Saturday, March 31, 2007

hear me meme

Here's a meme I got from Gina at Madame X: the Pick a Band Meme, where you answer a list of questions using only song titles from one band or artist.

Who to pick? Janis Joplin, who else.

Male or female: Tell Mama

Describe yourself: Combination of the Two

Best piece of advice: Get it While You Can

Describe last relationship: One Good Man

Describe last crush: Trouble in Mind

Say something to a crush: Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

Say something to an ex: Ball and Chain

Say something to someone who's hurt you: Piece of My Heart

How do you feel right now: Summertime

Get your feather boa, and join me at worship in the Church of Janis.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

work-in-progress meme

A novel-writer's meme, which has wended its way through the web: Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven’t gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven’t gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph.

Here is mine:
She finished her hamburger and folded her napkin on her plate. The barmaid was wiping glasses, looking dreamily out toward the front tables. The old man at the bar was bent over his plate and cup of coffee. Voices and laughter drifted thinly from the restaurant, a group of office workers trying to settle the check while the waitress stood indifferently beside their table. Nancy always maintained to Carl that she despised the Sportsman, that she came here only for him, but she had a sneaking love for the wood-paneled dimness, the sound of voices echoing among the ranks of glasses and bottles on the bar, the high, patterned tin ceiling, the closeness of the air, smelling even now in the afternoon of beer and cigarette smoke. It reminded her of the place her grandfather had owned in Cleveland, in one of his more prosperous incarnations, a place where Nancy had washed dishes and done her homework on the bar in the long slow afternoons before it filled up with shot-and-beer drinkers after supper.

This meme came at a good time for me, since I'm girding my writer's loins to go back into my novel one more time, to see if I hate it; to see if it's anything like what I meant; to fix the timing problems in the last part; to interrogate Carl, the main character: is he too passive? maybe to cut a bit more here and there; to see if there's too much dialogue; to check if there's an actual plot.
Some good responses to this meme: No Feeling of Falling, Writing Under a Pseudonym, and Loud Solitude.
Anyone else out there? Book of Marvels? Madame X? Plan B? anyone else writing a novel/long work?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

spring break

Other people go to Barcelona or Florida, but I'm spending my spring break reading, mainly. I am planning to walk around the garden and pick up sticks left from a winter of icy blasts assaulting the surrounding trees, but no serious gardening can be done yet because the snow-melted soil is too soggy. Perhaps a little pruning though.
The reading:
For Us the Living: Robert Heinlein's 1st book, unpublished when he wrote it (1939) and for very good reasons. The characters nearly talk you to death in their eagerness to explain what life is like in 2086. No one has to wear clothes! Marriage is optional and can be terminated at will! They haven't even been to the moon yet, for Christ's sake. It was moderately interesting to skim and skip through, looking for the seeds of RH's later works.
Stranger in a Strange Land: this is the uncut version, published in its entirety after RH died by his widow, to keep the RH flame burning brightly and probably for a little extra cash (but why not?). This I'm reading because I'm thinking of teaching a course that involves sci fi and anthropology, and it might fit in nicely. I'm happy to report that between 1939 and 1960 (when SiaSL was published), RH had learned a few things about writing, although not any more about women (his female characters are always the same girl, a term which I'm using on purpose). But the main character, the human who is also a Martian, is quite well done. RH has a number of stock male characters (as opposed to the one female character), so interchangeable that they could be transplanted from one book to another w/o any other change than a name, but Valentine Smith (the human-Martian) steps away from the stock character box.
Dream Mistress, by Jenny Diski: I got to know JD through her writing in the London Review of Books, and was thrilled to find out that she also wrote books. The first one I read was Skating to Antarctica, which is a kind of combination of travel writing and memoir--wonderfully readable. She reminds me sometimes of Joan Didion, with whom she shares not only initials, but a formidable intelligence and a spare, passionate writing style. Dream Mistress is a little surreal, but grounded in matter-of-factness, wonderful details, both disturbing and lovely. I haven't finished it yet--I'm savoring it. (She also has a blog.)
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, by Joan Didion herself: this is her collected nonfiction, and I passed it up at the library the 1st time, saying to myself that probably I'd read it all when it was 1st published. But on the 2nd pass, I picked it up, because, I thought, maybe there's something I missed. So far I've only read things I'm familiar with, with the pleasure you feel in seeing old friends. "Slouching toward Bethlehem," the title essay of the book it appeared in, bespelled me again--it's like reading a particularly good Ann Beattie story, except more complex and layered and, of course, true, or as true as cnf can be. (Why, I often think, did other people have so much more fun in the '60s than I did? no wonder I can't write a memoir!)
The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser: I never read this when I was in grad school--avoided it in fact, since it sounded very dull. But it's one of those duty reads that hangs over the heads of lit people, things you ought to have read so you can mark them on your life list: Proust, Cervantes, Moby Dick, etc. But D got it for me for my birthday, and his confidence that I would be interested in it, combined with the long guilt of calling myself an English teacher w/o having read it decided me to read it medicinally, a page or 2 at a time, which I liken to taking a few grains of arsenic so that over a period of months you will find yourself able to swallow a dose that would kill a normal person. I'm afraid that Spenser is no more enlightened that Heinlein in his treatment of women (although I suppose he has more excuse)--they're either evil seductresses or virginal maidens who love purely. I find myself sympathizing with Duessa, who besides being evil, represents false religion.
Julius Winsome, by Gerard Donovan: GD is an Irish writer, now living in the US. He's an amazing writer, one of the kind that you want to read even if you're not interested in what he's writing about. The 2 books of his I've read (the other is Schopenhauer's Telescope) are concerned with men and violence, why we kill, the bonds between killer and victim--not what I seek out usually. But his language is so beautiful (he's also a poet) and his storytelling voice is so compelling, that I don't mind. Julius Winsome is about a man whose dog is shot, and what happens as a result, and in the telling of the story his life is excavated as well as a slice of men-and-violence that goes back to the 1st World War. A lovely book.
To Everything There is a Season, by Thalassa Cruso: this is a late birthday present, a gardening book by one of the last-century gardening oracles. I'm reading it in place of actually gardening, which as I said, can't be done just yet. It's not so much a how-to book; it's more of a romance, the romance of the garden which takes place over the course of the year, and which waxes and wanes with the seasons, the sun, the rain, the frost. More beautiful writing, plus useful tips: remove winter mulch gradually; a lily should be planted as deeply as a tree; grapes should always be pruned before the sap begins to rise.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

the searchers

I just read Jadepark's list of wacky search terms, and decided to do one of my own (you can read hers here).
some of the lucid and wellchosen words that have brought people to this blog:
"how to finish a novel fast": I don't know this! although there were some other promising items on the search page, especially the Novel Fast Predictive Mode Decision Algorithm.
"nun stripper": haven't written this story yet.
"nun's bras": it might look like I have a nun obsession, but no more so than anyone else who went through through 13 years of Catholic education (I'm looking forward to seeing "nun obsession" on my referrals page).
"weird things to put on toast": I don't have anything to say about this except for the blog title, but there were some other interesting things, the best of which was salami. I also found out that there is or has been a model of a casino made entirely out of toast, and why not? Gingerbread can't have all the fun.
There were quite a lot of searches for "novel synopsis," and I think what I wrote about this was that I was hopeless at doing one. Possibly I should be doing some searching myself.
If anyone else is feeling meme-ish, please take up the search-terms torch.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

everyone has her own road to success

Brian at Plan B has posted a peek at his writing process, and I'm inspired to do the same.

My writing process:
1. Write a list of 20 story ideas.
2. Make notes on the 20 ideas.
3. Look a couple of days later at the 20 ideas and decide that several of them are silly; and that several of them are like something you or someone else wrote already; and that another several of them are unworkable. Decide that the one you like the best is not a short story--it should really be a novel.
4. Mope; check out All My Children--is it true that Dixie is dead? has anyone actually seen the body?
5. Take a look at the notes (see 2). One sounds not impossible--a story about a girl who takes the elevator up and down in her pajamas: it could be quirky, symbolically freighted, a story of its times. Write 500 words of beginning.
6. Pick up the girl in pajamas story--but today it seems stale and fruitless. Decide instead to do the story about the woman who was kicked out of the convent, and who later decided to be a stripper.
7. Realize that you know nothing about either convents or stripping. Go to the library and check out all the books they have on nuns and sex workers.
8. Immerse yourself in research. Take lots of notes. Be glad you didn't have a vocation, and that you wouldn't have had the nerve to be a stripper.
9. Decide that the nun/stripper story should really be a novel.
10. Write a poem about the process of writing in which it is compared to a black, bottomless lake with leaden waves falling ceaselessly against a grimy shore.
11. Ask yourself if it's too late to go to law school. You hear there's a lot of reading--you're good at reading. (What is a tort?)
12. Start again at 1.