Stories

Speaker: Author Tommy Dean

Ask yourself what will entice the reader. Character, setting, and conflict create a concrete understanding for the reader and keep the story from settling into a vignette (a story without resolution or a sense of meaning—it can have character and conflict, but nothing is at stake for the writer or reader).

snoopyA good opening starts off with a sense of what’s at stake: The character has something to gain or to lose.

Introduce mystery, tension right from the start.

Become subservient to your story. Immerse yourself in this world and give us all the sensory details of it.

I found this session, and the prompts we were given, to be extremely helpful and interesting. And I feel like I’ve moved a step forward with the piece I’m working on.

Prompt #1: Write a general, bland sentence.

Now make it better with specific details:

Then add something off-kilter, unexpected:

Prompt #2: Push into your sense of irony.

Create dread, tension, or hope with targeted word choices. Why are these characters in this place at this point in their lives?

Prompt #3: Think about what your character didn’t do.

Continue with concrete nouns/verbs and something off-kilter. Build through this until the character does something meaningful that moves the story forward.

Prompt #4: Set up the front and back story.

Or set up duel conflicts—two characters sharing an unexpected event. Think of a word or words that might pass between them. Maybe something heavy from the past, or something about a particular item. Words should connect them in surprising ways—make them come together and then bounce away.

Prompt #5: Subvert the setting.

Think of a place you love. Write about it from the point of view of someone who hates that place. Consider the paradigm of character, setting, and conflict.

Publishing: Editor’s Panel

Moderator: Marisa Siegal, Editor in Chief of Rumpus; Panelists: Venus Thrash, co-editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly; Jessica Fischoff, managing editor/owner of PANK Magazine; Chris Gonzalez, Fiction Editor of Barrelhouse; Monica Prince, Managing Editor, Santa Fe Writers Project

Siegal: How do you sustain writing while editing (or any other job)?

“Keep a journal and pen in every bag and desk and drawer. Write on cocktail napkins. Don’t ignore ideas when they show up.”

Prince: I’m required to write to keep my college professor job. I learned to write in the mornings, which changed everything. Never ignore an opportunity to write. Keep a journal and pen in every bag and desk and drawer. Write on cocktail napkins. Don’t ignore ideas when they show up. Write every day. It doesn’t have to be good. Write a grocery list! And drink lots of tea.

Fischoff: I’m still trying to find that balance. I’ve realized I can’t obsess over every piece. When it’s done, it’s done, and I move on.

Gonzales: I can often revise writing when it’s a low day at work. My job is sort of paying me to do this. If I had to go home and write, that would be too hard. I joined a writing group to keep me accountable. It’s been helpful. I’ve forgiven myself for not writing every day, so when I do, I’m less stressed. It happens when it happens.

Venus: I struggled with this and went into a writer’s slump. I teach, so my writing slows down during the semesters, gears up again in the summer when I’m off.

Siegal: Should writers follow market trends?

Gonzalez: Be aware of them, but write what you want and let it be what it will be. Is there a home for everything? No. But there is for most things.

Fischoff: Someone dying, opening grandma’s closet and finding something surprising—there’s far too much of that. Read a journal’s most recent issues to see what’s been done already. Surprise us.

Siegal: Do you have a way to separate editing and writing?

Fischoff: I tell myself, for the next hour, I will WRITE, not EDIT. I tell the editor in me to shut up.

Prince: Accept incoherence. Go on a rant. Write in the margins. You will need to revise, undoubtedly, but keep going.

Bonus Sessiongif

I also attended the “Speed Dating with Editors” event, where you can share and discuss a short piece of your work with an editor for 10 minutes. I met with two literary magazine editors, both of whom had some wonderful insights into the writing I showed them. They speed-read a four-page piece and disagreed on several things I should correct. But the one thing they both advised me to do was slow down and insert myself more fully into the scene—let us see, hear, smell what the character is experiencing. And you know, that’s the really fun part of writing, isn’t it? Why is it always so easily overlooked?

Oh, and the best line overheard of the day?

“You have to listen to writing advice, but you don’t have to take it.”

(Which means, of course, you can ignore all of the above.)

The care and feeding of secondary characters

Where would Gatsby without Daisy? Or Scarlett without Melanie? How could Harry have managed without Ron and Hermione? What if Hamlet had taken Polonius’ good advice?

Secondary characters.  There’s no story without them, but I think too many of us don’t give them the limelight they deserve.

I’m thinking a lot about my supporting cast these days as I work on my novel rewrite. Lucky for me, Amy Sue Nathan devoted a post to the topic during her Thirty Days of Writing Advice series in April.

Amy’s got the month-long series archived, so check it out.

I’m calling out Amy’s terrific advice on how to treat secondary characters, and why it matters. That’s how much I like it.

From Amy:

TWO TIPS FOR SECONDARY CHARACTERS

Your secondary characters need love too, and they need to be as carefully created as your main character — just don’t tell her.

My two biggest tips for creating engaging secondary characters are:

Each secondary character must have her own arc.

To me, this means, a little story of their own going on — a subplot if you will, a storyline. Each must have her own beginning, middle, end. That character doesn’t know she’s in someone else’s story!! But…

Each secondary character must to serve the main character’s story. 

EVERYTHING in your novel helps to drive the main story forward, even a secondary character’s personal storyline. Ask yourself HOW it does this to make sure, but more importantly ask yourself WHY.

This is something hard to do but easy to check. Go back through your manuscript or outline and focus on your main secondary characters (not the townspeople, as I call them). Note what she’s doing in a scene — why is she there? How is her own story being furthered? How is it impacting the protagonist and the main storyline?

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Karen

Post Navigation