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Archive for the tag “literature”

A Novel November

October has a mere three days left, and you fiction writers all know what that means…

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo time!

Nanowrimo logoNaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—invites you … no, encourages … actually  it sort of demands that you write a whole novel in one month. It’s how I wrote a book, many years ago, and it’s one of the best things I ever did. And no, I haven’t sold the book. It’s still sitting in a drawer, grumbling  whenever I walk by, reminding me it exists and it still needs work and I need to dust it off and get over myself already …

But I digress.

My point is, I wrote a book thanks to this challenge. So did Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), among others. And so can you.

For me, the best thing about NaNoWriMo was that it forced me to forge ahead with what the nano people call the “craptastic” first draft, and silence my internal editor. My first draft switched back and forth from first to third person, past and present tense, and included breaks in the story that simply said “Needs more dialogue here,” and “Set the scene!” and “Fill in with some back story.” I did go back and work on all these things later, but in the heated frenzy of creation, I didn’t want the deliberation they required to slow me down. I couldn’t, because the whole point of the challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel (a very short novel by industry standards) in the month of November.

tipsIf you’re thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, the Internet offers no shortage of advice. Here are a few tips of my own:

  • First, sign up on the NaNoWriMo site. You could do the challenge without signing up, of course, but why would you? The site lets you record your daily word count, rewards you with badges along the way, and offers up advice via newsletters and forums. It also lets you find a community of writers so you can…write-in
  • Team up with someone. Find groups in your area hosting events and write-ins and offering general support. Or just have write-ins with friends, live or via skype.
  • Set yourself up with a Dropbox account if you haven’t done so already. That way you can write from any computer, anywhere, and not have five different versions of your masterpiece floating around.
  • Get apps, if you’re into that, to help you along. Some of them are described here.
  • Do the math: 50,000 words in 30 days equals 1,666 words a day. (This little blog post is nearly half that already.) But if you’re the take-the-weekend-off type, that’s 2,500 words a day. If you’re the take-the-weekdays off type, that’s 5,000 words every Saturday and Sunday (November has five weekends this year). And if you write long on some days and short on others, just figure out what suits your work style best and stick with it.clock
  • Sneak in writing wherever you can—during lunch breaks and football practices, at the dinner table and in bed. Keep a notebook on every level of your house in case inspiration, or a commercial, strikes.
  • Give yourself permission to drop off the radar for a while. That might mean fewer social gatherings, school events, kitchen cleanings, TV viewings, or bedtime stories. Ditch the guilt. It’s only for a month, and then you’ll be back in your old routine—but, with any luck, still working away on your book when you can.
  • And most importantly, prepare to get blown away by this. Creativity, when a word count hovers and a deadline looms, can freeze you right into writer’s block. But if you’re open to it, it can surge through you—free up your inner artist and push you to imagine new worlds and take risks on the page. Let it. If you’re stuck, make notes, and move on. Because this challenge ends at 11:59, November 30, 2014. And you want to be typing THE END by then.the end

Are you up for NaNoWriMo? Let us know! We’d love to hear all about your progress.

You can get all the details here.

Write well, everyone—and write a lot!

―Cathy

A Goodreads page and everything? Oh my!

Well, my novel is up on Goodreads. You can order it, review it, “add” it, so this must really being happening, after all.

And as if that weren’t enough, I also have a couple of readings and book signings scheduled at Connecticut bookshops in mid-November:

Breakwater Books — November 15
81 Whitfield Street
Guilford, CT
2 pm reading/signing

Bank Square Books — November 22
53 West Main Street
Mystic, CT
1 pm reading/signing

Local folks, please come out! Non-local folks, please find me online. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support, and all the kind wishes I’ve received.

Hope to see or hear from you soon!

— Karen

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Amazing (and FREE) Writing Opportunity!

MOOCHave you heard of MOOCs? The term stands for massive open online course, and the writing program at the University of Iowa is currently hosting one.

Iowa’s Writing University Open Courses website is offering a six-week FREE course, for beginners to experienced-level writers, called How Writers Write Fiction. Once you register for the class, you simply watch a weekly video or two and complete a writing assignment. Then you’re asked to read other people’s work and post your comments while they read and critique your pieces. Some big-name writers are running the show, including one of my personal faves, Mona Simpson, and I believe they will comment on a few assignments as well.

If you’re too busy to sign up, or aren’t sure about it yet, I’ll give you a recap of the first video I watched. This one featured author Michelle Huneven, who offered some great tips for fitting writing into your life:

  1. Turn your soul around. Make writing the priority in your life and everything else will fall into place.
  2. timerGet a good timer. Or use your phone. Decide how many minutes you can stand to write: 7 minutes, 12 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hours…and begin.
  3. Join a writing group. It just helps.
  4. Find a writer you deeply admire who’s maybe a little better than you are, and make a deal to swap writing on a regular basis. Saves you lots of time and makes writing a lot less lonely.
  5. Get plenty of exercise. Very important. No flabby mind, no flabby body, and they’re connected. Walk.
  6. Do something else creative. Cook, garden, play music, make pots, paint. Do something that’s not word-based. It gives the psyche time to range about, and it will sort things out for you that you can’t do with a direct assault.
  7. Bang out a really crappy rough draft of a story, chapter, scene, or article. Give the part of the mind that structures something the chance to organize.
  8. If you’re a novelist, write something short once in a while: an essay, a short story, an article. This is essential so you don’t forget how to finish something. A novel is a really long act of faith. Shorter pieces remind you of the pleasure of endings and keep you in practice to finish.
  9. Remember writing is a form of play. Get into flow. Remember you will get stuck, but you can’t force things. Solving difficult problems is the form of writing. It’s infinite. But remember to give yourself a little room. You have to work your way into flow. If you’re too stuck or going at it too hard, back off. Take a walk, cook a meal, play some music. If it’s still not working, try something else.

Great advice, right? I’m giving this course a try to see where it takes me. If you plan to sign up too, please drop us a line and let us know how it’s going. The second discussion is up now, and focuses on crafting beginning lines. I SO need help with this. I posted my assignment and within an hour had three comments on it. Fun, and hopefully very useful.

And hey, did I mention it’s Iowa for pete’s sake? And free???

To register, visit:

http://courses.writinguniversity.org/

Good luck, and write well, everyone!

—Cathy

20 Minutes of Inspiration

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Karen Baker

New writer Karen Baker recently stumbled upon the Write Despite challenge. Wrestling with a short story she needed to get down on paper, Karen says 20 minutes a day have made all the difference.

Please welcome Karen Baker to Write Despite.

 

I found Write Despite through a very dear friend of mine, who gave me the delightful news that her daughter-in-law, Karen Guzman, was having her first novel published. When I was Googling around one day, I decided to look Karen up and I discovered the wonderful treasure tool, Write Despite. It was the perfect nudge for me because it featured the 20-minute challenge right there in the first line on the front page of the website.

I have to say that Write Despite has come along at just the right time for me. I have had a story going on in my mind for some time. It is with me all the time like an invisible friend. One day I finally started to write it down. I thought if I could get it out of me, then my mind would have some space to be calm, and start a new story. I always feel like I am trying to help this character, as if she is a real person. The story is about Angie, a middle-aged married woman who is very unhappy and has a few health issues that she is consumed with—so much so that they are interfering with all of her relationships. They aren’t even life threatening, but she relies heavily on her pain medication and has forgotten the joy of living.

When a “health nut” outsider arrives one day, a new spirit of fun begins as one very interesting fact about who she is and why she is there is revealed.

The 20-minute-a-day challenge has really made a huge difference in my dedication to writing, because it keeps it simple and fun.  The time is perfect because with the busy schedules that everyone seems to have, 20 minutes of writing is manageable and feels like a huge accomplishment. Why, after 20 minutes, it leaves me wanting to write a little more. It’s similar to the feeling of when you’re reading a really good book, and keep telling yourself you’re going to read just one more chapter before returning to the dishes.

Thanks to Karen and Cathy for making writing fun and for demonstrating the possibility that dreams can come true.

 

Stubborn Streak

There is something to be said for that stubborn streak your parents always complained about. “Muleheaded” was, as I recall, my parents’ fave term. That trait has gotten me into more than a few fights and through plenty of standoffs with my kids, and into a fair amount of trouble.stubborn It’s also gotten me published a few times. Here’s the thing with stubbornness: You can fall back on it when you really, truly believe you’ve got a winner. I wrote a story I loved way back in 1993. Yes, I’m old, okay? Let’s move on. In its early days, it went through workshops, incarnations, edits, and reviews by trusted friends. It tentatively made its way into the world and got rejected plenty. Then it sat in a drawer for about a decade and a half until I rediscovered it one day and decided it was worth another try. Back to editing and begging friends to read it. And cutting! This story is still nearly 6,500 words, but it used to be a whopping 8,000, until a writer friend gently suggested “You have got to CUT some of this bullshit.” So I did. In the last four years I’ve sent it out pretty regularly to more than 50 different magazines and journals. This month…drumroll here… It worked! logoI’m a finalist in New Rives Press’s American Fiction series! (Yes, that’s my big ol’ face right there at the top—so embarrassing.) All the finalists get published in the latest issue, along with three top prize winners judged by…drumroll again… Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout! Pulitzer Prize winner! Olive Kitteridge creator! Reading MY story! I’m a wee bit excited about this one if you can’t tell. So my point is, stubbornness. And a real willingness to listen to what others have to say and make the hard changes you have to make. The American Fiction prize winners will be announced by late September. And I was thrilled to see the publication date is October…a mere three months away! Then I realized it is actually October…2015. Ah well. After 21 years, what’s one more? Write well everyone―keep submitting! ―Cathy

The Long and Short of It

Taking a break from the book for a while because … well, because I’m stuck. Discouraged. Not feeling it . But you don’t want to hear my problems. Neither does Karen. She told me to shut up and quit whining and go write a short story. Okay, she was much nicer than that, but I got the message.

A short story!!??

CalvinandHobbesStory03-e1331337028749

This may seem like no big deal to you, but I haven’t written a story in years. How sad is that? I’ve been so caught up in the novel thing that the idea of shorter fiction hasn’t even been on my radar. If you want to switch gears and get a new outlook and rev up the energy again, though, I guess you really should consider going back to the basics.

I plan to start by reading stories, of course. I used to read short fiction all the time. Best American Short Stories is always on my Christmas list (thank you in-laws for making sure this is under the tree each year), but I confess I haven’t read a whole one in years. I’ll look through them now, though, since I’m one of those people who pulls inspiration from others (okay steals, if you like—I’m not too proud to admit it).

Best American Cover

Any other suggestions for where to find great stories? Do you read literary journals? The New Yorker? Alice Munro anthologies?

Anyone want to write along with me?

When we’re done, here’s a GREAT listing of pubs to submit to:

http://www.newpages.com/literary-magazines/complete.htm

So switch it up, hunker down, carry on, write it short–or long. Whatever moves you. As always, just write.

Oh, and I saw an amazing quote the other day. I’m not much for such things, but this one stuck with me:

“Imagine what you would do if you knew you could not fail.”

I know, right?

—Cathy

Author Vanessa Hua’s breakthrough publication

Most writers remember their first publication: the magical acceptance letter (usually after a raft of rejections,) reading the galleys, seeing the finished thing alive in the world. We thought it would be fun to launch an occasional series featuring authors talking about their breakthroughs. Sometimes the story behind the story is the best part.

Please join us in welcoming Vanessa Hua to Write Despite.

Vanessa is a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing. An award-winning writer and journalist, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic, ZYZZVA, Crab Orchard Review, New York Times, New Yorker, Salon, and elsewhere. A former staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, she has reported from China, South Korea, and Panama.  She blogs at threeunderone.blogspot.com and can be found at www.vanessahua.com

vanessa hua

Late in 2005, I won the Cream City Review fiction contest – my first short story in print.  When I received the e-mail, I stood up in the newsroom and shouted with joy and excitement, struck by the heady, dangerous feeling of affirmation.  I’d been judged worthy!   By then, I’d also reported from China, launched an award-winning campaign finance investigation, and had married.  When I won the contest, it felt all parts of my life were coming together – professionally, personally, and creatively.

I’d been writing fiction since I was a child, won writing contests in high school, and had studied creative writing at Stanford University. After graduation, I focused on my journalism career.  In my spare time, I wrote scenes, sketches, starts of stories that went nowhere.  When I re-read pieces I’d written in college, I felt conflicted: proud that the stories had merit, yet it felt like a stranger had penned them.  I didn’t remember how to write a story.

Eventually, I signed up for a fiction workshop where I produced the story that won the Cream City Review contest.  I’d learned about the journal after reading the publishing bio of another student in the class whose work I admired.  That success helped keep me going as I started writing more fiction, submitting to journals, taking workshops, joining writer’s groups, and going to writing conferences.  Of course, if you spend too much time chasing validation, you might succumb to the despair of rejection – and I’ve been rejected many times since then.  And you have to spend more hours writing than talking about writing.

In 2007, I decided I wanted to learn how to write a novel, and I headed to UC Riverside, where I earned my MFA.  Five years later, I had the pleasure of being asked to judge the Cream City Review fiction contest.  I hope that the prize helped encourage the winner in her career, too.

In deciding where to submit, I continue sending to places that publish writing I admire.  I also seek out paying journals, those with interesting business models, such as DailyLit, and strongly promote the work of their authors, such as At Length.  I also enter contests, such as The Atlantic’s student fiction prize, which I won in 2008.  Your chances might be slim, but if you don’t enter, you have no chance at all.

To buy Vanessa’s stories, go to

https://dailylit.com/book/262-line-please or

http://www.amazon.com/Deal-short-story-Atlantic-Archives-ebook/dp/B008873WK2/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391965062&sr=1-2

Q&A with Author and Literary Journal Editor Scott Garson

 
Scott GarsonScott Garson is the author of IS THAT YOU, JOHN WAYNE?—a collection of stories—and AMERICAN GYMNOPEDIES, a book of microfictions. His fiction has won awards from Playboy, The Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation and Dzanc Books, and he has work in or coming from
Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, Hobart, Conjunctions, New York Tyrant and others. He edits the Pushcart-Prize-winning journal of very short fiction, Wigleaf.

What was your first real publication and how did it come about?

If I tell you that, how can I keep it buried?

Kidding.

My first publication was back in the ’90s—in the ‘Before’ era, as I see it now. Before the internet. Before indie mags had more than local reach. Then, as now, we were all sending our stuff to the Paris Review and receiving form slips in return. If we wanted a more realistic chance, we had to get creative. I looked through the addresses in the back of the Best American Short Stories and saw an Illinois journal (now defunct) called Black Dirt. They accepted and published a story of mine called “Aloha.” It was okay. My Mom liked it, I think.

You’ve just published your second book, Is That You, John Wayne?, another amazing collection of short stories. What makes you gravitate to short fiction? Do you ever plan to write longer-—say, a novel?
John Wayne book

Well, I do! There are a couple of novel manuscripts in my past… Does that sound depressing? Novels are like short stories, I think: it takes a while to learn how to do it. But while apprentice short stories are easily enough forgotten, novels take longer. There’s such an investment. It’s like you’re not allowed to let them go.

I’ve let those manuscripts go. Goodbye to you, unpublished novels. Good luck!

As to the attraction of short fiction, that’s easy: I loved reading before I discovered short fiction, but I probably wouldn’t ever have thought to become a writer if it weren’t for reading short fiction. That’s to say, fiction seduced me via the short story. It’s where I first saw how sense, sentence and story could come together as a kind of magic. I wanted to do that, to make that kind of thing.

How long has Wigleaf existed? 

We just had our sixth birthday. Birthday #5 was fun because my wife, Becky, made Wigleaf a birthday cake. A real birthday cake for a virtual magazine. My kids approved because the magazine, unlike them, could not bring a mouth to the party.

Again, this is a journal dedicated to short-short fiction. Why and how did you create it and what were you trying to do differently from other literary journals?

I suppose I was getting a little dejected as a writer when I got the idea for Wigleaf. That might be too strong a word, but my excitement was for sure not at a high. This was in 2007, I guess. I was publishing stories fairly regularly, which should have been spiriting, but there wasn’t a lot of response, and if I got a contributor’s copy and didn’t particulary enjoy some of the other fiction, I was liable to feel that the whole process was kind of useless.

Around this time I sent out a short-short for the first time, a 500-word story called “Lucky.” It was accepted by a journal that published only work of that length, Jennifer and Adam Pieroni’s late great Quick Fiction. Maybe you know where this is going. Reading that contributor’s copy of Quick Fiction was a great and amazing experience. All the writers were doing such careful, interesting work. With each piece, it seemed like the whole sense of what a story could be was invented all over again.

Not long after that I taught myself basic html. Online lit mags and short-short fiction were both sort of new, as I saw it. I thought they were a good fit for each other. (Some other early online mags had paved the way here: SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, Hobart, Juked, and FRiGG, to name a few.)

What are you working on now?

Only a handful of people know this, so I guess it qualifies as a secret. Ready? I’m writing a novel for young readers which I’ll probably try to publish under a pseudonym. My two kids—ages 8 and 11—are responsible. They’ve challenged me to write something “not boring,” and my 8-year old has all sorts of advice for me as to how to do that (for example, “People like books that have chapters with titles.”). As a writing project, it’s certainly a switch-up. I’m enjoying it.

Any new publications forthcoming?

I have a draft of a short novel that I feel good about. Just now I can’t stand the idea of publishing it. A writer who’s got a book out is a writer whose mindlife is somewhat compromised…..  Maybe in another couple years.

Do you write every day?

In some seasons, yes. When I’m teaching, no. This semester, I write on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.

Maybe when my kids are grown I’ll be able to write every day again. (Not that I’m looking forward to that… This is a good time!)

Advice for aspiring writers?

#1.  Read a lot.

There’s the duh advice.

#2.  Understand that for most readers, the pleasure of fiction is the pleasure of interiority. This is not saying too much, in the sense that there are so many different ways to take readers inside a life. But it’s a good thing to remember, all the same. Better that the mind of your fiction move from the inside out rather than vice versa.

Structure: The Lost Art?

I started college as an art major. I lived in a small town and began a long educational stint at a small college, which had exactly two art professors. One was the 3D instructor—pottery and sculpture, which I was not so into. I wanted to draw and paint. So I spent most of my time with the 2D art teacher—a gruff, critical guy who seemed to never be able to explain exactly what was wrong with a piece, just that you hadn’t put enough of your “soul” into it, or you needed to “color outside the lines” more. He was also into trash. “Found objects” were his medium, and he could often be spotted rooting through the bins outside the art building scavenging treasures to incorporate into his “art.”Found Art

I say “art” in quotes, yes, because I could not tell exactly what his art was. One creation he displayed proudly in his office was a board nailed on the wall holding a tangle of red wires, some prickly stuff that looked like steel wool, and clumps of brown feathers. His students dubbed it (behind his back) “Road Kill in Mixed Media.”


One day, when we were reading about Picasso and how he’d progressed from realism to abstraction during his career, I came across a line that went something like, “Realism provides the foundation for mastery which then allows artists to expand in whatever direction they choose.”

There. That’s what I’d been sensing all along. I pointed this out to my professor and said, “I feel like I need to know how to paint something realistic first, before I try to weird it up.”

He was, to put it mildly, offended. More like defensive. Actually horrified. He blurted out that this was a bourgeoisie concept that had been around for centuries and it was, essentially, crap. Learning the basics, he said, would only enable you to produce cookie-cutter, formulaic art. Then he fell back on his favorite dada-ist phrase: “Anything the artist spits is art.”

Okay, really? Not only is this gross, but come on. Whatever you throw out into the world is golden just because you proclaim yourself gifted? That’s crap.

I ended up changing towns and colleges and majors until I finally got a degree in creative writing. I took countless workshops, all of which were eye-opening and useful. Yet in all the talk of novel writing (and there wasn’t much—we concentrated mainly on short stories) there was still very little teaching of structure.

I still feel kind of bitter—okay, plenty bitter—about that. Because to this day I’m still struggling with it. I get that people don’t want to teach something considered too conventional. But I’ll take formula over floundering any day. Like Picasso said, I’d rather come to learn something so well that I can then break apart its underlying foundation and have it still support all the crazy cube-like heads and feet above.

The book I’m reading now (Save the Cat!, which I’ve mentioned previously) gives such strict guidance on structure it tells you on what page a key element in your story should take place.

Actually, your script—this is a screenwriting book. I wish this guy would write a how-to on novel structure and tell me on exactly what page my main character should make a life-altering decision, or bottom out, or find enlightenment.
No spitting

My old art professor would spit his artistic saliva at me for that one. But I’d rather have the tools to create what will stand upright and endure, not what’s become a mass of wires and feathers that I have to now go back and try to pry up from the roadside.

It’s so much easier if you build the foundation from the start. Structure, I’m starting to think, is EVERYTHING.

What do you think?

–Cathy

Scary Spaces

Happy Halloween, everyone! I was wondering what would be the scariest picture I could post today—maybe a spider or a blood-covered vampire or Miley Cyrus’ tongue (okay, I can’t help posting that one):

miley cyrus

Yee-ikes. I’ve seen this thing more times lately than I’ve seen my own tongue, and yet it never fails to make me gag.

Anyway, here’s the actual scariest picture I could find:

Messy Office

Yep. That’s my office. That’s where I write, think, research, edit, blog, dream. And I think it’s why I’m having such trouble organizing my thoughts lately.

You think????

Can you say Professional Organizer? Life Coach? Get your shit together?

Just looking at this photo makes me want to weep. You too? Hey, try actually sitting here and working in this garbage heap. What kinds of spaces do real writers work in, I wondered. Hmm. Here’s a sampling.

Stephen King’s office:

Stephen King Office

E.B. White’s office:

EB White's Office

(I guess when you have that view you don’t need much else?)

Virginia Woolf’s office:

Virginia Woolf's Office

None of these, though, exactly evoke the kind of space I have in mind. I’ve decided I need only about four things: a desk, a window, a chair, and some walls where I can tack up ideas and inspirational posters, like that cat hanging on a tree branch (Hang in There, Baby—Friday’s Coming!). No, not that one.

Here’s more what I have in mind:

Writing Desk Photo

Sweet, right? I feel this would be very do-able.

Tomorrow is November 1, which means we have only two months left of the Write Despite challenge. I am vowing to not only keep writing for the next two months, but to have an AFTER picture of my office by then too.

Where do you work? Describe, or post a pic for us! I’d love to know, and to get some ideas.

Write well, everyone!

—Cathy

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