Sunday, December 4, 2011

Analyze This

Taking a class in syntactic revision has ruined me for reading. I can't stop to just read anymore, I now find myself analyzing every aspect of a sentence.

For example:

I wait with my eyes closed (S-V sentence, adverbial prepositional phrase), breathing deeply (How am I waiting? Adverbial present participal phrase.), focusing my ears (Again, adverbial present participal phrase, also known as a gerund.) on the smallest sounds (adjectival prepositional phrase) that creak through this old house (Describe the sounds. Adjective clause. Where do they creak? Adjectival prepositional phrase.).


Every damn time I see a that or a which or a who, I'm analyzing what type of clause it is.

This is seriously disturbing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Reads - October Edition

Wow, is it already October? How did that happen? I'm a week late with this post.

I'm digging the October online issue of PANK Magazine, there's a lot of good stuff there.

For example:

Mosquitoes, by Meghan Lamb
Save My Life Tonight, by Sarah Faulkner

Tuesday Reads is quickly becoming dominated by female authors... I think the men better step up their game.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Curb Appeal - Bluestem Magazine

My short story, "Curb Appeal", is in the September online quarterly of Bluestem Magazine.  You can also listen to me read it to you, if that's your thing.

After you're done reading/listening my piece, check out the other great work featured in this issue!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

They like me! They really, really like me! Or, how I got to finally be published.

Good News:  Gargoyle Magazine picked up my short story, "Six-Shooter", for publication in an upcoming issue!
Caveat:  It might not actually hit the stands until the Summer 2013 issue or issue #59, whichever comes first.

It's going to be a long wait on this one.  But--I'm willing to wait because Gargoyle is such an awesome publication and I'm totally jazzed to be a part of it.

"Six-Shooter" is--well, it's hard to explain.  It's experimental fiction when I don't normally write experimental fiction.  It's a voice I fell in love with and struggled with how to tell the story.  At first, I wasn't even sure what story I was trying to tell, as evidenced by my first draft with an opening paragraph that has nothing to do with the focus of the story.  I revamped the opening paragraph and made (in my opinion) a bold move to remove all flashback and backstory from the main text and present it as a kind of subtext.  The end result, or at least what I hope what the end result is, is that you get the main story with one focus and the subtext with another focus.  It's how these two stories intersect and how you choose to read them that makes it interesting, in my opinion.  But you know, it's art, so readers might get something totally different out of it, and that's part of the beauty of the whole thing.

Now to sit back and wait for editors of other publications to realize what a creative genius I am... The money should start rolling in any day now, right?

Countdown to 2013 in three-two-one...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So You Think You Can Teach?

All this semester in Mark Farrington's class: Teaching Writing: Theory, Practice and Craft, we studied how to be the best teachers we can be.  A few Saturdays ago, we put this into practice and taught a 20-30 minute demonstration to our class.

All I can say is, teaching is a lot harder than it looks.

I've got to give props to anyone who gets up in front of more than ten people and talks for an hour or more.  I could barely manage the twenty-seven minutes I came out with in the end, and it was downright terrifying--probably for all involved.  I taught a lesson on sensory description that was probably geared toward high school seniors or freshman college students, so right out of the gate I felt like an idiot asking my peers to list the five senses.  Things got slightly better when I read some examples of description, using Thomas Hardy (well known for his extensive sight-only descriptives) and a contemporary author, Katherine Howe (who used sight along with smell and possibly texture in the excerpt I chose).  I fumbled through a discussion on how the descriptive senses used helped to set the tone and mood of the piece.  The best part was an exercise in visualization of sorts, where I passed around some color printouts of paintings and asked everyone to take a few minutes and write a short descriptive paragraph while paying attention to senses other than sight.  We read some of them out loud and discussed the senses, which I thought went pretty well, and the writing was great, as usual.  (Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing in this program.)

It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do, teaching this mock class, and I have to question whether I actually want to be a teacher after the experience.  Right after the class, I think I would have said, "Hell no!", but now I'm thinking maybe with some more practice and experience it wouldn't be all that bad... but let me tell you that as an athlete, I can't think of any time in recent memory where I've sweat as much standing still as I did during the teaching demonstration!  Gross, but true.  Talk about nerve-wracking.

Teachers, you have my admiration.

The semester is over, and I'm enjoying my short break before the summer semester begins.  It looks like I'll be taking two classes over the summer after all, so I'm trying to get as much rejuvenation out of this break as is possible.  I'm headed to Italy for some bike riding this month, not for the Hopkins Conference on Craft, so that should be fun.  I hope to finish this piece I'm working on that is now looking like a novella before I get back to finishing my novel--I'm bound and determined to finish it before the Fall semester, so I'd better get cracking!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When Short Becomes Not-So-Short

A while ago, I set out to write a short story.

Once upon a time, I had 1,500 words that I really liked.  I liked the voice, the character, the general track the story was taking... and then the wheels came off the caboose and it barreled down the ravine and into a burning heap at the bottom.

It's now hovering just over 14,000 words and it's nowhere near finished.

Good God, I've created a monster.  Or at least a novella.  I really, really hope this isn't a novel.  I don't need another one of those.  I'm sitting at about 25,000 words for the one currently in progress.  Please for the love of literature, give me my short story back!

I'm figuring I'm maybe 75% finished.  Which means this is probably going to be 18,000-19,000 words.  Sigh.  Why can't I write an actual short story?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ending Start

One semester is ending and another is starting, and it seems like there isn't near enough time between the two to get my life sorted out.  The two classes I took this semester nearly did me in.  To tell the truth, I haven't felt completely "caught up" since perhaps the second or third week of the semester--and I'm still struggling to power through to the end.  It seems like I just manage to get the work for one class finished and I'm suddenly behind in the next.  It's a terrible place to be in and one that I've never really been in before.  I don't ever remember college being this hard--but then I wasn't working a full-time job, I didn't have a house and my hobbies mostly included drinking!

I learned a lot in Tim Wendel's novel writing workshop this semester, and got further in my novel than I thought I would.  While I've essentially rewritten the 20,000 words I had already written, I'm happier with the new 20,000.  I was able to take the best parts of what I already had and weave them together with new scenes using new techniques and ideas.  The plot also went in an entirely different direction, which I'm actually okay with.  My characters are a little more round and interesting, and I think I might have an idea of where it all ends--if I can ever push my characters into getting there (although shove is more like it).

I'd like to go into the fall semester with a revised first draft of my novel, something that I can do something with rather than let sit in a drawer gathering dust.  I think if I can do that, I'd feel free to start working on the other half dozen short story ideas that I started writing this semester (only to realize I really didn't have time to be working on anything other than my novel)!

I also finally read Castro's Curveball, which I truly enjoyed.  Someday when I get ten minutes to myself (and my brain is actually in working order) I'll add a review to Amazon...

So this summer I'm only taking one course.  I'm suffering from the niggling effects of burnout and I know something has to give.  With the days being longer and the weather so nice, it's not going to be my cycling, and since the mortgage needs to be paid and groceries bought, it can't be my job--all of which leaves school.  So I'll see you all in Bill Black's Masterwork's class--and hopefully catch you in workshop in the fall.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Conversations and Connections 2011

The 2011 Conversations and Connections, held yesterday at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, was an incredibly good time.  I met up with a number of my classmates, attended craft lectures and panels, listened to an awesome keynote speech by Steve Almond, had three speed-dates with different editors and barely managed to wolf down a soup and sandwich from Panera for lunch.

Session 1, The Form of Fiction:  Exploring Experimental Forms, with Matt Kirkpatrick was an eye-opening experience for me.  I'm not the most experimental person on the planet (okay, I'm afraid I'm probably quite mundane), but his craft lecture really made me think about the process of creating experimental fiction and what use it has in writing today.  I don't know that I'm going to let my experimental freak flag fly anytime soon, but it's something new to play around with and I walked away with the names of a half dozen new authors I've never read to check out--bonus!

Session 2 was a panel discussion on What Editors Love and Hate, presided by Mark Drew of The Gettysburg Review, Mark Cugini of Big Lucks, Reb Livingston of No Tell Motel, Rae Bryant of Moon Milk Review, and Zachary Benavidez of Potomac Review.  Although I knew most of their pet peeves already (double space everything, don't print double sided, know your market and for God's sake, read the submission guidelines) it was still interesting to hear them talk about the mostly unglorious and unappreciated role of being an editor for a literary journal.  Zachary Benavidez mentioned that his journal only prints 500 copies, of which most are given away.  This makes me sad on many levels.  One, this means very few people actually buy and read that particular journal.  Two, it means that the authors contained in that journal aren't being widely read.  Three, it means FAT CHANCE of getting published.  This made me want to throw my short stories in the trash can and walk away forever--maybe get into a more lucrative career like chimney sweeping or something.  At least then I'd get to carry a cool broom and wear a fancy hat--and maybe even get a paycheck every now and again.

For the "Speed-Dating with an Editor" session over lunch, I had three dates with an editor.  It's really not as romantic as it sounds.  Basically, you say hello, act a little awkward, ask them about their publication if you've never read it, and then give them something to read.  So I guess it kind of is like a blind date, minus the fiction.  They speed read it (and these guys and gals are seriously good at speed reading), or most of it if it's a longer piece, then they tell you their impressions and what they think.  First, I have to say that this has got to be incredibly hard.  I read things for workshops twice, and I'm a pretty fast reader, then I have to formulate things that I want to tell the author, and present them in a positive way.  This can take forever.  I can't imagine reading something cold, then looking the author in the face and telling them what's working and what's not, right away.  These folks have some serious cojones.  And then go on to do this another eleven or so times in the span of two hours.  So for the sole fact that my writing didn't get thrown back in my face with a disgusted ugh, I thank these editors for even taking the time to read my dreck and drivel.  Now I will go make it better and submit it somewhere.  Thanks to the editors I saw:  Steve Himmer from Necessary Fiction (who is easily the fastest, most comprehensive reader I've ever seen), the aforementioned Mark Drew of The Gettysburg Review, and Chris M. of the also aforementioned Big Lucks.

We were then treated to an uproariously funny keynote speech by Steve Almond, who, in spite of the fact that he claimed to be "setting the bar low", did in fact deliver by knocking my socks clean off.  Seriously, I was sockless at the end.  (And here's where I'd make an inappropriate joke about having lost some other item of clothing as well, but I'll behave.)  Steve is a seriously funny guy, and I feel qualified in saying this for listening to him speak for twenty or thirty minutes on the subject of the publishing industry and how it's gone all wrong.  Steve is the author of Candy Freak, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, as well as countless other publications.  He was talking up his "one crap" books like This Won't Take But a Minute, Honey (links for those are available on his website), which I unfortunately did not buy because I'd spent my last ten dollars on lunch.  Steve's a self-publisher and self-promoter, and he seems to be doing pretty well for himself, so he's a god among us mortals in my book.

For Session 3, I attended a craft lecture by Matt Bell, Everything Worth Saying is Worth Saying Twice:  The Power of Repitition.  I'd never read Matt Bell's stuff before, until I saw something he'd written that was handed out in the experimental fiction craft lecture that morning--and I liked it.  I'll say that I didn't choose this craft lecture because of that, but it was a kind of "Oh, that's neat" moment where the stars aligned and I got to hear someone speak that I'd actually (now) read.  His lecture was intense, that's about the best way I can describe it.  I'm not sure if Matt's a really intense guy himself or maybe he had too much coffee that day, but his enthusiasm for writing is definitely infectious.  I sat there listening to him give a lecture that was meant for a PowerPoint presentation (the projector was, I suppose, not working), and it was nuts.  He said a lot of really awesome stuff, and some of it I just totally couldn't follow--but I felt like maybe it was sinking in by osmosis.  Or maybe by repetition.  I began to think, as I listened to his strong, vibrato voice, that maybe this was some kind of performance art.  I fully expected him to finish and for the class to sit there in a kind of stunned silence until he gave a bow--and then we would applaud.  That didn't happen--at least not until the very end when there was some polite applause and few thanks, but what I understood of it was a great lecture.  He had us do some writing exercises using repetition, which a few of us then read in front of class.  I really dig what I wrote, but I'm not exactly sure what it is.  Is it flash fiction?  Prosetry?  A vingette?  Part of a novel or a short story, or... what, exactly?  I don't know, but I like it.  I'm going to clean it up and see what comes of it.

All in all, it was a great day.  I picked up a hardcover copy of The Calligrapher's Daughter by the local Entasis Press before heading home (they accepted credit cards using this cool phone app)--it's now somewhere in the pile of 200+ books I have on my to-read list, but I'm looking forward to reading it!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Storyboarding Like a Pro

When I was writing my first novel, I had a general idea of what the story would be about.  I wrote an outline (yes, I'm one of those writers) that made sense to me and took a crack at it.  But I had a very difficult time keeping track of scenes and with as much editing as I was doing to my outline, things quickly got out of control.

Then I found out about storyboarding, and it all became simple.

What is a storyboard?  A storyboard is a graphical organization of plot that has origins in animated films and motion pictures.  I know what you're thinking -- you're a writer, not an artist!  Fortunately, they don't need to be drawn out as pictures on cards.  They can work visually for writers with words, rather than pictures.

Take a stack of 3x5 index cards and write one scene per card.  Include:


Time: Date or general time the scene takes place (ie: January, or January 5th, 2025, or After John reads the letter)
Location: Location where the scene takes place
Characters: Characters involved in the scene
  • A bulleted list of events that occur
  • And things you intend on showing
  • ie: Show that John cares deeply for Jane

These things answer the WHEN (Time), WHERE (Location), WHO (Characters) and WHAT/WHY (Events) that are critical to each scene.

You can write out your scenes by hand on each index card, or you can plug your scenes into a word processor and set the page size to 3x5 index card and print them out.  I began doing mine by hand, quit halfway through and relied on Microsoft Word to finish the job. I think they are more readable that way, anyway.

When you're done, you can organize them however you like -- but keep in mind that you want to be able to move them around freely whenever the urge strikes you.  The idea is to show you your plot holes and allow you to organize your scenes into an order that makes sense to your plot and to your reader.

I ended up tacking them up onto my dining room wall with painter's tape, organized into vertical columns representing chapters or acts within the novel itself.  It made it easy to see them all at once (rather than keeping them in a stack on the table), plus I could move them around easily (rather than keeping them in a photo album organized in plastic photo pockets), and they could live there indefinitely (rather than being spread out on the living room floor).  I loved the fact that I could walk into my dining room and see my entire novel spread out before me whenever I wanted to.  It made me feel like I was getting somewhere even if I was stuck on trying to write a scene that wouldn't come.  Plus, I could always choose another scene to work on and leave off on the one that was plaguing me without fearing it would be lost somewhere in my word processor.

Whatever works for you, do it!

Some other links:

James Withers on Storyboarding
Crawford Kilian on Storyboarding and more
Editor Unleashed on Storyboarding
More information on Storyboarding

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nightmarish Inspiration

You know you're a writer when you wake up from a terrible nightmare and the first thing you do is reach for something on which to scribble your dream.
I had a fantasically macabre dream last night, vey tell tale heartish, about an insidious creature that I poisoned to death and buried in my backyard. It's all on my iPhone and ready for short story fodder!