Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Writers

     How many of you write during the holidays? I don't mean write as in Facebook or Twitter or send cards and letters. That's a given.
     Do you write in your journals, work on manuscripts, take notes in your story ideas book, think up new storylines, revise?
     I guess I'm saying that writers don't take days off -- though we do sometimes. I know that I do. But when the muse calls we got to get to the chair and create or recreate. Or at least sit there and think about writing.
     Writing at the Storyteller's Inkpot has helped me a lot. It has made me think, and, of course, write.
     I attended two book signings recently -- one in which Orson Scott Card regaled us with his explanations about his reasons for writing "The Speaker for the Dead" and his new book(s); the reasons for writing "Ender's Game" and its upcoming movie; the "new" ending of "Ender's Game;" his Mormon religion; so many more, all told in an engaging, practised manner that made us laugh or nod our heads. Most of the attendees -- probably 50 or so at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, NC -- were high school and college students, teachers, writers, and avid readers.
     I also attended picture book author Kelly Starling Lyons' book launch of "Teacakes for Tosh" at Quail Ridge, too. This was like a festival, with some 100 children and their parents, with crafts activities, a drumming selection, refreshments (teacakes, of course), and lots of energy.
    Both attracted devoted readers. Yet both were very different. Perhaps Card's reflected the traditional book signing and Lyons refelected the new.
     Anyway, back to my original questions. During these holiday hours, are you writing? Are you signing books? Taking notes? Revising?
     Whatever you're doing, let writing be part of your days and nights, or at least think about it.
     Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Hannauka! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Self-promotion doesn't bother me.  My motto might be this  -- If I don't, who will?   But this entry isn't completely self- promoting.  If you are reading my daily Twitter piece,  that's lovely.   But this blog entry is just my usual, rather aimless musing on something.  In this case Twitter.

I think I once said in print that I'd never  be a Twitter-er and had no use for Facebook.  But I started a Twitter account because the independent press that publishes my poetry books (Red Hen Press) urged all their writers to have, ahem, "that presence."

So I took a look at what other Twitter folks were up to and at first  just didn't get it.  Talk about sublunary.  Then I found some clever things and wondered if that wasn't, as they used to say, the ticket.
I'm sure lots of people have said how much like haiku Twitter can be, and that's what piqued my interest.  Something compact and runic could be right up my alley.  And mysterious.  And funny.

Harder, of course, than it looked.  That's why I started to write about the Albino Alligator.  I could manufacture an episode every morning.  I'd do my best to move the story along and to have at least one interesting/surprising word or phrase in the post.

It was fun.  It was hard.  Maybe what I objected to about the usual Twitter piece is how the writers stepped into the same river every day.  But not everybody did that.  And I wouldn't let myself.

I liked the Albino Alligator.  I looked forward to having him eat people.  Then civilization got to be too much for him, and he went deeper into the swamp.  So my aunt stepped forward and said, "Ronnie, write about me."

I'm doing that now.  She was ill a very long time before she passed, and I love seeing her again in her beautiful clothes.  When I was five or so and she'd come to visit in the winter, she'd slip into my bedroom and cover me up with  w/ her fur coat.  As often as not, she'd leave w/out it because I was sleeping so soundly and she had another one.

Isn't that a story worth telling?


Monday, December 10, 2012

Borrowing Words: or, Why it’s good to get out of your head now and then.

One of my scenes was annoying the heck out of me. Allegedly, in the scene Jake and Liza would argue, and as a result, useful plot-related things would develop, and it would be great. But would the scene cooperate with my grand plan? Oh heck no. On paper, the characters just made faces and then galloped away from each other like a pair of startled calves.

Me doing story work.
So I opened a blank document and rewrote the scene via dialogue. Now the kids just insulted each other and then ran away. NOT HELPING.

Then I remembered something Ron Koertge said at my first residency five years ago – that sometimes he opened a dictionary, chose out five words, and wrote a scene using these words.

Sounded good, so I got out Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which was at hand, and instead of choosing five words, I picked a word for every line of dialogue. (Though I wouldn’t use the super-nerdy words like “inter alia” because geez, these are middle school kids, not Truman Scholars.)

So I wrote the dialogue again. Wow! Jake and Liza were still flinging insults, but these insults were more interesting! Though we still didn’t have, say, a throughline for this scene.

By now (due to all this writing and writing) I had finally figured out what these two goofballs wanted from this exchange, so I did this exercise one last time. At last! A dialogue with an actual point! And, even better, it didn’t look like the same stuff I’d dredged out of my head a million times before.

Thoreau said it best: “It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pondside; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

Borrowing words from other people is one way to step out of the ruts, writing-wise.You have to surprise your brain into going in a direction you don’t expect. (Of course the “ruts of tradition and conformity” are everywhere – in subject matter, in cliché, in the direction of the story, in the roles that girls and boys are expected to play in the story, etc. etc. ad lib. But one subject at a time, please.)

Of course your editor side is all like, “You can’t go around scrying words all day! You might destroy the direction of your story!”

Dear Muse, please send us Oreos from heaven.
Well, that editor can go stuff it. When I was an undergrad who hung out with the gamers, I knew a guy who had a bag full of runes that he liked to pour out and “read” on occasion. “I know it’s not magic,” he said. “It’s more of a way to figure out what’s going on back there in my unconscious mind.”

And scattering a handful of words in front of you to see where they lead is just like that. Sometimes your deeper mind is up to something, but your yammering front brain likes to steal the whole show. If you use all the tricks you can, sometimes you can get the attention of the quiet gal in the back, and she’ll surprise you with some good stuff.