Monthly Archives: October 2011

What I do when my writing isn’t going well (aka spice organization!)

funny charming sign "free positive thoughts"

How’s your novel coming along?[1]

It isn’t. It’s horrible. It’s awful. It’s so difficult. Not a single talented, published, critically acclaimed writer I know will say it’s easy to write a novel. And it doesn’t get easier with time or experience. Even if you win a Pulitzer, you just start over again when you sit down to write the novel-after-the-Pulitzer. It’s an uphill climb through swamp and rain and snow and rocky terrain, all around.

When my novel isn’t coming along, when the ideas don’t come, when the words for the ideas don’t come, it’s like the worst case of constipation, ever. You know what you have to do (push out that G*dawful brick of a turd), but knowing what to do, isn’t the same as having it happen. So you wait.

The ideas are swirling around in my subconscious, and they’re just not coming together just yet. They’re just stuck. I know what I’ve got to do –I’ve got to integrate a new character into my novel revision, and I’ve got to re-design another character, before I can really earnestly dive into this next revision. But. It’s not. Coming. Together.

So what do I do when my writing isn’t going well?

I go bookshopping. I read. I eat. I go to yoga (well, not nearly enough). Hell, I even bake.

I bake chocolate peanut butter cookies:

peanut butter and milk chocolate cookies

I had to give many of them away. I’m a weird animal; I bake for the sake of baking. I like making exact measurements, and throwing them together into a concoction that when exposed to heat, becomes something else entirely. I like giving people baked goods, watching their faces light up.

I like butter. I love sugar. I respect flour. What a triumvirate.

I make blueberry pancakes (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, milk, egg) from scratch, with homemade blueberry maple syrup (blueberries, maple syrup). Liquid to fluffy solid.

blueberry pancakes + blueberry maple syrup

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How I Learned to Read

Litquake

I had a tremendous time reading for the Men Undressed anthology at San Francisco’s Lit Crawl this past weekend.

But before the reading I had to learn to read.[1]

This was not my first reading; however I’m not, historically speaking, a good reader. In fact, one of my trusted Famous Writer mentors told me this past summer, “That’s awful! You can’t read like that,” before turning to the rest of the group and adding, “C’mon guys. You gotta learn to read better. Who else is going to speak for your work?” For serious. He said it because he knew I could take it from him, and because I’d take his advice and use it to improve.

I decided to become a good reader.

So I practiced reading my excerpt. And I practiced some more. I read it aloud. I videotaped myself reading aloud. I watched myself on video (gah). I made myself read as slowly as I could. I asked a good friend (who happens to be a storyteller) for her feedback. She offered some kind but focused words. I was reading in that measured slow way like poets do, she said. The speed was good, she said. I got it. I worked on inflection. I practiced reading again. And I practiced some more. My husband gave me feedback. Modeled what he thought might be better to me. I was impressed; he was way better than I at reading my own piece.

At this point, I wished that I had taken some voice acting classes, or taken drama in junior high school. (Omg! James Earl Jones, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Holly Hunter, and Kathleen Turner are genius)! I was also inspired by Kathleen Chalfant reading alongside Jessica Hagedorn at Hagedorn’s book launch party for Toxicology. Chalfant showed me what writers can achieve when manuscripts are read with flair and power. (And also, what we writers often miss in our own readings). I was enraptured when she read aloud from Toxicology.

Writing and stellar voice performance are mutually exclusive, but I’m a strong believer in hard work. So I practiced some more. I marked up my manuscript with cues; symbols and underlines and exclamation points and stars for where I should slowly crescendo (arrow up), or decrescendo (arrow down) my voice, where I wanted to sound light and airy (dots) or gravelly (squiggly lines) or read more slowly (underlines), or pause (vertical line breaks). Or paaaauuuuuse. (double vertical line breaks).

I watched myself read on video. Gah. I practiced some more.

I watched the time. We each were allowed eight minutes to read. I cut and cut my piece down to six minutes, because as an audience member, I can’t stand when readers go over the time limit. It’s *rarely* an enjoyable experience listening/watching a writer read on and on and on. I cut paragraphs throughout, paragraphs in the middle, toward the end, all the ones that didn’t translate well to being read aloud.

I thought about my excerpt and what I wanted to convey. About being in the scene with my character. Made more tweaks as to relay the mood of the scene, of the actions involved.

I thought about memorizing as much as I could so that I could lift my head and make eye contact with the audience. And I made an executive decision: I wouldn’t be doing that. I didn’t have time to memorize, and it was lower priority. I’d just read it heads down. I’ve seen lots of great literary readers do just that, and it didn’t bother me at all that they never looked up.

And then I practiced reading aloud, again. On video. In front of my husband. Alone. I sighed. It was, I thought, the best I could do. And at least it was better than before. And then it was time.

I’d packed a summer dress for my reading. I get hot when I’m nervous. Not hawt. I’m talking sweaty hot flash, hot. You’ll never see me in a sweater for an event at which I know I’ll be nervous. (On the other hand, there are people who get colllld when they get nervous, in which case, they should wear sweaters and not summer dresses).

I don’t know about you, but a nice outfit can change my whole perspective on self. So I packed my favorite summer dress.

I had a cocktail beforehand–unplanned, but there was a bit of a wait before the doors opened, and I thought I’d have a drink. Which chilled me out. Which was good.

I had written notes to myself with cues for the reading on a post-it, and I’d stuck it on my manuscript. Notes about how to introduce my piece. Notes reminding me to introduce the next reader out of the Men Undressed anthology. I knew I’d forget otherwise. And I was glad I did, because the readers who went before I did, forgot to introduce the next reader.

And then I read. In a dark room in the Mission during Lit Crawl, where the night was lit up with literary energy, and where I knew a few good friends lingered in the audience. And then it felt magical, and I found myself improvising pitch while up on stage, inspiration that would not have come had I not practiced.

Moral of story:

  1. Practice reading.
  2. Get feedback.
  3. Practice some more.
  4. Make notes on your manuscript.
  5. Practice some more.
  6. Get into your story/scene/poem.
  7. Wear what makes you feel good.
  8. Get a posse together, if you can.
  9. And then–have fun. If you need a drink, go for it. If you don’t drink, that’s fine, too–but figure out a way to loosen up beforehand. And then, have as much fun as you can.

[1] And I’m sharing with you how I learned to read, because the advice out there is generic and not as practical or specific (e.g., “Read slow” or “Look up every once in awhile”) as I needed when I needed tips.

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Men Undressed Giveaway: winner!

Wiener Dogs Reading Books: Men Undressed

There is now a winner of the Men Undressed anthology giveaway..!

Here’s the video of the drawing (if I look nauseous, it’s because I am–but the cause is not the giveaway, it’s something I ate yesterday):

And if you don’t want to bother to watch the video and stare at me in front of my bookshelves recording myself as I pick the winner live…the winner is…

**SPOILER ALERT***

**SPOILER ALERT***

*drum roll please*

**SPOILER ALERT**

*drum roll*

*drum roll*

Kali Fajardo-Anstine!
…whose comment was:
“Girl, I want it because you’re in it! :)”

(Full disclosure: Kali happens to be a friend of mine, even though I totally butchered the pronunciation of her last name).

*cymbal clash!*

Congratulations to Kali–and thank you for supporting the Men Undressed anthology. I hope all of you who wanted a copy and didn’t win, still manage to find yourselves a copy soon.

Methodology:
I assigned each of you a number, in the order of comments, and used a random number generator to pick a number between 1 and 12, as there were 12 entries. The generated number was matched with the assigned number of the contest entrants.

Trivia:
The winning number was 10.

The wiener dogs reading Men Undressed are Scarlet the Wiener Dog and Ziggy the Wiener Dog, who is pictured here. I rescued both of them at separate times many years ago and they are now 18 and 14 years old, respectively. (And I wrote a blog post about them as part of my Alphabet History project).

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Literary Blog Relay: “Transformations”

Olek!

We are doing a literary blog relay:

One writer writes a 250 word post/story/fragment and then tags the next writer, etc., etc. We can write whatever we want, so long as our posts begin with the last line of the previous post and are linked to a central them; in this case, “Transformation.” Kind of like a track and field relay–except we’re writin’ it!


THE FULL LINE UP, IN ORDER (completed posts in bold)

  1. Christine Lee Zilka czilka.wordpress.com
  2. Nova Ren Suma novaren.wordpress.com
  3. Wah-Ming Chang wmcisnowhere.wordpress.com
  4. Nina LaCour ninalacour.com/blog
  5. Stephanie Brown scififanatic.livejournal.com
  6. Jamey Hatley jameyhatley.wordpress.com
  7. Matthew Salesses matthewsalesses.com
  8. Krystn Lee blog.kryslee.com
  9. Bryan Bliss bryanbliss.blogspot.com

THE RULES:

  • Start with the last line of the previous entry.
  • Poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction all up for grabs.
  • 250 words (you can fudge if artistic license requires)
  • Thematically linked
  • Link to the next person on the list, as well as those who posted before you.
  • Post something within 4 or 5 days of the most recent piece.
  • Posts should start with an explanation, with links to the previous posts as well as the next.

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Book giveaway: Men Undressed!

Wiener Dogs Reading Books: Men Undressed

I’m giving away a copy of the Men Undressed anthology, out from Other Voices/DZANC Books!

I’m particularly psyched about this giveaway, because my piece “Erasure,” is included in the anthology. And I’m unusually delighted about this particular piece having been published, because “Erasure” is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress. A mini-debut, so to speak, of a years-long obsession of mine.

Just so you know, my piece is a sex scene. The entire anthology is comprised of literary sex scenes. All the stories, all written by women, feature male protagonists in sex scenes.[1] I’ve read many of the stories, and they are all amazing, written by writers like Jennifer Egan, Aimee Bender, A.M. Homes, and Kim Addonizio.

Men Undressed anthology

There’ll be a bunch of publicity revving up for the anthology; among the many things planned are:

Opening lines of “Erasure”:

“Myung-Ja came home from her overtime shift at the hospital before dawn, her tired steps crunching gravel in the courtyard with an unfamiliar tempo that awakened Yong, who then lay tensed on the heated ondol floor waiting for either a key in the door or the brutal sounds of someone breaking in, his morning erection fading with his heartbeat. He wondered if a day would come when he wouldn’t react to sudden noise like this, when he might even sleep through any shift in environment. In the darkness, he vowed to protect any future children from this ever-vigilant state, one that made him aware of survival on a minute-to minute basis. He vowed to spoil them rotten, coddle them, never let them heave into consciousness with great fear…”

I hope that whets your appetite…

So let’s get to the heart of the matter: the giveaway!

You can see a copy of the book[2] in the photos of my “wiener dogs reading books.” The anthology is published in beautiful soft cover, as you see here, and I can sign the book if you so desire.

Here’s how to enter/how I will pick the winner…

  1. Leave a comment below. You can say anything you want–e.g., you can describe a moment in which you or someone you know was, or felt, “undressed,” you can tell me why you want a copy of the book, or share with me how you feel about an anthology that encourages cross-gender sexual representation!
  2. Do fill out your email address when you fill out the fields in the comment box (it won’t be published to the world, but I will need it in order to contact you in case you win)!
  3. 1 entry per person
  4. The giveaway is open worldwide.
  5. If you win the contest, I will email you for your mailing address.
  6. Winners will be chosen by a random number generator.
  7. I will be announcing the contest winner on the blog. None of your personal information will be posted, aside from your first name and last initial (or the nickname you choose to list in your comment). If you see that someone else has entered the same name as you, please try to pick a different nickname to call yourself, just for clarity.
  8. If you are below the age of 18, please ask your parents to fill out the comment field with their information.

GOOD LUCK!!![3]

The deadline to enter a comment is Wednesday October 12, 2011 12noon EDT. The winner (picked at random) will be announced October 12, 2011 by 9:00pm EDT.

The winner is announced!

Men Undressed anthology

[1] About time! Haven’t we read plenty of female-centric sex scenes written by male writers like Flaubert, D.H. Lawrence, and Philip Roth?

[2] I promise, I won’t send you the copy my dogs “read”–unless of course, you wish to have that one.

[3] I hope you win! And I hope you enjoy the anthology. Even if you don’t win, I hope you buy the anthology–in your neighborhood independent bookstore, or online at Amazon

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Men Undressed and The Nervous Breakdown

Men Undressed anthology

My piece “Erasure” is published in the anthology Men Undressed, which is a collection of sex scenes featuring male protagonists written by women.

“Erasure” is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress. It’s always exciting/a pleasure/amazing/a joy/uplifting to see my stories published–but I’m especially thrilled to see a portion of my novel in print!

I hope you get a chance to read/enjoy the stories.[1] But in the interim, check out my interview about contributing to Men Undressed with Gina Frangello at The Nervous Breakdown.

I’ll also be participating in readings for the anthology, the first of which will be at San Francisco’s LitCrawl on October 15th, 7:15-8:15pm at the SUB/MISSION Art Space at 2183 Mission–I hope to see you there. 🙂

[1] I’m doing a giveaway of the anthology here on the blog!

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