Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If Age Brings Wisdom...

And I'm not actually saying it does, but if age brings wisdom, how come these days I feel I got nuthin'?

I'm working the short stories (AGAIN), without much break between them, and at varying levels of "work," from "what was I thinking?" to "is this ready to send somewhere?"

I am discovering some very very VERY disturbing things.

If you were to name Santa's reindeer after my characters, there'd be Robert, Robert, Robert, James, Jason (formerly James), Jim, Cass, and Carla. I'm tempted to name somebody Rudolph, just to do it.

Plus I was looking through notes I've made for stories to come. They feature yet another Robert and another James.

But wait, there's more: All these people drink a lot of coffee and talk. A lot. If my short stories were ever to inspire a drinking game, you'd need to watch out for the "drinking coffee" scenes.


There are a lot of advantages to being an ahem "mature" writer. Except that I'm discovering that I'm mature only in years, in select experiences writing for other people, and in non-writing life (moving, jobs, family illness and death). And although I know there's no "there" there -- no writer is done developing, or so I imagine -- I'm still on the "developing" side when it comes to fiction and personal essays.

So yes, the years bring advantages. I certainly feel freer to write about families -- the fights and silences, the inexplicable traditions -- because I know my own parents won't be reading the stories to find themselves.

Yet sometimes I feel my characters have the same failings they would have had if I'd been writing fiction as an undergraduate student -- only the details are different. Back then, they'd have experienced heartache and hookups, intoxication (booze and independence), bad decisions and their aftermath, insistent Peter Pan syndrome, and death once removed (e.g. grandparents, accidents).

Currently, my characters enjoy drinking coffee and talking. Which is understandable, given that that's basically what my days comprise (plus a little bleeding over a keyboard). I have actually resorted to listing activities regular people might undertake in a day, just to get my characters up from that darn table. Picking up the dry cleaning, taking the dog to the vet, making supper, vacuuming -- like that.

Although I bumble along through life reacting badly and doing extremely stupid and futile things, I am reluctant to let these Roberts and Jameses and Jims and Jasons, these people who have consented to spend time with me (some of whom I actually like), do the same. That's not really fair, to them or to me. I'll have to let them be unsafe, irresponsible, and just plain wrong.

I have also checked the database of popular names, keyed to specific years, on the Social Security website for new names. Hello, Michael and John and Edward.

Sure, they'll probably keep drinking coffee. But Rob Jam Michael may also stomp off in a huff, right into the middle of a snowstorm. Maybe even -- gasp -- without gloves. Crazy. Irresponsible. You go, Michael.

ETA: See, I even knew this before, about my characters and all their coffee drinking.
Friday, February 15, 2013

Avoiding Feedback Frustrations

A short time ago, I wrote about applying the "mouse view/eagle view" concept to revision. Before I make a pass through a manuscript, I've found it helpful to decide in advance what I'm looking for. Am I checking spelling and punctuation? smoothing infelicitous phrasings? or sending the main character to Gibraltar instead of the mall?

On a related note, sometimes it's impossible for your own eyes to give you guidance about next steps. In those cases, it's important to get feedback from readers -- but which ones, when, and why?

Here's some useful advice from agent Rachelle Gardner. Boiled down, she says to carefully consider why you want input from a particular person -- is she a subject-matter expert, a wide-ranging reader of your genre, an experienced writer who can step outside of personal preference to read the manuscript on its own terms?

That last criterion is important. Say you're lucky enough to find a group of writers to learn from and hang with. It's worth asking what they read for pleasure. You might find that someone who writes lovely lyrical poems for serious literary journals just can't stay with the bleak dystopia you've created in your manuscript.

Or vice versa.

It's a delicate dance. Trust your own vision -- after allowing the manuscript a tincture of time, so you can approach it with less-partial eyes. Trust input from readers, because they can't read your mind -- but pick those readers carefully.
Saturday, February 9, 2013

Different Way to Say It

One benefit to being a (mostly) recovering procrastinator (and the reason my recovery is mostly) is that clicking around on the Internets can yield some pretty interesting stuff.

For example. I read Girl's Gone Child. I don't read it every day (recovering! mostly). I'm not sure how I got there, or why -- I'm not a parent or grandparent; on lots of wintry days, seeing pictures of sunny California simply depress me instead of reminding me that I love winter; I don't cook vegan (or much of anything, either); I don't do much that's decorate-y; I haven't read any of Rebecca Woolf's books; I don't comment...and yet.

That space is a destination I like. It's a creative space. It's encouraging, even when its people are out of sorts and life isn't rosy. Maybe especially then, because it celebrates the power of doing the best you can. (My parents were fabulous people, but sometimes the second half of "Do your best" was ": be perfect.")

And sometimes I see something at just the right time, and I think, "Yeah. Thanks!" Which was today.

Go there and read this, this specific post: She Section Week 3: A Thousand Stories

My favorite part, today:
Think of your photos as the stills to short films and remember that the truth is the most photogenic story ever told. You have a story to tell and it's awesome and beautiful and strange and imperfect and exactly as it should be.

And all the stuff about photographs, story, and point of view is interesting, too. Revise and edit! Follow the story! Et cetera!
Sunday, February 3, 2013

Best Canadian Essays: Really REALLY Real

Last August I received word that my essay, "All I Can Say," would be part of Best Canadian Essays 2012, published by Tightrope Books.

Last week, I received my contributor copies. Yes, my essay really is in it. Really truly. NOW it feels real -- like really REALLY real!

You can order a copy from the publisher -- or check your neighbo(u)rhood indie bookstore. You never know who might be carrying it!

Thanks again to Room for initially publishing the essay and to the hardworking folks at Tightrope Books for including it.