Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bruce Springsteen

Well, I was going to wait. But why not talk about Bruce Springsteen?

In my previous post, "The Order of Things", I discussed having a novel that was inspired and influenced by Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland".  Off of the Born to Run album, which is hands-down my favorite, it's also, I think, the longest song. It's about love and betrayal and being desperate, and all the things that go on at night.

The Order of Things

I'm not a big fan of poetry. 

That is to say, poetry has to be particularly fine to draw me in. I like Allen Ginsberg's "Howl". I like T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land. I like Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus". I guess what I'm getting at here is that I like rather literary, somewhat complex poetry, though I do have a New Jersey loyalty to William Carlos Williams and, of course, Bruce Springsteen (so he sings his poems. They're poems. That are stories. More on this another time.) Poems tell stories in fewer words and fewer pages, poets loading all the power that they can into each phrase, and every chosen word, and there's a certain magic in that.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cultivating an Image

I discussed writing superstitions only a couple of days ago, but wonder if perhaps I jumped the gun.  My main argument (discussion?) was that I didn't want to have writing superstitions, be it about certain objects or situations, because if those objects or situations were removed, I didn't want to find myself unable to write.

Maybe I was wrong, though, and I'll play the devil's advocate here and tell you why.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

National Novel Writing Month is only a week away!

30 days, 50,000 words. If you're not in the habit of writing, it sounds rather imposing. If you are, it sounds like cake, doesn't it? But is it, really? A novel from start to finish, the length of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Of Mice and Men?

Maybe it's easy. Maybe it isn't. But Christ Baty, National Novel Writing Month's founder, wrote a book to help you out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Very Superstitious, Writing's on the Wall

A lot of writers have superstitions. They use a particular pen, have good luck charms, have little totems that they keep around to aid in the creative process.

While I can appreciate the need (and fondness) for trinkets of that sort, I try to do the exact opposite. I try to be able to write wherever, whenever, however, because I don't want to find myself stuck if I don't have a pair of fingerless gloves on, or if I left my plastic quarter-machine Doberman at home. I really don't want to cultivate precious habits like that, or I'll end up like Roseanne on that episode where she started to go to Bingo games and ended up with all kinds of lucky lighters that she had to arrange in a pattern in front of her.
(Image from Wikipedia)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whose reality?

I don't like reality TV.

I have two improbable exceptions to this: Dog the Bounty Hunter (I know, right?) and cooking shows. I love Japanese Iron Chef, I love Hell's Kitchen, I love Masterchef.

But "regular" reality TV? The Real World, Jersey Shore, Survivor? No, thank you. I'm from the Jersey Shore, and that's not my reality. It isn't now, and it wasn't while I was there. But I loved the Bones episode about it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

City in Ruins

This might be a morbid or macabre thing to consider, but what's your favorite ruined city?

I don't mean "favorite" in a sunshine-happy Disney sort of way; I mean in a really truly fascinates you sort of way. I mean in a way that draws you in and makes you want to know about it, that you wonder about occasionally.

I had this discussion with a friend the other day, because his favorite ruined city, Krakatoa, was on the cover of Archaeology magazine. My favorite is Pripyat, in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. It's occurred to me that it's a special sort of group of friends that you can have this sort of conversation with.

(photo from Wikitravel)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Judge a Book by Its Cover

You know what a phrase I really don't like is? "You can't judge a book by its cover."

When it comes to actual people, to whom the metaphor is often applied, that is true. Books, though.  Until you open them, the cover is all you have to go by! Is it a hardcover or a paperback? Is it a cardboard hardcover, or leather bound? Is it a nice fat trade paperback, or one of those weird, tall floppy ones? Does the hardcover have a dust jacket on it? Is the cover glossy or textured? Are there people on the cover picture, or is it a landscape? If there's a dog, is it the actual breed that the story describes (this you can only find out later. And, mostly, it isn't.) Does the book smell bad?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: a book review

I read a lot of books. Really, it was kind of a herculean effort to wait this long before putting a review up.

I go through phases where I read a lot of books on writing, or a lot of books on a particular research topic (Chernobyl, South Africa, and mercenaries, to name a few), or a lot of books on dogs. I actually didn't used to read much nonfiction, it was novels and short stories all the way, with a smattering of poetry. But, well, things change.

So, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, is a book on writing. Actual writing, not publication, not marketing, writing. And trying to get it right.

Writing Assignment: 10-20-11

Today's writing assignment, should you choose to accept it:

Take the wrapper off of a brand new blank book, providing it has a wrapper in the first place. Write something. Simple, right? Maybe not.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

I threw away my rejection letters.

It was a rather satisfying, if not cathartic, experience, which I of course promptly Facebooked, as one does. There's more to that end of the story, which I'll tell you one day.  But today we're going to talk story submissions, and rejections.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the Headlines

Sometimes, people ask me where ideas come from. And sometimes I don't know.

Other times, I can truthfully say that I've gotten inspiration from reading the news. I know I'm not the only one.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Your Limits Will Set You Free

In writing classes, when an assignment was handed out, most of the other students sighed, and rolled their eyes, and sometimes even ignored it and did what they wanted anyway. I can't say that I never did what I wanted anyway, but for the most part, I was happy to have the assignment. Writing assignments can challenge you to step out of your comfortable crevice and do something new with your writing, and doing something new can be when you learn and grow.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

There's Someone in my Head, but It's not Me

Occasionally, we all run into this question: "Why do you write?"

The sort answer is "because I have to." That's a little too mystical, though.  Or pretentious. Or Schizophrenic. "I write because the voices in my head tell me to".  Yeah, sure lady. Did you stop taking your Thorazine because you didn't like how it made you feel?

So, a longer winded answer is in order.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You have died of dysentery

As a middle-schooler, I was haunted by a video on general computer use that they once showed us. This was the 90's, so PC's weren't as ubiquitous as they now are; Campbell's Soup labels still bought Macs for schools, on which we played Oregon Trail and Fraction Munchers.

Write it Down

I used to be afraid to write in a blank book. I felt that, if I started a story in one, I had to finish the story there, or else I had "wasted" it. I loved having blank books, though, and so have amassed quite a collection.

Junior or Senior year of college, I got over it. Maybe it was because of the creative writing classes I was eventually able to take on the side (my degree is in Psychology). Suddenly, I was able to write a name, or a blurb, or the beginning of a story, and if that was all I was going to write on that topic, I could draw a line or turn the page and write something else. Easy peasy.

It was freeing, really, to not have to worry about keeping a book "nice". I think I had probably read too many books in which the heroine had journals or letters that she kept for posterity, for Those Who Came After to read. Between computers and my handwriting, I don't really need to worry about that. Frequently, I'll write the opening of a story in a notebook (I keep any number of them in my purse and at work) and then finish the rest of it on the computer.

Other times, I'll have an idea, but not really the time to get out the pen and paper. In those instances, I'll whip out the cell phone and email or text myself the phrase that's come to mind. That's how I preserved my idea for this year's National Novel Writing Month; I was almost asleep, lights off, pen and paper distant, and thinking about the stories that we tell.  I didn't want to forget my notions, and so I grabbed my phone and emailed myself the words "Family Apocrypha". And then went to sleep and forgot. Imagine my surprise, the next morning, when I opened my Gmail! But I remembered the idea.

Good ideas or bad, if you don't remember them, you aren't able to judge. Write it down.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Beginnings are often awkward.

We don't know each other yet, don't know each other's habits, and perhaps don't yet know what to say. So here, I'll go first.

My name is Jennifer, though I prefer Jen. I've been making up stories for as long as I can remember, and I eventually began writing them down. I wrote a very bad fantasy novel during high school, which will not see the light of day. Since then, I've written, and started, other novels that I think are rather better. Since 2007, I've participated in National Novel Writing Month, which is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

I plan on sharing my writing process here, and also discussing books and stories in general.  I've always been a big reader, frequently getting in trouble for it as I grew up. Even now, I read between 100 and 200 books a year, my "habit" fostered by my job at a library. I love fantasy and science fiction, and also good old fashioned "literary" fiction.

I feel that a good writer needs to read.  I believe that a good writer learns about the world, and never stops learning, regardless of whether there's a classroom. Writing, authoring, is a process and a journey, and I hope you enjoy coming with me.