The blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Revision Ritual

I've heard that some writers have weird rituals that get them into writing.  They light a candle, turn on  music, wear a certain article of clothing.  I myself don't have writing ritual but I do have one for revising: I wear a CTU baseball cap.  What is CTU and why would I wear this cap, you ask?

In order to answer that question, I should give you a little background on the world of 24.  This show--which is supposed to take place in "real time" over the course of twenty-four hours--follows main character Jack Bauer, an agent at the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), as he runs around shooting things and saving the country from impending disaster.  I'm not saying this is a Great-show-with-a-capital-G, but it's a guilty pleasure of mine and it's fun to watch.

The reason for the CTU cap is urgency.  One of the things that makes 24 so gripping is that in the world of the show, all life as we know it could end at any moment.  The same is true in revision.  I feel like when I'm revising it's really easy for me to let urgency flag and get caught up in endless tinkering.  Wearing my CTU cap reminds me that revising is just as urgent and full of energy as writing a first draft.

It also reminds me of phrase "kill your darlings."  I envision myself as a CTU agent who's shooting down all the tired phrases and cliches in my text.  Just as Jack Bauer has to make tough choices and sacrifice people he cares about for the greater good, so it is with writing.  Sometimes you have to remove your favorite character or kill your favorite scene to make a better piece as a whole.

Now I pose this question to you: do you have any writing rituals?  If so, what are they?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Journey to Poetry

Today Lady Glamis at Literary Lab posted a follow-up to her poetry discussion and it got me thinking about what it is that I love about poetry and why some of it resonates with me and some of it doesn't.  In other words, why did I go from having such a visceral hatred of poetry to suddenly rediscovering its beauty.  Let me sum it up.
It's not that I dislike poetry, I just dislike bad poetry.
Let me backtrack a little bit.  For starters, I should be the last person to complain about bad poetry because I was a purveyor of bad poetry myself, once upon a time.  When I was a teenager I was obsessed with poetry--in particular sonnets.  I scribbled hundreds of terrible sonnets in the margins of my textbooks, all of the poems about how unjust the world was and how misunderstood I was.  Of course, at the time, I thought they were seriously deep, but now I'm glad those textbooks have long since been recycled.  To tell the truth, writing poetry was my way of passing the time during boring classes and looking back, while the fruit of all this writing was pretty awful, at least it kept my brain working.

My resistance to poetry began when I started taking writing classes.  The tricky thing about poetry is that there are so few words and language is boiled down to its barest essentials so when it's good, it can be very very good, but when it's bad it's horrid.  This makes poetry especially challenging to discuss in a workshop setting.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in the workshop process; I think everyone should be free to submit rough, messy drafts in a workshop and learn to make them better.

The trouble with poetry began in one of the classes I took some years ago, where I sensed a certain defensiveness around the poetry submissions that I didn't get when reading fiction pieces.  It was as though everyone in the class would back away in deference.  After all, this wasn't fiction, it was poetry and poetry was personal so who were we to critique it?  And when I raised my hand and said "Um... I'm sorry, but I just don't get what the poem's trying to say" the class struck me down so fast I thought I hallucinated the whole thing.

Thing is, as a result of repeated exposure to less-than-wonderful poetry, for several years I assumed that the only reason I didn't "get" these poems was because I was too dumb.  Then, I discovered Kim Addonizio's Ordinary Genius (which I reviewed earlier this month) and this book is in large part responsible for my change of heart regarding poetry.  Suddenly, I realized that I wasn't too dumb and I could make sense of poetry if I really tried.  Better yet, I enjoy it even if I didn't understand it completely and simply relish in the language.  The best part was, I could even try my hand at it and write some poems of my own.

And here, of course, was where the real journey began.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing Challenge on Hiatus; Welcome to Story-A-Day

I've decided to put my Writing Challenge on hold for the month of May because... *drumroll please*

...I'm participating in Story A Day!

I first learned about this challenge today through Inky Girl's blog.  When I read the rules of the challenge, I was terrified... a story a day?  For all of May?  My thesis is due on May 10th!  Will I even survive that first week?  But then I thought... if I'm resisting this idea, maybe that's because this is exactly what would be good for me right now.  Not to mention, it would be a fantastic way to start the summer if I manage to succeed.  Before I got a chance to change my mind, I signed up and now I'm doing it and I think I'm about to freak out!

Here's the plan: I'll be writing one short story per day, most likely of the flash-fiction variety and I'm giving myself Sundays as an optional day off.  I'm also going to try writing first thing in the morning, before my inner censor wakes up and before I have time to procrastinate too much.  On Wednesdays I'll check in here and at to let you all know how this is going.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To Blog or Not To Blog?

Last Thursday, Literary Lab published a post about blogging, aptly titled: Who Cares if You Blog?  This post dispels all those myths one might believe in about how a meek little writer-blog suddenly gets a book deal simply on the merits of it's wonderful blogginess.  Sure we've all heard of bloggers who ended up with book deals but in many cases it's tough to know which came first: the hefty blog readership or the book.

As Literary Lab eloquently puts it: "you're just another person with a blog, and we all have blogs and it's nothing special. What is special is writing a good book."  Which then begs the question: why do we blog?  I blog because it keeps my otherwise unstructured life on a schedule and gives me focus.  I blog because I love being part of a community of writers and readers.  I blog because it gives me a low-pressure venue for my writing.

Who cares if we blog?  Clearly, we're here because we do care, because the blogosphere gives us something of value, whether it be simply a procrastination tool during a dull workday or something more.  So now I turn this question to the blog authors out there: why do you blog and why do you read blogs?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yes, You can Play with These Matches

Looking over the last several reviews I've done, I realized that they are heavily weighted toward books about writing.  In part this is because I love reading about craft or reading authors' advice to new writers.  At the same time, since the semester is drawing to a close--and with the end of semester comes my thesis deadline--I haven't had nearly enough time to read fiction as I would like.  So today will be another writing book and with luck, by two weeks from now, I'll be done and ready to start reading for fun again.

This week's book is The Writer's Book of Matches by the staff at Fresh Boiled Peanuts.  This book is a collection of writing prompts that range from the normal to the absurd to the hilarious.  There are 1001 prompts so even if you did one each day, it would take you three years to get through the book.  At the end, the editors include a handy-dandy guide on how to reuse the prompts and keep them fresh.  Overall, this book has the essentials for a useful writing book.  There's plenty of variety and it's small so it's easy to carry when writing on the go.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How Awesome are these Posters?

Each year, the Academy of American Poets creates a poster to celebrate National Poetry Month.  To see posters from this year and past years, check out their poster gallery.  My two favorite posters are the one from 2005 designed by Chip Kidd and the one from 2009 designed by Paul Sahre.

I love the Emily Dickinson quote and something about the vintage dress coupled with the minimalist design seems so ethereal and truly haunted.  The way the meaning of the imagery and the meaning of the words work together are what make this poster design so quintessentially Chip Kidd's style.  When I looked through the gallery, I guessed that he had designed this one before even seeing his name.

And this one is my all-time favorite.  The letters drawn on a steamed-up mirror capture the spirit of this quote.  After all, it's a mirror but it doesn't reflect (or distorts the reflection at the very least) so while the person asking the question may be confronting himself in the mirror, it's not really himself, but a blurred reflection.  Bonus points to anyone who  can tell me what teen novel uses this quote and in what context.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Verse Novels

I begin with a challenge: Caroline Star Rose of Caroline By Line has initiated a Verse Novel Challenge and I'm going to do it!

Here's how it works:  Go to Caroline's blog and leave a comment on her post "Verse Novel Challenge" so she knows you're participating.  Then start reading verse novels.  If you make it to 5, you get entered in a drawing for a ARC of her upcoming book May B.

I haven't decided which books I'm going to read yet, but I have narrowed down the list:
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Witness by Karen Hesse
  • Foreign Exchange: a mystery in poems by Mel Glenn
  • Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
  • Realm Of Possibility by David Levithan
  • Fearless Fernie by Gary Soto
  • Stop Pretending: What Happened When my Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones
Notice that there's no Virginia Euwer Wolff on the list.  It may seem odd--especially since I loved True Believer and have been meaning to read Make Lemonade for some time--but there is a reason.

Apparently Wolff considers her writing not as verse but as "prose with line breaks."  In an interview with The Horn Book (2001), Virginia Euwer Wolff said: "Writing my prose in funny-shaped lines does not render it poetry. And there’s nobody more aware of that than I."

Which leads me to the central question of this post: if an author does not consider his/her work as verse, can we the readers appropriate it as such?

My gut response is no.  If an author says his/her work is prose, then I will read it and accept it as prose, even if there are line breaks and it looks like verse.  Certainly, poetry is more than just prose rearranged with breaks in funny places.  Poetry has an element of surprise and a musicality that differs from prose.  In my mind, prose emphasizes character and story before language whereas poetry puts language first.  The line breaks in poetry serve as parallels to breath and rhythm, whereas prose with line breaks must focus first on telling the story.

For this reason, much as I would love to put True Believer and Make Lemonade on my list of verse novels to read, I can't in good conscience bring myself to do it.  I'll probably read Make Lemonade anyway, and maybe reread True Believer for good measure and for fun.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

To MFA or Not To MFA?

My rant for today starts with a story.

Last Thursday was the MFA student reading at The New School, which happened to be coupled with a reception for prospective students.  The reading went well.  I read and didn't get too nervous.  Blah, blah, blah.  But the real fun began during the reception.

At one point, I was pulled aside by a prospective student who wanted to know if I thought going to The New School was going to help me get published.  I told her to slow down and then gave her my twenty-five-cent standard response:
"Going to The New School--or any MFA program--has nothing to do with getting published.  I came here because I wanted to be the best writer I can be, and this program did that for me.  If I happen to get published as a side-effect of becoming a better writer, great."
She gave me this look like I had just stolen her golden ticket.  I tried to do some damage control:
"Seriously, if your only goal is to get published: go home, sit yourself at your workspace and write the book.  If you think getting an MFA will help motivate you or improve your writing, then it sounds like a good fit for you.  But if all you want is a 'get-published' card, then just go home and write the book."
She went home.  And I felt like I had given the absolute worst pitch ever.

The truth is, this question of getting an MFA is one that seems especially pertinent this time of year.  As prospective students decide whether they will break open their piggy-banks and sacrifice valuable time and money for the laurels of scholarship, it's important to remember why we choose to go to an MFA program in the first place.  In his recent article, Seth Abramson talks about the lack of attention given by literary communities to this important question.  And according to this account from The Rejectionist, an MFA beside an author's name doesn't indicate whether the writing is even publishable.

As someone who has taken the graduate school route, have come to the following conclusions about the benefits and drawbacks of the MFA.
  1.  The MFA is not an MBA, MD or JD.  There is no series of steps you must go through that ultimately link you up with a job post-graduation.  There is no organized process.  It's not like in law school and if you're editor of Law Review, you're practically guaranteed a job.  You could be the biggest hot-shot in your writing MFA program and still find yourself unemployed come graduation.  I know this seems unfair, but it's the way of the world.  Let's face it; our culture happens to place more value on business executives and doctors and lawyers than they do on artists or writers.  Why?  Because if a pediatrician sucks at her job, small children might die.  If a writer sucks at her job, it's only the writing that suffers.
  2. The MFA does not equal publication.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many people seem to think that going to an MFA program automatically means you'll get published when you leave.  The only thing that will lead to publication is improving one's writing.  Unfortunately for many writers, the rate at which they write and improve is slower than the rate at which they age.  They either die or give up before they publish.  Sad, but true.  The only thing the MFA can do for you is speed up that learning curve a little, but if you don't keep writing and learning, no MFA will help you.
  3. Not all MFAs are created equal.  I am lucky enough to be graduating from the Writing For Children concentration that happens to have a pretty strong track-record when it comes to publishing.  Is it the MFA that grants this publishing know-how to its students?  Maybe.  Certainly, we've had countless agents and editors give lectures relating specifically to our genre.  Students participate in a mock-submission process and some even have editors as thesis advisers.  But could it also be that the group of people attending the program are self-selecting?  This may be the case.  After all, a program is only as strong as the students in it so in selecting an MFA I strongly recommend that prospectives speak to current students and alumni.
  4. No MFA can replace BIC.  What's BIC, you ask?  Butt.  In.  Chair.  And if you need me to tell you what I mean by that, then you're not a writer.
  5. What's the Next Step?  Trying to build a life as a writer is not all that different from writing a story or novel.  Just as in writing, you always have to think about what comes next, so it is with life as a writer--whether you do an MFA or not.  This semester, though a thesis has loomed over my head, I've had to step back and ask myself: what's next?  Because if I wait until "next" gets here, it'll be too late.
In the end, the MFA question becomes moot.  It's really a question of what writer wants out of his or her writing life.  If taken simply as a shortcut to publication, the MFA will be a waste of time.  But if the goal is to build a writing community, network with both established writers and professionals in the field or to improve one's craft, then the MFA is a worthy challenge.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Ode to My Fellow Writers

Recipe for a Writers' Group
  • 1 notebook
  • 1 pen
  • 5-6 fellow writers
  • meeting space with good ambient noise level and coffee
Time required: 2 hrs.

     Begin with 10 minutes of catching up and group business.  Share your successes.  Give encouragement.  Mix in some writing exercises, maybe read a poem or two.  Discuss, then set aside.
     Separately, begin preparing the critique portion.  Always add positive feedback first, then constructive criticism.  Add a cup of supportive comments for every dash of the negative.  Then sprinkle in a pinch of suggestion and a teaspoon of creative problem-solving.
     Fold together with the original mixture.  Spread in a baking pan and let incubate for about a week.

Serves: 6-7 writers

To my fellow writing friends: your support and encouragement help me concoct my best literary feasts.  Thank you.

Writing Challenge: Week 3

This week's exercises went a little better but I still haven't hit my stride.

The Exercises:

  • My Pet by Alison Lurie
  • Wedding Cake Assignment by Debra Spark
The Results:

While the exercises above went fine, this week was all about writing on the fly.  In particular, I did a couple of fun exercises with my writer's group.  One of the exercises was to write a short parody based on a postcard of a piece of art.  I chose Henri Rousseau's The Dream.

Then we also did an exercise where we wrote a short piece with one of the following three titles:
  1. How to Eat a _____________
  2. Eating __________________
  3. Recipe for a ______________
This exercise was inspired by the poems How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam and Eating Poetry by Mark Strand.  I ended up writing an ode to my writers' group.  Unfortunately, these two exercises don't count toward the writing challenge so this week I only crossed two off my list.

The Tally:
Exercises Remaining: 81
Days Left: 71

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Catastrophic Success

I love stories like this:

Paul Harding--a writer and graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop--had what the New York Times refers to as "a quiet little novel he wished to publish."  After sending it out to several agents and editors, he got one rejection after another until... a small press (Bellevue Literary Press) picked it up.  And guess what?  This "quiet little novel" has now won the Pulitzer for Fiction.

The cover story in the arts section of yesterday's New York Times (Monday, April 19) tells the story in detail, but my favorite line is the last one.  When asked about his upcoming work, Harding said:  "I sort of feel like I know how I got here, every step of the way....  Something like this can befall me and it won't be catastrophic success."

iggi says...

Which brings us to the heart of this post.

Catastrophic success.  What a seeming paradox, and yet it rings so true.

How easy it is for writers to take one success and let it cripple them into paralysis.  I know this happens to me every time I let someone read my work.  The more they ooh and ah, the heavier my fingers feel next time I get to the keyboard.  In fact, I find that success can be more deadly to my motivation than failure.  After all, failures--even colossal ones--end up motivating me into writing because I want to fix the problems.  But if all I get is success--even if it's a tiny one--it means there's nothing to fix.  And this is where I stagnate.

I think this is why many writers get stuck or hit "the wall:" they show their work too soon.  Earlier this semester, I resisted showing my Master's thesis to anyone (even my peer group and my adviser) because I knew whatever came of it would not be good.  Criticism would psych me out and good comments would make my motivation fizzle.

More importantly, though, I needed to have a heart-to-heart with the book.  It took a lot of different tries and beating my head against the wall to understand what was going on in this book.  Now that the book and I have resolved our differences, I'm finally ready to hear what other people have to say.

In the end, it all comes down to trust.  The writer must trust her readers not to abandon her mid-story.  She must trust the writing to mean what she's trying to say.  And she must trust herself to view the work with clarity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mobilizing the Troops

I recently added a new book to my writing bookshelf: The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.  This is not a book to be read in one sitting, but rather, a book I plan dip into now and again, when I need a swift kick in the pants.  This week's kicks are:

Recon Protocol #07:  Whining will not help you win the battle for publication.

All I can say is YES!  I am sooooo tired of hearing about how hard publishing is and how miserable it makes some writers.  I hereby vow not to whine for the duration of my thesis.  Heck, let's make it the duration of this entire draft.  Because yes, becoming a published writer is hard and sometimes painful, but so are all worthy careers.  Like being a secret agent or a brain surgeon.

Recon Protocol #03:  Know the difference between a hero and a fool.

You know the phrase "don't be a hero"?  In short, a hero is someone who does heroic things without really setting out to do them in the first place, while a fool is one who thinks he's already a hero so he just sits back and expects all the laud and admiration to come to him.  We all know writers who are fools and writers who are heroes.  The trick is both to be a hero yourself and also try to refrain from smacking the fools upside the head.

This is just a small sampling of the pearls of wisdom (pearls I tell you!) that are in this little book.  And as for the writing-as-war metaphor, what can I say?  As someone who treats most endeavors of her life with military precision, I was right at home with this book.  All I know is, if it weren't for my problems with authority figures, I'd make a great war general.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Recently, I attended the Tim Burton Exhibit at the MOMA and was completely inspired.  I am always pleased to see an exhibit where we get a look into the artist's process as well as the final product.  In particular, I love being able to get an inside look at the thought processes of such a creative individual like Tim Burton.

In addition, it is a very brave thing for an artist to put work on display that had once been simply rough scribbles of a creative mind.  Many of the objects in this exhibit are things that were never intended for public viewing and I must say that I admire Burton's guts in allowing us to see these personal early sketches.  On a side note, I am also amazed that Burton saved so much of his stuff.  There were sketches and papers that dated back to his days in high school.  The fact that he has been such a meticulous archivist of his own work is what makes such a great exhibition possible. Not to seem presumptuous, but part of me muses: if there were ever to be a "Gabi retrospective" somewhere, would I even have the stuff to show?  Most of my early work is either long gone or lost in the labyrinth that is storage.  Seeing this exhibit makes me wish I had saved more work from my past.  At the very least, it would be fun to look at it now and see how far my writing and artwork has come.

That said.

As an exhibit, this one has some serious flaws.  Let's start with the first hallway.  This hall (pictured left) is lined with television screens depicting Burton's work along the left-hand wall.  Problem: if people stop to watch one of the screens, it either blocks the flow of traffic or it means that other museum-goers must cross in front of them to pass through the hall.  While the face sculpture above the entrance does make for a unique threshold into the world of the exhibit, the hallway does not work.  I can understand the concept, if we were talking about an exhibit where people have to stand in line for hours to get inside. This exhibit, though, uses timed tickets to manage the crowd and the hallway occurs after the ticket taker's stand anyway, meaning that all these TV screens do is block traffic.

The second problem is the obvious side effect of this exhibit being so popular.  The exhibit is not designed with crowd control in mind.  Many of the objects on display require getting up close to get a good look, which means if you get one or two people in front of a drawing or glass case, no one else can see.  I realize that the nature of this collection makes this type of exhibit design somewhat inevitable, but come on, this is the MOMA.  I've seen exhibits there that are much more effective in shuffling crowds through quickly and effectively.  The space seemed small for the number of pieces on display and there wasn't a clear path for the visitors to follow so they milled around, making the rooms feel more crowded than they would if the flow of people were more fluid.

Which brings me to my next point of critique: the signage was awful.  I'll admit right now that I'm not one of those museum-goers that reads every last little sign, but I like having some broad signage that signals:
  1. Which path I should take through the exhibit to best enjoy it,
  2. How the exhibit is organized, and
  3. Clear transitions between the different areas of the exhibit.
The only signage I found in this exhibit were a few that said things like "Surviving Burbank," "Beautifying Burbank" and "Beyond Burbank" (written in an appropriately Tim Burton-esque font that I thought was quite nice.)  I am not a fan of the "white box" theory of museum exhibits (i.e. paint a room white, throw some art on the walls and "let the art speak for itself.")  I think particularly in an exhibit like this where the art pieces have so much personality, it's important to create a real "experience" for the visitors.  The entrance sort of does this but after that the exhibit falls flat.

Finally, one of my main disappointments is that there is no exhibit brochure (or if there is, it was so poorly displayed that I couldn't find it when I was there).  I'm not talking about a catalog of the exhibit, but just a small brochure that each visitor can take home.  I am reminded of the MOMA Exhibit called Safe: Design Takes on Risk which did an excellent job with a brochure that had a particularly clever design.  This brochure both illustrated one of the main messages of the exhibit but also gave the viewer some basic information about the exhibit itself.

While brochures are by no means necessary at all exhibits, I feel that not having a brochure for this particular one is a missed opportunity.  It wouldn't need to be complex.  The idea is that since Burton's work really does "leap off the screen" and create an experience for his audience, it would be nice if this exhibit did that too, especially since the exhibit website is so fabulous.  A simple brochure would help transition the visitors' experience to beyond the walls of the exhibit itself.

Overall, the material on display in this exhibit is phenomenal but the exhibit itself leaves much to be desired.

iggi says...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting Through a Boring Day

Today is just one of those days.  My brain is paralyzed with boredom.  It's past one o'clock and still I've accomplished nothing.  I can't even seem to think of anything blog-worthy to write about.  So today, I'm letting iggi do the talking.

iggi says...

Advice for Getting Through a Boring Day
(translated from iggi-speak)
  • Go for a walk.  Boredom can't get you if you're a moving target.
  • Ask yourself: "Will small children die if I hide under the bed all day and play with my toys?"  Unless you're some sort of  doctor or rescue worker, probably not.  Then go ahead.  Don't worry; we won't tell.
  • If you have to be productive, remember that bribery works.  So treat yourself.  To a book.  To a toy.  To a cookie... whatever works.
  • Play loud music.  Loud, angry music works best.  Even better, get up and dance around and look stupid (it's OK to keep the shades drawn while you do this).
  • Make up bad words in a secret language all your own.  When something makes you mad or annoyed or just plain bored, yell your secret words.  "You wendagoodle bazzlecrock!"
Finally, remember that it's just one day.  Tomorrow will be better.  Or maybe worse.  I can't promise you one way or the other, but I can say that at the very least it will be different.  And different is the best cure for boredom.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writing Challenge: Week 2

What do a toaster, a Komodo dragon and a tea kettle have in common?

They are all subjects of the pieces that resulted from this week's writing exercises.

The Exercises:
  • My Pet by Alison Lurie
  • Surrealism Exercise, or Thinking Outside the Box by Laurie Foos
  • Birth of a Story in an Hour or Less by Crystal Wilkinson
For My Pet I wrote a passage from the POV of one of my characters who happens to have a pet Komodo dragon.  For Surrealism I used the exercise's formula and made the prompt:  "After a night of cramming, she discovered that her hand had grown a tea kettle."  For Birth of a Story, I used two of my characters, one of whom was reincarnated as a toaster.

 The Results:

Overall, not so good.  For starters, I only got through three exercises this week, rather than my target of seven.  The bigger disappointment, though, was that of the three exercises, only one actually felt like it sparked something and it was the one where I didn't try to use characters from my current project.

Usually I like using the "two birds, one stone" method with writing exercises.  I use them to warm up, but I tend to tweak the prompt or assignment so that it allows me to use characters I'm already writing about.  Usually this works.  In fact, a lot of times I get material out of these exercises that I can later add to the book in some way.  At the very least, though, these exercises usually end up helping me understand my characters better.  This week, that totally didn't happen.

In the end, My Pet and Birth of a Story will have to get do-overs so they don't count toward the tally.  I better get my act together because the days are ticking away.

iggi says...

The Tally:
Exercises Remaining: 83
Days Left: 78

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Little did Charlotte Bronte Know...

...but Jane Eyre was really a vampire-slayer.

Jane Slayre by Sherri Browning Erwin launches today and I have to admit, I am amused at the premise.  I think I'll read this book, even though I usually shy away from the vampire shelves at the bookstore.  I guess for someone who can't stand the sight of blood, reading about it isn't exactly tops on my list.  Still, there's something about Jane Eyre kicking 19th century vampire booty that seriously amuses me.

Maybe it's because I love, Love, LOVE parody, especially when the subject matter is one of the classics.  When parodies are good, they can be brilliant.  For example Clueless is the best movie version of Jane Austen's Emma ever made; whoever came up with the idea of setting that story in 1990's Beverly Hills... what can I say... sheer genius.

The danger with parody, on the other hand, is that when it's bad it's just awful.  Some authors or movie-makers who do parody stick too closely to the original story, clinging to it like a shipwreck survivor clings to a life-saver.  Repeat after me:
Parody is not cheap imitation.  It's humorous reinvention with an angle.
Not to mention that parody is generally meant to be funny, the idea being that by poking fun at the original, the author makes a statement about the greater world.  The movie Ten Things I Hate About You, is parody gone flat.

What makes parody so great to read (or watch) is that, when done well, the author has such a deep knowledge of the original that the parody really sings.  Is Jane Slayer the good kind of parody or the not-so-good?  I'll read the book and let you know.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy

This is not a book you read through all at once.  Susan Shaughnessy's Walking on Alligators is a book best savored when read slowly, one essay each day.  Each meditation includes a quote by a well-known author, a short essay and a goal for your writing that day.  Topics of these meditations range from dealing with criticism to overcoming writer's block to evaluating your writing tools.

Personally, I like to flip the book open at random and read whichever ever essay comes up.  I think of it as writing karma, the universe sending my eye to the essay I happen to need that day.  Even if my opinion differs from the universe's at the time, I usually realize after some writing that the advice was what I really needed that day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Word Scramble #1

I'm slightly obsessed with games and one of my favorites is Boggle or any kind of word scramble.  This weekend, just for fun I've decided to make my own word scramble  Here it is.  There are 252 words (3-letter +) hidden in this 6x6 letter square.  And no, I didn't sit and count all 252 of them.  Let's just say I have my minions.

How many words can you find?

t  w  a  s  b  r  
i  l  l  i  g  n  
d  s  l  i  t  h  
y  t  o  v  e  s  
d  i  d  g  y  r  
n  g  i  m  b  l  

Also, extra points for whoever can guess what text is hidden in this word scramble.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On a Quest for the Perfect E-reader

Introverted book-lover seeks compact gadget to contain her ever-growing library.  Gadget should be easy on the eyes and the wallet.  Should also be slim and portable.  Must be cross-compatible with other e-reading technologies in case book-lover gets fickle and decides to upgrade gadget to something new in a few years.  Gadget should also feature some sort of note-taking or comment-writing function.  Wireless technology and sizable storage space a plus.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writing Challenge: Week 1

The Exercises:
  • Wedding Pictures by Jayne Anne Phillips
  • Through the Senses by Robert Olen Butler
 The Results:

Wedding Pcitures
I enjoyed the Wedding Pictures exercise, because it was fairly free-form and allowed me the freedom to take the writing in the direction I wanted.  The picture I used for the exercise was the one on the right.

What drew me to this picture is how odd the couple looks.  She looks like she's thinking "it's about time I'm getting married" while he looks terrified, like he's going to his own funeral.  Also, I don't know if it's the unflattering dress, but the bride looks several years older than the groom, which for the time period seems a bit backwards.  This made me think that maybe this marriage is not as free-willed as one would like to imagine.  Notice how deftly the bouquet covers and hides her midsection.  Perhaps some premarital indiscretion makes this the Victorian equivalent of a shot-gun wedding?  You tell me.

iggi says...

Through the Senses
This exercise made me want to scream.  I'm just going to say it: I hate guided writing exercises.  Anyone who knows me will agree when I say that I don't respond well to orders.  Being coaxed or cajoled... I can live with that.   But taking orders?  No way.

All right, maybe I'm going a little overboard, but this exercise really did feel like it was telling me exactly what to write and how to write it.  And I didn't get that flash of discovery halfway through the way I usually feel when I do a writing exercise.  It's that a-ha moment when I finally discover what it was I had to write about and the piece suddenly comes together.  I don't know if it was the step-by-step format or the way each step spelled out exactly what I was supposed to write, but I found this exercise utterly unhelpful.

Also, telling a writer who hates following orders "Don't Read Ahead" is pretty much as useless as telling Pandora not to open the box.  I was pretty good, actually.  I got to step 6 out of 7 without reading ahead, but then I caved and did so anyway.  Frankly, I didn't find the "surprise" of the next step all that surprising anyway so I'm not quite sure why Butler insists that students do each step without reading ahead.

iggi says... 

The Tally:
Exercises Remaining: 84
Days Left: 85

Writing Challenge Begins

For the first set of Writing Challenges, I will be taking exercises from the book Now Write! edited by Sherry Ellis.  This book has eighty-six exercises, each by a different author.

The Plan: to do as many of these exercises as I can each week and to report back every Wednesday with the results.

The Goal: to finish all eighty-six exercises in the next eighty-six days, which means I'll be done with Now Write! on July 2nd.

I'm slightly terrified and iggi says...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


David Mamet, executive producer of CBS's drama The Unit, wrote a memo to the writers on the show. While his memo focuses on writing for television, much of the advice is applicable to writers in all fields. This memo can be found at this link and was also quoted on the Longstockings blog.

Mamet's main message is that to create drama, you have to show rather than tell. He writes: "The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder what happens next: not to explain to them what just happened or to *suggest* to them what happens next." In other words, the writer's job is to write the stinkin' scene, not tell us what happens in the scene or what's going to happen.

He continues: "Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of sh*t. Any time any character is saying to another 'as you know' that is, telling another character what you, the writer, need the audience to know, the scene is a crock of sh*t."

This advice is especially apt for fantasy or sci-fi writing. In these genres (the former of which I am currently attempting as my master's thesis), a world exists that the writer knows inside and out, but the reader is discovering it for the first time. The temptation is almost irresistible to have characters over-explain the rules of their world in dialogue or narration, but doing so would kill the drama of the story.

It all comes down to this: trust that your readers are smart and have faith that they will trust you, the writer, to show them what they need to know in due time. And remember that writing does not reside in dialogue alone; stage directions and description can do as much showing as do the words spoken by the characters.

As Mamet says: "If you pretend the characters can't speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama."

iggi says...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio

I don't care if you like poetry or not; if you're a writer, you must read this book. I can tell what you're thinking just from looking at the title. "This must be one of those warm-and-fuzzy books," you say. I say sure, it's like a warm cup of tea you snuggle up with on a snowy day, but we're talking some serious tea here. Something super-caffeinated, like mate herb. This isn't just a "get in touch with your inner-artist-child" sort of book. This book means business.

Ordinary Genius is a combination of analysis and craft. Unlike most books about writing, where you have to work your way in small chunks and do each exercise, you could read this book through to the end as though it were a novel.

Addonizio's approach has changed how I look at poetry. I used to have a strong distaste for poetry. I think the reason was that while good poetry reverberates in the soul, bad poetry is just atrocious.

After all, many people think
if you stick a few line breaks into
prose, it turns into poetry
like magic.

At the same time, though, I have always had a tremendous respect for anyone who attempts this genre, since I find it so challenging. This book breaks poetry down to the building blocks, helping me understand what makes one poem sing and another fall flat. Addonizio gives micro-assignments that serve almost more like meditations than poetry exercises. This book is about doing an honest day's writing, about doing the work.

At the same time, though, Addonizio doesn't guilt her readers into writing (as some writing books tend to do). She doesn't give word minimums or time requirements. The book is approachable. Friendly. It makes you want to wake up and write every day without telling you that you must.

In the end, Ordinary Genius has opened my eyes to the gracefulness of language,the beauty of gesture. Thanks to this little book, I have fallen in love with language all over again.

iggi says...

Welcome to iggi & gabi

Hello friends and welcome to the reboot of the blog formerly-known-as "Swim Against the Grain." This is a new-and-improved blog by yours truly (gabi), and my trusty sidekick iggi. Or am I iggi's sidekick...?  No one will ever know.

As graduation from my MFA program crept closer to the present, I realized that this blog needed more structure, more focus, more direction. Here's my plan:

Mondays, we'll have book reviews. Since my middle grade and teen literature is my obsession, reviews will most likely focus on books in those categories, though I will probably also throw in books on writing and some grown-up novels for good measure.

Tuesday will be all about tips and news. I realized that I need to be more aware of what's happening in the publishing world and the writing world at large. What better way to stay informed than to blog about it? Tuesdays will force me to branch out beyond my own little bubble and connect with the writing world.

Wednesdays, I will post from my weekly Writing Challenge. The challenge is simple: I choose a writing exercise, I do it, I blog about the experience. I will work my way through an entire book of exercises and let you know which ones are good, which ones are bad, and which ones are just plain ugly.

Thursday will be iggi's Rants and Raves day. That's right, once a week I'll let out my inner gabi gone insane and let her blog about whatever is on her mind.

Funtabulous Friday will be a surprise.

Weekends may mean some occasional wild card posts but for the most part, this will be a weekday blog. After all, a girl's gotta do her own writing too.

Related Posts with Thumbnails