Friday, February 26, 2010

George Orwell Quote

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

-- George Orwell, "Why I Write"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So About That Break...

I'm supposed to be on a writing break.

But so far it hasn't been much of one. I'm finding that it's easier to say "break" than to actually do it.

For example, since deciding on a break I've done edits and revisions on stories; written two or three new flashes; scribbled notes and ideas for a couple of stories; and written a handful of blog posts.

Plus, I've submitted a few stories and I'm still checking blogs, Facebook, etc.

And when I go bed, my mind turns to writing: Am I working on the right project? Should I ditch the novel I'm working on and start another? What about the memoir thing? Or should I revise my short story collection? Should I finish that story that's about 75 percent done, because it will be a good fit for the collection? How many stories do I currently have submitted? How long ago did I submit that story to Literary Journal X? Are they really considering my story or did it fall behind the file cabinet? And why do I spend so much time on stories when everyone knows short story collections don't sell?

In other words, pretty much the same as before.

I've realized that even though writing has taken a back seat in my life, it's still a seat -- and it's still very much a part of my day-to-day life. It's difficult to just stop. Maybe I can't. And maybe that's OK.

Or maybe I need to do something more extreme. Limit computer and Internet use? Banish pens and Post-its? Maybe.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More on Writing Advice, Rules, Etc.

I don't think anyone thinks there are actual writing "rules" that, if followed, can lead to "success." But maybe some people do. I don't know.

"Rules" are made to be "broken," of course.

One of Elmore Leonard's "rules" is to never use a verb other than "said" for dialogue.

Does anyone adhere to that? Not even an "answered" or "continued" or (gasp) "insisted"? I don't think so. The "rule" here is a reminder to not get carried away with language attributed to speech and the way people talk.

"I didn't know you liked Cher," she purred.

Does anyone's voice ever sound like purring? You get the idea...

I've been reading a few more posts and articles about writing advice and rules, as well as various comments. Proclaiming "rules" can really get people riled up.

I also came across this tidbit from Richard Ford: "Don't have children." Which reminds me of John Malkovich in Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog: "Family is the death of the artist."

More on the Ford quote from The New Yorker's book blog:

"I delight in Richard Ford's terrifically sourpuss 'Don't have children,' because I've read his books and this rule strikes me as being so Richard Ford. He is met by Helen Dunmore's 'If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard,' which strikes me as being so Helen Dunmore."

I don't know much about JG Ballard (or Helen Dunmore), but I guess he had kids and still managed to write and have a career.

I'll end with this quote from Francis Ford Coppola:

"My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to get married and have a family. It's motivation and inspiration."

Wait, I'll end with this about Richard Ford: I met him at Squaw Valley a few years ago. He has a great voice. He rides motorcycles. One afternoon we watched people bungie jumping. "Those people are crazy," he said.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing Advice

Some links...
  • Elmore Leonard's famous rules for writing ("1. Never open a book with weather"; "10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip").
  • Several authors (including Zadie Smith, Annie Proulx, Joyce Carol Oates) give their advice.

What Mommy Has

My wife and I (mostly my wife) are in the process of potty training our twins.

So we're knee-deep in the classics of potty training lit: Once Upon a Potty, Big Boys Use the Potty, Potty Time, etc.

And we're also experiencing scenes like this, which happened this morning:

"Who wants to see me pee?" announces Ethan, our four year old.

Celia and Henry follow Ethan into the bathroom. They watch him pee. They are transfixed.

After Ethan finishes, Celia points at Ethan's penis and laughs.

"That's Ethan's penis," my wife explains.

"You guys have one too," says Ethan.

"Not Celia,” says my wife. "Not me. We don't have a penis."

"Yes you do," he insists.

"We're girls," she continues. "We don't have penises."

"Celia had a penis when she was a baby."

"What about Mommy?" I ask. "Did she have a penis when she was a baby?"

"Yes. And when Celia gets big and is a big girl like Mommy she'll have what Mommy has."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Story @ Titular

"Kramer vs. Kramer" is now up at Titular, which publishes stories named after the titles of books, films and TV shows.

I don't usually write stories with movie titles.

I also don't usually write stories about extreme fighters.

Here's the first paragraph:

"Kramer wraps himself around Kramer’s legs, from behind, then lifts him and tips him up and over and down, per their rehearsed routine. There sounds a thud of permanence as both men (bearded, burly) hit the mat. The crowd wakes up, a little—a light sprinkling of “ooohs” and “aaahs” among the less-than-half-filled room. Kramer thinks he smells Mennen Speed Stick tonight. Kramer usually uses Old Spice. What’s up with that? The sweat. Every night Kramer marvels: the sweat."

Writing Teeth

I really like this quote from Jen Michalski:

"I like to think we have a lot of writing teeth. Some are slow and painful or impacted, and you pay a lot of attention to those. But then you wake up the next morning and you’ve cut a completely different tooth that you didn’t know you had. And the trick is to let all the teeth fall out on their own. If you try and pull them, the gums retain the memory of that loss. And maybe it affects the next tooth growing out of that hole. I’d like to think I’ll always have teeth coming in, but who knows? I have teeth now, and that’s all I’m going to worry about."

You can read the rest of her Fictionaut Five interview with Meg Pokrass here.

Monday, February 8, 2010


This essay, by Dani Shapiro, hurts a little.

She quotes an essay called "Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years" by Ted Solotaroff, editor and founder of the New American Review.

In his essay, Solotaroff wonders what happened to all the young and talented writers he came across when editing his magazine.

Most of these writers, he reports, had given up. A few kept writing and publishing. But most seemed to disappear (writing-wise, that is).

Solotaroff writes:

"It doesn't appear to be a matter of talent itself. Some of the most natural writers, the ones who seemed to shake their prose or poetry out of their sleeves, are among the disappeared. As far as I can tell, the decisive factor is what I call endurability: that is, the ability to deal effectively with uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment, from within as well as from without."

Shapiro's essay is worth checking out. She talks about that "miserable trifecta: uncertainty, rejection, disappointment." She talks about how things have changed since she started her writing career.

And she talks about how she sees young writers who are after the big deal, the big score, the big book that gets the big advance.

Shapiro writes:

"The emphasis is on publishing, not on creating. On being a writer, not on writing itself. The publishing industry -- always the nerdy distant cousin of the rest of media -- has the same blockbuster-or-bust mentality of television networks and movie studios. There now exist only two possibilities: immediate and large-scale success, or none at all. There is no time to write in the cold, much less for 10 years."

Writers must work hard. Writers must be prepared to be disappointed and neurotic and full of tunneling doubt. Writers must also be patient. Above all else, yes, they must endure. It's hard to think long term, I know, especially these days.

"We need to be thinking about your long-term career."

That's what the agent I'm currently working with told me in our first phone conversation. That meant a lot. It still does.

Friday, February 5, 2010


I'm taking one -- from writing, from stressing about not writing, from sending stories out, from keeping up with blogs, Facebook, etc.

I've just been feeling the need to focus on other areas of my life right now. So I'm going to be doing that.

It'll only be a month. Or two. And I'll still post here occasionally, but it will probably be more sporadic than usual.

I'm hoping to come back refreshed and ready to jump back into the novel I'm working on. There's a lot to do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Issue of Pank

The new issue of Pank is now available.

It's 234 pages, with a long, luscious list of contributors -- Aaron Burch, Matt Bell, Alicia Gifford, Kevin Wilson, Ethel Rohan, Lauren Becker, David Erlewine, Jensen Beach, Meg Pokrass and Brandi Wells to name but a few.

According to Pank's blog: "It’s like an all-star Marti Gras parade on acid times 4. Seriously."

I'm really happy to be part of this issue, which features my story "Woke Up This Morning." As my wife can attest, it's another one of my "happy" stories. And by "happy" I mean "tragically unhappy."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Overdone and Shaggy

So it's a long story.

But earlier this week I sent off my novel Retreat to a few small publishers. I've decided "that's it." I won't be actively doing anything with it.

It's tough, though, when you've spent years on something... and then nothing happens.

This is a novel I finished in 2004 (I think). I got an agent. The novel was sent around to six or seven publishers. After they all passed (for similar reasons), the agent suggested I do another draft of the novel. I obliged. Then he/she didn't like the result. And that was that.

More rounds of submissions. Ups, downs. Contests. More submissions. Yes, I'd like to see the full manuscript. No thanks, this is isn't right for me.

Then I did nothing with it, focused on stories and started another novel, which is supposedly the best way to deal with this kind of stuff.

Now I'm sending out a few last messages in a bottle. Because, as Flannery O'Connor once said, people without hope do not write novels.

Yesterday I read an interview with Don DeLillo. He had this to say about his first novel, Americana:

"I don't think my first novel would have been published as I submitted it today. I don't think an editor would have read 50 pages of it. It was very overdone and shaggy, but two young editors saw something worth pursuing."