Category Archives: Rants and Ravings

Notes and updates

Talking about writing

I’m returning to my drafts. This was something written …I’m not certain, maybe 2011. It was summer when the events took place; the conversation in the bar in New York. I don’t know the season when I wrote it or when I read the books I had mentioned, but I’m fairly certain I was in Portland, Oregon. So many mysteries. So much to review.

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I remember sitting in a bar in New York city, maybe three years ago, talking with my friend about writing. It was an English pub. The type you see all over New York and every major city. Some people may know the difference between an Irish pub and an English pub, (flags are a good indicator) but do they ever notice that the wood on the bar is different, I swear. I think English pubs’ wood finish (or the wood itself) are darker than Irish pubs. It was just an observation, but this is not about the difference between an English or Irish pub, it is about having a conversation about writing, in New York, and having this conversation over a pint of beer (something Belgium).

My friend is a good writer, an intellectual writer, he went to Grad school. There is no tone of cynicism in the above sentence. He worked hard, and has always been an intelligent critical thinker. He worked hard to get into and out of Grad school. It was the subject of Grad school that garnered the conversation about writing. I was in New York to see another friend’s art opening. She had just Graduated from Pratt’s MFA program in painting. I was there to see her art show, but also to check out some grad schools for myself. I went to Columbia and sat on the green lawn of the white college with its false Corinthian columns and early American colonial moldings. I knew that Kerouac and Ginsberg had dropped out of this very prestigious school (well Ginsberg graduated, but not without a suspension first). For me, the school symbolized everything not “meant” for me: “Ivy league, rich, and prestigious”. I’d never get in, and if I did I’d never be able to pay for it, and honestly, it wasn’t about the program as much as it was about the name. Still the school was on my wish list of desired schools, along with Brown another not “meant for” me school. I also visted to the New School and spoke with an entrance advisor and she gave me a tour. It was spread out among Greenwich in lower Manhattan and felt very urban. Although, it has its own set of prestige it wasn’t Ivy league which felt more accessible. Both Columbia and The New School are great schools, but I didn’t apply to either. I didn’t apply to anything. I have a lot of hang-ups when it comes to education, and my ability to get into a program, and then my ability to pay for that program tends to get ahead of my attempts at trying. Plus, I am an excellent self saboteur. All I need is a few moments in my head and voila the dream dissipates into apathetic wishes! Still, at the time that I was in New York I was telling myself that I was actually going to apply, and I wanted to talk to my friend about his experiences as an MFA writing student.

Back to the English pub in New York. My friend, who went to the New School,  had mentioned that while there he really felt that he was finding his voice. This subject of voice had come up a lot in my writing classes as an undergrad.  Voice and audience. A lot of the time this is what is talked about, isn’t it? What are you saying, how, and who are you talking to? I think in many instances this is not too difficult when you are dead certain who your audience is and what you are writing. Say it’s an essay or an argumentative paper, or maybe you are a genre writer, and you are writing a romance; a thriller; a mystery or so on, and you have a formula that you follow, and a voice that makes your formula unique from other formulas. You’ve got your voice. But what if you don’t know? Or worse yet, what if you don’t want to have to even abide to an audience or have a set voice? Is that ignorant? Naive?

I’m reading Let the Right One In, (the English translation), and I have been noticing the simplicity of it. Small short simple sentences, short chapters and short descriptions. I’m reading through it fairly quickly, and I am a slow reader. It is a genre story a vampire story which is a popular genre, but it has its own unique voice, and is creepy more than scary -so far-. I am also reading The Grapes of Wrath. The sentences are long and descriptive. The chapters are long and it is taking me forever to get through, and not because it isn’t interesting in fact, it is riveting and beautiful. But it takes longer, Steinbeck is in no hurry (and why should he have been, reading was what people once did for entertainment).  It has taken 160 pages before the Joads have even left for California and that is what the whole thing is about; the dream of California. It has taken 103 pages in Let the Right One In, and there has already been two murders, some terrible information about child prostitutes, and horrible school bullies. Don’t for a second think I am comparing the two, there is no comparing, but there is a definite difference in style and who the writers are talking to. So, as a writer am I supposed to pick between these audiences? “Obviously”, in this fast paced marketing world no one wants to take the time to read, The Grapes of Wrath, but I don’t completely believe that because I am taking the time to read, The Grapes of Wrath. I am also reading, Let the Right One In; who so far in the vampire genre tears the throat out of Twilight, but John Ajvide Lindqvist (it may or may not be translated) isn’t Stephenie Meyer and their audiences are not the same.

All this rambling is coming to one thought, why can’t I write to both? I am obviously reading both. I read Jane Eyre, and I loved it, but, I also loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I also like to read the Walking Dead graphic novels. Why do I have to pick this magic solo audience? So I can make money? This shit just tears me up. I know when I meet with my “teacher/mentor” in September I am going to have to say who my audience is and possibly talk about voice. I hate it. I just want to write short and long descriptive sentences that tell a story that may or may not appeal to people, oh and yes I’d like to make money so that I can write another story with long and short descriptive sentences that may appeal to old and young audiences alike or may not be liked at all. The truth is and the reason I struggle is because I haven’t found my voice and I think the real frustration lies there.

What did I learn from my writing conversation in New York? That my friend is awesome and knows his voice, and I assume he has a good concept of audience. I also learned that I have far too much of a hang up about it. A hang up that impedes the process of finding it. I know I can never market my writing if can’t tell someone what the hook is. I have to stop worrying so much about the market and the audience because when I am worried about the market and the audience and who is even going to bother reading the shit I write, something happens, and what happens is I don’t write.

I didn’t come to this conclusion while I was in the bar in New York, three years ago, I came to it right now, because I was thinking, about the incredible structural differences between the two books I am reading and the fact that I, a non intellectual, non ivy league,  low-income woman from the foothills, is reading both books and enjoying them both. Perhaps just perhaps, our commercial marketing world does not give the audience much credit for having a wide range of interests, but that is not their job.

Anyway, and but, for the sake of POSTERITY, and bringing this post full circle let’s say I did have this conclusion in the English pub in New York. Better yet, how about I had it after I said good-bye to my friend, who is currently living and writing in another country, as I stood on the platform in the subway station. I watched my friend’s train leave and between wondering which train I needed to take to get me back to Brooklyn, I thought about how I need to ease up on the worrying about the market and the agents and just focus on the love of writing for writings sake. I like that visual better because when I put it in that setting it seems so much more profound. They say you can rewrite your history. So I just did.

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Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs talking, talking, talking and discussing.

 

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I originally wrote this post in 2014, but I never posted it. So why am I posting parts of it now, a little over five years later? Because I didn’t do what I said I was going to do, and that, in and of itself, is why I have failed and continue to fail as a writer.

True failure is inaction. Good writing, bad writing, it’s all writing and that takes action; takes courage; that takes faith; and gumption; and effort; and stick-to-it-ness otherwise known as endurance. Failure is not about the verb to try. Failure is: talking about it, and then fucking it off. Failure is giving up on the race before you even leave the house to get to the track.  I failed. I failed myself.

Reading while on break from my waiting tables job.

We are all our own worst critic, but I’m not trying to just beat myself up and take a look in the mirror and say, “Look at you you are a failure!,” And then start crying myself into a deep depression. I’m not into self-flagellation at the moment (I do have my moments). What I’m into is dissecting this illness, and yes to me to constantly choose to fail by not doing is a sickness (my definition), and try to combat it. I dissect it by looking at what I said I would do, but didn’t do. And take it from there. I believe this is called self-reflection.

Let’s Get Started

It is interesting that I wrote this, according to the time stamp, in 2014, because the event took place in 2008. Writing this in 2014 was six years later yet, the narrative is written as if it is in the present. I’m not sure what was going on in my head at the time. Let’s plunge into the tale.

I quit my job to finish my book. What really got me started on this whole, take control of your life-just do it attitude, was a book. I’m sure a series of events in my life, and aging, and all that life stuff had a factor, but what finally solidified it was a book.

This was true. I did quit my job in 2008. It was also true that I had decided that I wanted to hold off looking for a job for two months so that I could finish a book that I had been working on for about 8 years. I remember this decision distinctly. I was working at a software development company as a receptionist. I made decent money but I wasn’t really into the lifestyle of the office worker. I had saved up some money and I was in a position to take a break. I’d never had that opportunity before, so I thought the time is now. Timing is everything.

It was Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. I thought the title was funny so I picked it up. I didn’t expect any miracles or expect anything I didn’t already know, but while reading it I was struck with a now or never kind of thought. I mean Ariel started writing as a teenager and nothing stopped her or anyone else that wanted to be a writer for that matter. So as soon as I finished her book I made my decision. I’m quitting my job and I’m going to be a writer.

This is true. Gore’s book did inspire me to take the jump. She had travelled and her book was about her life traveling. I had traveled and my book was about traveling. Seemed like kismet.

Alright. I say a lot of shit though. So the next steps? I decided not to tell my parents. I’m an adult, I don’t have to tell them anything, but sometimes I have this deep wish that they are going to be supportive towards my ventures even though I know they wont. In their own special unique way they will fill me with fear and doubt. So I dashed the fantasy of a supportive family, and kept my mouth shut.

So, this is where stuff get’s a little sad. I didn’t tell my parents, who were not together and hadn’t been for over 40 years’ at that point. I didn’t tell them for different reasons. My father wouldn’t have called me foolish or stupid exactly, but his disapproval would be along those lines, and at the age I was at the time, I felt tired of his disapproval and I didn’t want to deal with it. My mom, well, that reason was more complex. I grew up raised on welfare and we never had any money. My mom had spiraled back into drug addiction and poverty which led to her eventual disappearance which was because she was homeless for three years. After time she managed to pull some semblance of structure back into her life and she returned to NA and found a home through section 8 housing and life was just tough, but she was coming out of it. She felt secure knowing I had a good, practical, stable job. How could I tell her that her only child was about to quit a good job just to chase a dream? It was immature to not just be honest.

I told my friends, my best friend, and all my acquaintances. All approved. Still, I didn’t really believe it. I could still back out.

I did tell my friends and now, reading this I feel a little embarrassed about it, but wait a moment… I’m over it.

While on a train ride back from visiting my friend in Seattle I shared a seat with a man. I had my laptop out, and I was staring blankly at some words I wrote-AGES ago. He asked me if I was a writer.  “Yes”, I told him, “unpublished.” I added, as an excuse. I was preparing all my disclaimers- but I first told him about my decision to quit my job, and write full time for two months. He pulled out a book from his bag and tapped the cover- “well that’s me”, he said, “I’m a writer and if you have any questions we have three hours together to talk”.

This all really happened.

His name was David Guterson, and I did know who he was. He was indeed a writer. A published writer. His book Snow Falling on Cedars had been made into a movie a few years ago. I had seen the movie, but never read the book. Here on the train, at the moment I had decided to quit my job to be a full time writer, I had a famous writer at my side for three hours, and I had nothing writerly to ask. What I did learn was that he was a nice man who had five kids, and they were all homeschooled. He himself was a teacher, and his wife did the homeschooling.

I still haven’t read read his book. It is in my reading future. I promise myself. Not for him, but for me.

One word of writing advice he gave me was to make observations.

This too is true.

Tell me about that man.” He said nodding his head in the direction of a man that was talking on his cell phone.

“I can only see a part of him,” I had said, “but he is very black. His skin is dark like pure chocolate, and it is smooth and shiny. He works out or he does something physical that he uses his arms. His muscles are defined and big. He is wearing a tight solid black t-shirt and he has a gold watch. He is eating bright red licorice. There is something intriguing about him, about the cadence of his talk. He sounds charming. He is talking to someone, a person he is dating or married to. I have the impression he is a straight man, but I don’t know for certain. The strongest part of him as an image are all the colors; his chocolate skin, which isn’t actually black but a deep dark brown, and the black t-shirt, his gold watch, and the bright red licorice that he isn’t eating but holding like a pointer in his hand.”

This is what David Guterson told me to do. To observe. To watch and to listen, and then find the way to put the images and the thoughts onto the page. 

What’s interesting to me about revisiting this writing from 11 years ago, is that I can’t remember what David Guterson looks like. If I were to look him up or see him on the back of one of his books, I’m sure I’d remember, but just trying to think back to that time, I can’t picture him at all. He was white, average build and height, and maybe dark blonde hair, but I don’t know, I’m just assuming. Who I do remember in vivid detail is that black man on the train. This is crazy to me. I observed that man for a total of 5 to 10 minutes, and although I had noticed him earlier because as I recall he did have something noteworthy about him, it was still a short observation from 11 years ago. I sat on a train next to a famous writer and spoke with him for three hours. I sat side by side with this man talking for three hours, and I can’t remember his face. So, there’s something special about observing for the sake of writing. It emblazons an image and perception onto your mind-as a writer this can not be taken for granted. Its a necessary exercise.

My next day at work I told them I was leaving in September.

Oh boy, do I remember this. My first work free day was September 8th, 2008 and my new writerly self turned on NPR to the news that the financial markets had dropped 20% and it was the start of the market crash of 2008. I was not able to find a job for 6 months and the job I did finally find was a miracle job, but that’s another story. To make a long story less long; It was bad timing.

I’m not being completely honest about being a failure. According to my previous definition of failure I didn’t fail at my initial intension for quitting my job. I did finish my novel during this time. I sent it to two, maybe three places, but after three rejections I put it away. I gave up on the publishing part. So, perhaps this isn’t about the failure to write but the failure to publish. Intention matters. Later, I gave up not only at publishing, but writing too. And, that’s the biggest problem for now.

The last time I wrote on this blog was June 18th 2018. Over a year ago, and I’ve done many extended breaks through my writing life. I think at this point I don’t even want to be a writer in the published sense, but if I can just consistently write daily for at least a year, if I can do that I will be accomplishing so much. Beyond that year, I’ll worry about later, but for now just to be consistent and to take it seriously, truly seriously regardless of publication or notice that would be a huge accomplishment. Hell, I’m self published on this blog, that’s enough; but let’s make this a routine. Daily.

What does this have to do with short stories? This is a workshop. The Short Story workshop and figuring out a way to get back to writing is the part of the workshop. I have started and stopped so many times it’s unbelievable. My intention is to do a timed writing daily, and to start small. In fact I had already started. I started a week and a half ago. I started with a timed 3 minute write, and I’ve written every day slowly building that time. Today was 15 minutes. I included editing this blog post as a part of that 15 minutes. Tomorrow with be 16 minutes. There’s no excuse not to sit down for 16 minutes. What’s 16 minutes? For a writer trying to get back to writing 16 minutes is a life line. Intention matters. Intention really matters.

Step up to the Plate More Often

This is an image I took in Saigon, Vietnam las...

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I write. I write every day. Still I am not writing enough, not the right writing. I’m journaling every day which certainly has its merits, in fact I would never have written my novel Zizkov if it wasn’t for my daily journaling.

I started a new blog post, that I am only doing for one year. It is about journaling everyday for a year. I decided to do it because I was curious if I could and because one day I wondered; if this was my last year of life what would I do with it, then that translated into, what do I do every day. Sometimes the days just rush and blur.

But, it’s still not enough. I need to be doing more creative writing. Exercising my brain. I’ve decided that at least one day a week I have to write a new flash fiction or timed writing piece or a writing exercise. Once a week. That isn’t that much. I wont have time to go back and flesh anything out until I complete my novel, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the practice.

The more I swing the more times I will hit and eventually I will know the exact speed and curve of the ball.

Setting Bolder Goals

I have just been accepted into a writing program. I’m very excited to grow as a writer. One of the things about this particular program that I like is that you have to set goals. I haven’t started the course yet, but I know based on the curriculum that what you need to be succesful in the program is to have goals. Here are mine: During the program I want to complete my editing of my first novel and I want to begin the processes of getting it published. By the end of the program I would like to have the beginning outline for my next book and I would like to have a strong selection of short stories for which I can put together a collection of short stories.

Based on my ten minute writes that I have done on this blog, I want to work on Sand and WheatGunther McWilliams, and the one about the abonne, the old man and the woman in the garden in Brooklyn, The Chinamanthe girl with the bright red handsThe Appalachian Girl and Touch and Lewis. There may be some others. My goal for this blog and its loose purpose is to do bi-weekly ten minute writes for more inspired ideas. After a month I need to pick one and get to work.

I sound like I know what is up, but I don’t.

No short stories in the works

I’m just sitting on my hands as far as Ishi goes. There isn’t much for me to do until I find out if I will get published. I have a couple of stories in my head, but I finally got back to work on my novel, and I’m spending all of my writing time on that project. Perhaps one day I will be so prolific that I will be able to write both a novel, and a short story simultaneously, but as far as today goes, that is not a possibility. Maybe at a certain point in the novel I will be able to switch gears.

Uh… About the editing part…

I’ve come to that part. I think. The part where the story is finished, as the story goes. I feel a little – um – unsatisfied, dissatisfied with the very last line of the story, so in that respect I think there is still more work, but I feel I’m pretty close to the right last line. But, what I mean about “that part” is that I am at the nitty gritty. Yep, its edit time, its grammar time, and I hate it, because I suck. Suck big apples suck, like choking on the apple, you know like when snow white ate the poison apple from the witch, but later in the story you find out it was just stuck in her throat? Yeah, well that’s me, with grammar. That’s me passed out in the glass case but I aint got no prince to kiss me with some proper punctuation, and them dwarves dropped outta school in like sixth grade so I gotta figure this stuff out on my own. Annnd… I hate it.

I hate it because I can’t see the problems. I think, when I get critiqued and it is punctuation and grammar focused, I get frustrated, defensive and pissed, because I feel embarrassed. I tell myself, grammarians are not really self gratifying snobbish stuck up assholes who get off on making people feel bad about themselves for being stupid; it is just my own insecurities. Yes. Oh. Yes. That makes me feel so much better. It works like a charm every time.

I am like a petulant child being sent to clean my room. It is more agonizing a task than getting my finger nails pulled from my finger tips with tiny pliers. I hate it… and when I say that, “I hate it,” my voice is deep and exasperated rumbling low like a distant storm the kind with thunderheads, and heat spreading over a flat landscape- you know the kind of sound.

I’m reading Rhetorical Grammar by Martha Kolln and it is as dry as a friggin salt lake. My child brain is pouting and whining, “but we’ll never get through it in time we’ll be dead before we get it published! We suck, this is lame!’ My child easily morphs from one immature age to the next like an amoeba, or some cell division.

I have a response for my child though. Yesterday we, (me and all my alter egos) scanned through 442 Literary magazines ( with the help of Poets and Writers) looking for at least one or maybe two where we could send the story. It was a long process, but shortened by the fact that many lit mags don’t take submissions till January, that is their reading time. Then there was an even smaller amount that takes electronic submissions. I’m not against snail mail, but I’m poor and I can’t even afford to print my stuff out right now. Pathetic I know, but I will, I promise. Come January I will print out a bunch and send to whomever takes simultaneous submissions. Another thing I need to consider (or we if I want to stay with the schizo chat) is that I need to read these mags to make sure they would even take my kind of writing. Know your editor, know your audience. Talk about expensive. I mean I wish I could subscribe to every one, but I can’t even pay to print copies of my story. Excuses, excuses. I know, wah!

I have so far read, American Short Fiction, and I think my stuff would work there, but I also think I’m not good enough to get published by them (ouch low self confidence?) and I have read McSweeney’s; ditto on the not get published, also I feel like I’m not cool enough for those mags, like somehow they would figure out that I’m not hip. And I have read The Sun, which is great, but they like non-fiction, maybe one day. So, I decided to go local, start at home right? I picked up a copy of Glimmertrain. They have open submissions in November, giving me a little less than a month to see if I can see what I can’t see that great  know it all grammarians see. Glimmertrain has rejected me once before but I’m submitting once again.

So it is onto reading Rhetorical Grammar. My child is not thrilled, I don’t think my adult is either, but I am determined to be a great writer. Even if no one ever knows!

This blog’s on hold

My Short Story workshop is going to be quiet for the next two months as I go on tour with the theatre company Dance Naked ProductionsInviting Desire. We are touring the Canadian Fringe festivals- so it should be a good time.

In the short story world: I titled my second Short story, Sand and Wheat, and have sent it out my first submissions.

See you in September. Thanks.