Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More EDF good news and a lesson learned from whittling

MY heart still hip-hops into my throat when I open my Yahoo account and see on the
"From" line of an email, the words "everyone@everydayfiction.com."

It's the line that appears when they are sending a rejection, an acceptance...or actually maybe a rewrite. Any which way, I always take a moment before I open it. If I prayed, I guess you'd say that's what I'm doing. Luckily for me, they like my "Stranger on the Porch" bit and are going to publish it sometime in the future. Hooray!

This is actually a piece I've adapted from my novel. As I've said before, I've been struggling to keep the seat of my pants in the chair. When I'm doing one thing, I'm often distracted by another. In this case, the idea of writing a 1000 words has so much more appeal than rewriting 80,000 words. But I have resisted the lure of flash so far this month even though titles and ideas on how to make those titles work assault me at the sink, in the shower, on my walks. Then one day--mid-anguish/temptation--I had a revelation.

Since I use a dramatic arc in each chapter by opening with conflict, torturing my character, and finally having her take some action--the same dramatic arc that I use for a story as a whole--I wondered if I could cadge something from the novel to satisfy my need to send off a submission to EDF and thereby not get totally out of the world of my novel characters. Write flash but have it benefit the novel too. Maybe chapter 1?

I took a look. Yep the arc was there, but I'd have to whittle it down to fit the 1000 word criterion. Wow. An amazing thing happened during this process.

Because I wanted to flash the chapter, I brought to it a much more critical eye, and suddenly realized how much better it was turning out. The whole experience reinforced my belief that parameters create in a writer the ability to dig deep and come up with something better than if there are no parameters.

What happens in this first chapter of my novel is not straight forward, and I've often changed it, edited it, played with it. But this time I knew I had to achieve more clarity for it to stand on its own as flash. The images became sharper, the character more interesting. Whittling worked again. What an incredible lesson I keep learning over and over.

Now my hope is that people like it. That it stands on its own. I hope it's as good for you guys as it was for me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I don't think I officially have A.D.D, but I often feel as if I do. I'm constantly wanting to start something new, to pull something surprising out of my brain, and see what it will develop into. And this is actually a good thing, especially when I'm beginning a new project, but unfortunately all those flashes of inspiration seem to strike me when I'm trying to settle down and do the drudge work of editing.

Did I say "drudge work." I can't believe I typed that. I love to edit and have professed for years that if I can only get past that initial draft, I know I can craft something that works. There is something magical about reading one's own words aloud and realizing, hmmm, that doesn't work quite right. What about this? What about that? A cliche? Let me see if I can just spin that a little to the left. So what is going on here?

It's the novel. That multi-drafted cyper-folder with its "fits and starts" (there you go: cliche. I'll catch it later. Hmm maybe not), calling and repelling me all at the same time.

I made a vow this year that this was going to be it. I would get that dang book into the kind of shape that would allow me to start my agent search. But with me, as soon as I vow, I procrastinate. It titillates me to make a commitment and then renege. I actually feel that titillation in my body. Ooh, make a promise and break it? Why? I think there's a tiny part of me that is ready for the looney bin. Or maybe its latent teen rebellion, the one I never had.

I do get things done. I did vow when I quit my job that I would build my writing portfolio and I've done that. And my skills have become sharper, my ability to see what works and doesn't work more accurate. So yes. I am making progress with the portfolio goal. But I did vow when I quit my job that I would also finish the novel and market it and that is still the flamingo around my neck.

I don't know what it is about writing a book that is so darn hard, but part of it for me is that it activates my interest in everything else. Since I committed to finishing the book, I have helped remodel the back of my house, taken up jewelry making, dabbled in polymer clay, and PMC, and painting, as well as supersized my exercise program. These "hobbies" have been so much fun and I'm eating up all the new awarenesses that these interests bring to me. But. I sit down at the keyboard and think...hmmm, just an hour with all that color behind me on the work table might give me just the bump I need.

But I know that I must do the book first. Before the bump. Because if I can just remember that the writing offers its own bump, I could make progress.

I need to stay focused. I need to stop farting around, but I don't know how many times I need to say this to actually DO it. Today. I will work on the book before I touch a pair of pliers or open a tube of paint. TWO HOURS MINIMUM. I need to borrow Marley's chains.

Friday, July 18, 2008


by Alan Beard

I've been 'tagged,' whatever that means, by Alan Beard, author of Taking Doreen Out of the Sky. The editor of the great 'Short Review' Tania Hershman tagged Alan to answer some questions and Alan, in turn, tagged me. Here I go with more info than you ever wanted!

1) What were you doing ten years ago?
1998? I was walking everywhere and very fit because I let my son use my car to get he and his sister to school. It was a good thing. What I remember about it is that being without a car, time slowed down. I know that sounds weird, but it's true. I remember I wrote every morning. I'd had no success in placing any piece anywhere, but I hosted a writing group every Thursday (maybe it was Wednesday) around my dining room table.

2) What 5 Things are on your to-do list today?
**Work on the novel. I've listed the chapter numbers on scratch paper and as I edit each one I cross it out. Just started this process for the millioneth time a couple days ago. I'm on Chapter 6 and determined to get to the end this time.
**Walk at 8:30, this weird cross-country ski thing (on the streets of SoPas) I do now every Monday and Friday with Estelle and her band of acolytes.
**Go to lunch with my mom-in-law and some far-flung cousins in from Oklahoma.
**Cook dinner.
**Welcome my husband back from London. I have missed him!

3) What would you do with a billion dollars?
Revamp the education system in the United States. Encourage the culture to elevate the position of "teacher" to the status of JDs, MBAs, and MDs. All those kids who go to law school because they have no idea what they want to do would go to hard to get into grad schools to learn how to really teach and to develop new and effective strategies. I know. The teaching to teach and the strategies happens, but if a country cannot lure its brightest citizens to the profession, then the profession needs to be put on a par with those that do lure. What is that lure? Money, yes, but also cache, status, and satisfaction in actually contributing to society.

5) List the places you have lived.
Louisiana, Iowa, California, in my head.

6) List the jobs you have had
Parks and rec, retail sales, counter person at Rusty's Roast Beef, as well as store manager, district manager, buyer, and teacher. Did I say wife and mom and mistress of Risuli and Cinder?

7) List the people you'd like to know more about.
Not so much "know about" but rather to go to lunch with: Joyce Carol Oates, Carol Shields (alas), Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, W. Somerset Maugham, Pablo Picasso, Abigail Adams, Jane Addams, Helen Keller, and Joshua from "So you think you can dance."

BTW, the numbering isn't mine though I probably messed it up somewhere!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Lesson From Reality TV: Emulate those who succeed

Project Runway is my absolute favorite reality show. Although my other favorites feature real talent and creativity, PR features the kind of creativity that I relate to. Not saying I could do what they do anymore than I can sing or dance. I can't sew anything but a curtain panel, but I'm talking about deeper stuff, that digging into the hidden corners of the right brain when doing art and finding originality. That's what two designers were able to do on last night's premier of Project Runway, Season 5.

What is originality? Talent and imagination, certainly, but also a third component, knowing what to do with it. One could say a person either is talented or not, has imagination or doesn't, but I don't believe that. Like everything else in our genes, the amount of talent and imagination varies, but of more consequence is what we do with what we have. Last night's first episode of PR is a good example of what I mean. There is talent and imagination in each contestant, but two of them also showed that third component: savvy, the wisdom and shrewdness to pay attention to those who succeeded rather than to those who failed.

I can't remember their names, Blond Tattoo Girl and Wistful Guy is what I'll call them here. BTG and WG are obviously students of the show and so were familiar with last night's challenge: Season 1's grocery store outfit, and they were successful because they looked to the winner of that challenge while everyone else focused on what previous contestants had done wrong. That shift of perspective last night made all the difference.

Here's the set-up. The contestants were taken to a grocery store and given $75.00 to purchase materials to fashion an outfit. Tim Gunn told them to think about the WOW factor, to come up with something that would "blow the judges' socks off." Austin Scarlett, the competitor who WON this challenge four years ago, pointed out that he succeeded by delivering the unexpected. The name of that episode was "Innovation" and his design, a bustier sundress made of corn husks, transformed an ordinary agricultural product into a snazzy little summer number. Yet despite these admonishments, many of the contestants headed straight for the easy-way-out aisle.

The most obvious and forgiving "materials" to purchase are, of course, trashbags, shower curtains, and table cloths. My immediate thought as they scurried into the aisles to buy these exact items was "These guys have thought about this challenge." Of course they have. Me too. Everytime I take onions and avocados out of their plastic netted bags I think 'evening gown yoke.' But unfortunately, this year's designers focused on the contestants who floundered with seemingly unsewable products, and they were determined not to fall into the same trap.

All except Blond Tattoo Girl and Wistful Guy. They paid attention to the winner of that challenge. They recognized Austin's inventiveness and had considered about how they too could innovate. WG made probably one of the most impossible choices. He bought plastic drinking cups. As one of the judges said, "Exactly what ANYONE would hurry to grab for this challenge." But it worked. He molded--literally with an iron--a corset top and bell skirt that looked wearable and was definitely sexy. He remembered the word "innovation" and by the silhouette he chose, he also remembered the corn-husk design. He kept it simple and pretty, AND used the unusable.

This worked for BTG, too, who won the challenge. SHE was crazy-creative with her vaccuum cleaner bags, her coffee filters, her tacks, and her binder spirals. Again I'm positive she's thought about it before the show, asked herself, "What would I do if..." Her dye and bleach treatment to the bags created a fresh and artistic skirt. The burn-out filters worked humorously with the tacks for the bodice. It was charming. I was pleased she won.

So why am I--a writer--spending all this time on this topic? Because this first episode of the season carries with it a potent message: emulate those who succeed, not those who lose.

How many times has a writer, a friend, or even me, said, "I read the worst book. I know what's wrong with it, so I know what not to do!"

Is this what any creative person should think about? An artist? A designer? A writer? Or should he or she instead, study what's hanging on the walls of the Norton Simon and MOOLA? Watch what's coming down the runway at Olypus Fashion Week? Or read closely for the content, the structure, the language of To Kill a Mockingbird or The Yiddish Policeman's Union or Tess of the D'Urbevilles and shout out loud, "Now this is the kind of art I want to do!"

The two best pieces last night were created by savvy designers who listened, who studied the winners, who dug to the center of their imaginations, and who executed with confidence and verve. That's the kind of writer I want to be. An original.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not Knowing Shouldn't Keep Me from Not Doing

"The single largest advantage a veteran writer has over the beginner is this tolerance for not knowing." --Ron Carlson from Ron Carlson Writes a Story.

It's funny how I'll read a book about writing or even just a piece of literature and then I go on and on about it for days. This time it's Ron Carlson. Last week he helped me write a whole story which I've submitted to Flash Fiction On-line, a new venue for me. And this week he's helping me stay in the chair for my novel. I'm bolstering that with keeping track of the time in the chair and how much I accomplish. I started work at 9:13 this morning. BTW, I shouldn't be typing this right now. I've now been distracted for about 10 minutes! Dang, and it's 10:08 AM. That means I managed to work less than an hour before I figured out a way to goof off. Back to WCB. It's now 10:09.

It's 4:28 and I'm three chapters in having done more editing than I would have thought. But I've learned a lot writing my flashes this year about what I don't have to say so I think these chapters are tighter and therefore, better. As for my seat of the pants in the chair, I haven't been very good. I would be six chapters in if I'd just stayed the course. I tried to work outside away from the phone and internet but it's been hot here today and the garage isn't air conditioned so I gave up and came into the chill of the house where there is email and EDF forums to read, food, and HGTV. Yish.

But I am begun really this time. I have to keep up my momentum because I do not want to reread these chapters again until I'm finished. I taped a note on the fridge that says "Aren't you sick of the first 125 pages and aren't you curious to see what you wrote after that?" I'm gonna feed my dog now and maybe come back up for chapter 4. I'm going to hold myself accountable to YOU out there.

Okay. I did it. It's 8:30 and Chapter 4 is in the vault. I'm feeling as if I'm in a rhythm now so hopefully tomorrow with be more of the same.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Monsoon accepted at QWF

Good news in the last couple of days. My story "Monsoon" has been accepted by Quality Women's Fiction. And what is amazing is that the editor thinks it will be out first of August so that's a treat.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hmmm a good writing day...

I forgot how it feels. And I have to say it feels like a swim in a cool pool on a 106 degree day, a frosted Margarita with crunchy salt, a deep tissue massage in the shade of a bongo tree. UH, well, I've been working with words too long today. I can't think of anything better. But I feel good. Writing. Lots of words on paper. Nothing better. And I owe it to Ron Carlson.

I read Ron Carlson's book Ron Carlson Writes a Story recently and he reminded me that the most important thing a writer can do is "stay in the chair." He nailed me on the hopping-up to pee, eat, catch something on TIVO, paint a picture, nap. I do it all, I confess. Today was different.

Actually it was amazing. I probably have six or seven stories at various stages of development, plus, of course, that dang novel hanging around my neck like a flamingo. So my plan was to pick something (one story in particular has been making good progress this week) and stay in the chair. But after I finished the Sudoku--Tuesday's is easy--and was cleaning up the kitchen, I got a surprise. A title popped unbidden (?) into my mind.

Now title-popping happens to me all the time and though I jot them down with a vague idea of what the story idea could be, they evaporate more easily than that Margarita up there on a 106 degree day. Today was different.

With the title, Dani-Girl's Rules for Getting Everything Right, also came the story, one I'd fooled around with about ten years ago. To my conscious mind, the two, title and story, didn't seem to belong together, but the miraculous unconscious was looking out for me. I marched upstairs, grabbed my Ron Carlson book as a guide, and sat down in the chair.

In his book, Carlson takes the reader through one of his own stories from beginning to end, almost sentence by sentence. He wrote it in one day by staying in the room, and reconstructs just how that story evolved. By doing this, he becomes a coach, explaining his thought process just as he'd coached himself years ago when he wrote it.

He starts by telling how he started by writing a good telling opening sentence.

So I did.

The minute the nose of my Honda Civic points north on the 5, my hands begin to sweat, my breath goes shallow, and somewhere down in my lower intestinal tract, I feel a rumbling very similar to distant thunder, only not as pleasant. “Don’t Go Home” is the first cardinal rule in Dani-Girl’s Guide to Getting Everything Right and after a lifetime in a tract house in Lomita with my German-Irish father, Rule 1 is easy to follow. After all, he’s the reason I designed the guide.

That worked to keep me in the chair. I went back to Carlson.

He tells me to write another one. And I do. And another and I didn't get up even though my butt got sore and I had to pee, I wrote until I had 1400 words, beginning, middle, and end. It needs revision, it needs readers to help me see the flaws, but hey, I have a story!

Sounds so simple. I wonder that I don't remember this simple trick--the staying in the chair trick. I know I won't be able to do it every day, but I will try not to forget that I can do more than I do every day. Thank you Mr. Carlson. I hope writers everywhere pick up your little tome and take a seat.