Thursday, December 30, 2004

There’s Still Time… Plus – A Review of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles

Take a look at your resolutions from last year. How’d you do? I think I did okay. I exercised more and lost a total of 12 pounds. (Of course, I’ve gained two of ‘em back since Thanksgiving.) I didn’t read as many books as I did in 2003 (which was 100). This year I only read 35. But I read hundreds of short stories and studied several of them.

I did get published – just not in the way I’d expected. I had several articles printed in the Bowie Blade (our local newspaper), which was nice. I was accepted to Clarion and loved it. I learned a mind-boggling amount of stuff in those six weeks and met some of the greatest people in the world. Since Clarion, I’ve made several self-discoveries about my writing. I think I’m really close to breaking from Damon Knight’s Stage 3 to Stage 4. (See Knight’s book Creating Short Fiction. It was one of my Christmas presents. Thanks Jan and Pete!) I’m really excited about 2005.

Resolutions? Don’t really have any. (Except finding a job!) I just plan to keep reading, writing and studying. I really believe that most of my writing problems can be solved by delving deeper into the characters and letting them tell their own stories, free from my interference and manipulation.

Chronicles, Vol. I – Bob Dylan

I don’t think anybody expected writing this strong from Dylan. I certainly didn’t. Non-cryptic, sensory-filled, and fascinating, Chronicles takes the reader through three stages in Dylan’s life: his arrival in New York, life in Woodstock in the early 70’s, and the circumstances surrounding the Oh Mercy recording sessions when Dylan was at one of the lowest points of his career.

For the first time, we get a pretty clear idea of what it’s like to be Bob Dylan. You can understand why he did some of the things he did, who and what influenced him, his dreams, fears and passions. Reading Chronicles is probably as close as we’re going to get to sitting down with Dylan and having him open up. But open up he does and what he tells us is amazing. The man knows a lot about music, people, philosophy, ideas and concepts, but he didn’t always. Watching him learn these things is almost too good to be true.

Either Dylan kept very detailed journals during the last 40 years or he’s got a fantastic memory. (Or he’s just making everything up, which I doubt.) In just a few sentences, Bob had me believing I was stepping inside a New York coffee house in 1961, listening to folk singers like Dave Van Ronk and Joan Baez.

Writers would do well to read Chronicles. Dylan’s musical journey is one that no doubt has parallels with hundreds of writers, artists, sculptors, dancers – anyone in the arts. Writer’s block? He’s had it. Depression? Yep. Feeling as if everyone is more talented than he is? Uh-huh. Whatever the problem, he’s had it, he’s been there. This is an outstanding book. Don’t miss it.

Now Playing = When I Stop Dreaming: The Best of the Louvin Brothers

Monday, December 20, 2004

Jonathan Strange and Mr James

Maybe it’s because it’s the holiday season and my schedule is all out-of-whack. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to get the house ready for company and we're running in a hundred different directions. Or maybe it’s just the snow outside…

Whatever the reason, I’ve stopped reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, somewhere around page 80 or so (about one-tenth of the book). Maybe I’ll pick it up again at some point. Susanna Clarke did hold my interest for about the first fifty pages. Some really interesting things happened early on, but then Clarke decided to run down too many rabbit trails that just didn’t deliver. She spends too much time on lengthy discourses that obviously:

1 - do nothing to advance the story
2 – do nothing to reveal anything about the characters

Someone might object, “Well, that’s how novels were written back then.”

I don’t think so, because the story I decided to read instead of Jonathan Strange was “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, which is absolutely captivating. (To put it in perspective, the beginning of Strange takes place in the early 19th century; “The Turn of the Screw” was published near the end of the same century.) Although the James story is long (novella length – about 110 pages in my edition), all of the author’s words either directly advance the plot, illuminate the characters and/or the setting. And while economy of writing may not have been the rage in the 1890’s, “The Turn of the Screw” delivers such a wonderfully creepy story with stunning, unforgettable characters that nothing else matters. The characters in “The Turn of the Screw” are fascinating and the situations James places them in are hard to turn away from. The characters in Jonathan Strange have the potential to be fascinating, but it seems that you have to wade through hundreds of pages of not-so-fascinating episodes (and footnotes) to find this out.

Maybe it’s not fair to judge a novel after only 80 pages. Well, I didn’t say I’d never pick it up again. I’m just not reading it now.

I really think 90% of any story is character. I’ve spent a lot of time lately working on the characters in my new story. I’ve written journal entries from their POVs, I’ve written what a typical day at work is like for them, and I’ve written their bios. All of it is telling me where the characters should go and what they should do. (Actually THEY are telling me.) Invaluable. Hopefully I’ll have this particular story finished before Christmas.

Hey Al, Boris, John S. – thanks for the cards!

Now Playing = Forever Changes - Love

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

So (That's for you, John!), I've finally got this book in my hands - at least for the next three weeks, courtesy of the Odenton Library. I'd never heard of it until Kelly Link recommended it to me at Clarion. When I get home in mid-July, I find that it hasn't been published yet. No problem; I grab a few of the other titles on her "you-should-read" list and get started. And I wait for Susanna Clarke's book to come out.

Now I'd seen Clarke's name somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. Turns out she'd sold stories to a couple of Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Starlight anthologies, but I hadn't read those particular stories.

The book comes out and it's sold out everywhere. I look on Amazon and the thing's like #7 on their bestseller list. Plus it's twenty-eight bucks! (Okay, Amazon's cheaper, but by itself the book won't qualify for free shipping and this thing's bound to be a brick at 800 pages.) I think, "If it's that hot, Costco will have it." They don't.

I go to my local library and know good and well they won't have it. They'll have 25 copies of the latest James Patterson novel, but maybe two copies of Jonathan Strange. My expectations are fulfilled; the ONE copy they have is checked out.

By this time, I'm reading rave reviews in newspapers, magazines, just about everywhere. Neil Gaiman says "Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." Several reviews state that the book is "Harry Potter for Adults." (Untrue. Harry Potter is Harry Potter for adults.)

But then I start talking with people who've read it, or as much of it as they could stand. "It's boring," "It's too long," "It doesn't go anywhere," are some of the comments I hear and for the most part, the comments come from people I respect. Then at World Fantasy, Betty Ballentine (of Ballentine Books) sits on a panel and says the book is absolutely unreadable. Hmmmm.... If there was ever a "find out for yourself" moment, this was it.

By the time I get back from World Fantasy, Costco has the book for about $17, I believe. But I decide to pass on it.

And then the brand new Odenton Library opens... (And of course, I'm there on opening day. Can you imagine being the first person in a brand new library? Well, that's another post for another time...)

The book isn't on the new arrivals shelf, the "You've Gotta Read It!" table, or anywhere else. So I go schlepping around the science fiction section and there it is. On the bottom shelf, just minding it's own business, exchanging pleasantries with Arthur C. Clarke's Rendevous with Rama. I look furtively in both directions, nab the book, and make a clean getaway.

Then the moment of truth. I start reading...

The book takes place in 1806 England. A member of the York society of magicians laments the fact that no one is practicing magic in England. But one of the members had heard of a Mr (It's a British book, so you don't DARE place a period after Mr, so we were severely warned by a panelist at World Fantasy.) Norrell, a practicing magician who just might possess the ability to restore magic to England.

Okay, so I just started last night and I'm only 30 pages into it. But here's what I think so far:

I expected the language to be more Dickens-like, more 19th-century. But it reads easily enough, almost like any modern British novel, with a few antiquated words and phrases thrown in.

The storyline/plot is very linear. A few clues of things to come have been placed in plain sight. Norrell is by far the most interesting character (There's a hint that one of the minor characters may become very important later, but it's too soon to tell.) , but not so interesting that I have to stop watching Pardon the Interruption to find out what he's going to do next. I'm interested, but not ravenously interested.

Actually, I'm a little surprised at how fast things are happening. Clarke could really have drawn this opening out much, much more. (I wonder how many pages her original draft was?) For a period novel, it moves pretty quickly.

I've heard that the glut of footnotes in the book are distracting for some readers. Not for me. I skip 'em. I figure if it's not important enough to be in the body of the text, why should I read it?

So will I keep reading? Yes. Will I finish it before I have to turn it in to the library? Are you kidding? Not a chance. It's on my Amazon wishlist, so maybe I'll get it for Christmas. If not, well, I'm sure I won't have to wait too long for Jonathan Strange & Mr. (American version) Norrell, starring George Clooney and Ben Afleck. Geez, what's the world coming to?

Now Playing = The Legendary Small Groups - Benny Goodman

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Rejection and Acceptance

The bad news is I didn’t place in the contest I entered, but the good news is I’m sending the story to the next place on my list of markets. (Keep that sucker going until it lands somewhere or dies.) Congrats to my Clarion buddy Dr. Phil (not THAT Dr. Phil) who received a Laudable Mention from the contest.

Speaking of congrats, two of my other Clarion buddies have big news:

Marjorie’s first book, Tiger’s Eye will be released in March. For more info, check out her website: http://www.marjoriemliu.com.

Peter has launched a new e-zine called Shadows of Saturn that looks great. Send him your dark speculative stories. I plan to. http://shadowsofsaturn.com/static/guidelines.html

On the acceptance side, I’ve been asked to lead a writing workshop next month in DC. I’m very excited about that and can’t wait to get started.

Now to do some more Christmas shopping…

Now Playing = Imaginary Day – Pat Metheny

Monday, December 13, 2004

Birds, Monsters, Texans, and Other Strange Creatures

Every writer reading this (both of you) should log off, drop everything and buy a copy of Anne Lamont's "Bird by Bird," a great book that offers some of the best writing advice I've ever read. It really puts writing (especially the quest for publication) in perspective.

Don't ask me why, but for some reason I felt compelled to read Heaney's translation of Beowulf and Stephen Mitchell's new translation of Gilgamesh, both great works that I will definitely read again. Gilgamesh was a little harder to get into, but after finishing it, it's the book I want to revisit first. It seems to have more beneath the surface (not that Beowulf doesn't) that intrigues me. But now I'm jumping ahead just a few years with Neil Gaiman's "Coraline," a really creepy children's book.

My Texas-football-fans-meet-weird-guy-in-the-median story is going slowly, but the pieces are locking in nicely. Stories have to come in their own time and I know that in the past I've been rushing them. In the last few days I've found a patience and calm that allows me to take my time, step back and look at not just writing, but everything. Things are happening and I'm learning about writing and living. I know, it sounds like I've been meditating on a mountain in Tibet, but I'm very pleased with how things are unfolding.

A new, serious temptation has appeared: The opening of the new (two-story) Odenton library mere miles from my house. (What kind of life do you have when you get this excited about a library opening?)

Mood = Good, in spite of the pathetic play of the Dallas Cowboys yesterday.
Now Playing = Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player - Elton John (courtesy of the Odenton Library)
Weight = 170!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Getting Better

Things are going better. 1400 words this morning on a new story. It’s a story about sports, money, and doing the right thing, but not at all in the way you might think. I feel good about it so far. When I know where it’s going, I’ll feel better.

I’ve spent a lot of time taking apart and studying John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio.” I’m beginning to understand how good stories are put together and also beginning to see where my stories start going wrong. When I was a band director, one of the fundamental concepts I tried to teach my students was knowing what to do and when to do it.

As a writer, I’m learning more about what to do (and consequently, what not to do) in my stories. What is essential to the story, what has to be there? What character elements, what parts of the plot, what aspects of the setting, the weather, the tone, etc. are critical? What should be left out?

The next step is when (and where) to place those elements…the correct order, pacing, rhythm, tempo. Everything has to be in order.

My poet friend Liz and I have talked many times about how all the arts share common elements. I think there’s something to this. I can’t imagine putting together a piece of music without knowing what to do and when to do it. When I reach that same level in my writing, I’ll be on my way to putting together some good stuff.

Now Playing = “Four Sticks” – Led Zeppelin

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hard Lessons

For several days I haven't been able to write anything that I'm satisfied with. No good ideas. Nothing.

What to do? Not sure. For some reason - and this has never happened before - everything seems completely overwhelming. Even putting a good sentence together is next to impossible.

Why? Don't know.

Wish I did.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Writing Life

"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand."
- Frank Herbert

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Just One Word

“If I can give you just one piece of advice, here it is. Take a sheet of paper and hang it up in your office where you’ll see it everyday. On that page, write just one word: Patience.”

I can remember my junior high band director telling me that like it was this morning. I’d just told him I wanted to be a band director and that was his one piece of advice.

I’m working on revising “You Can Say Anything You Want,” a story from Clarion. Yesterday I took everyone’s Clarion comments and studied them. Then today, I did a couple of free-writes, trying to answer some questions about plot and character motivation. Now I’m taking a break after an hour of revising the story. How far did I get? Two paragraphs.

Patience.

I truly believe I’m not spending enough time on my stories. A part of me was disappointed that I didn’t get more than two paragraphs revised. But they’re two greatly improved paragraphs.

Patience.

I’m beginning to understand how my main character thinks, what drives him, and what’s at stake. I’m also beginning to understand what’s at stake for the Grays (the aliens in my story) and the consequences of their actions. Just beginning to understand these things, mind you.

Patience.

Now Playing = When I Look in Your Eyes – Diana Krall

Thursday, November 18, 2004

What Would the Old Man Do?

Sometimes things come to you in unexpected ways. Sometimes you just think too hard. I’m convinced that most solutions to problems are really simple. (The execution of those solutions, however, may not be so easy.)

Simply put, I don’t think I’ve been spending nearly enough time considering who my characters are and how their actions affect their lives. Who are these people? What do they want? What do they fear? I look back at some of my stories and notice that they’re nothing more than polished freewrites. More time, more patience, more thought. Take your time.

I’ve been thinking about Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’(which I read a few days ago) and how the old man is like an unpublished writer. (I hope that’s the only applicable analogy. I don’t feel old.) None of the other fishermen believe in him; they mostly treat him with scorn because he hasn’t caught anything in eighty-four days. When people ask what you do and you tell them “I’m a writer,” they want you to put a book in their hands, your book. When you don’t, they may not actually say it, but you can almost see their “Well, you’re not a REAL writer” thoughts forming. I’m really pretty fortunate in that most of my friends and family don’t react that way. But when you meet people, they sometimes want proof.

But nothing bothered the old man. He persevered and I think you have to do that with your writing. Never give anyone else the power to alter or control how you feel about your passion. That would be something to be ashamed of, not being unpublished.

This morning I’m working on a revision of “You Can Say Anything You Want,” a story from Clarion.

Now Playing = “Tangled Up In Blue” – Bob Dylan

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

YA Novels, Language, Octavia and Samuel

I just finished reading a YA novel (It actually says “10 and up” on the back cover.) by David Almond titled ‘Skellig.’ I remember someone either at Clarion or World Fantasy saying that YA novels are usually constructed with only one major conflict for the protagonist. In ‘Skellig,’ the young protagonist Michael encounters several: his relationship with his parents after moving into a new house, his relationship with a girl who challenges the way he thinks, his uncomfortable relationship with his old friends Leaky and Coot (great names), his worries about his very ill sister, and his discovery of a very strange man living in their garage.

The language of the book is for the most part very simple, but the ideas and concepts are complex. I was impressed with all the things that the book explores so well: a child’s fear of new surroundings, the way new ideas challenge us, helping people who don’t necessarily want to be helped, helping people who can’t ask for help, friendship, dreaming, life…everything you want in a book no matter how old you are. Very enjoyable.

I finished the first draft of a story yesterday and sent it to P.O.E. for this Saturday’s meeting. I started with two ideas: a guy drinking coffee in a cafĂ© and an attractive woman wearing an eye patch.

Speaking of the simple language in ‘Skellig,’ I began to think (maybe as a result of reading a YA novel at the time) that the language in my story was too simple. Maybe things will change in the second draft, but after looking over my story, I think it calls for simple language, especially from the narrator. A large part of the story concerns how people often speak in simple ways, perhaps choosing words in their conversations that don’t convey specific, solid truths. Why? Maybe they’re conditioned to speak in words no longer than three syllables, maybe they’re trying to dodge deeper issues, or maybe they watch too much television. Maybe it’s just easier.

But I’m looking more at language and how it fits the mood and tone of stories. It might be interesting to try to write the same story from two vastly different POVs and explore how the language changes.

Thinking about going to hear Octavia Bulter and Samuel Delany this Friday night at the Smithsonian. They’ll be speaking about speculative fiction: where it’s been, where it’s going.

Where I’m going is to work. Sell books.

Now Playing = Chronicle – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Friday, November 12, 2004

Getting Unblocked

I've turned into a real fan of Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way.' The book's Morning Pages are really helping me to break through negative mental blocks that seem to love hanging out inside my head. Those negative thoughts can really do your writing harm and I'm on a crusade to rid my work of them. At tomorrow's writers' group meeting, I'm going to introduce the exercise.

Got an email about a new novel critique group near where I live. I emailed the guy and asked him how the group feels about speculative fiction. (Many times, as Andy Duncan says, when an alien walks in, you walk out.) We'll see how it goes. I'd really like to find a spec. fic. group in the Balto/DC area. I know of none so far.

Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany will be speaking in town next Friday. I'm thinking about going. I also emailed Tenea and she's thinking about going as well.

Started a new story this morning, really just a free-write, but it feels better than what I've been working on. We'll see where it goes. Time to get ready for work.

Now Playing = Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Finding Time to Write

The new job at Barnes & Noble in Annapolis is going well. I really like the people I'm working with, which is always nice. And of course, the books are always intoxicating. (I'm currently coveting Neil Gaiman's 1602. It would make a REALLY nice Christmas present ;)

If there was a good thing about being unemployed before I joined B&N, it was having time to write. I had tons of time and got a lot of stories written and pushed out the door. (I've got four out right now and should have a fifth out before the end of the week.) With a job, I can either postpone some of the projects I'm working on, or spend a little less time on each one, still keeping them all fresh (somewhat) in my mind. At least for now, I'm spending a little time on each project, which includes studying stories of other authors.

A friend of mine in Virginia writes during his lunch. I think he's probably in his own office and can easily do that. When you're eating with other people, it feels a little rude to work on your writing when everyone else is having a lunch conversation. But when they're all reading something, I write. Works so far.

But mornings are still the best for me. If I can get up sometime before 6:00AM and write for at least an hour, I feel like I've accomplished something. Usually I'll usually have time to do more in the evenings, but morning is my premium writing time. And as I look at my clock, I see that it's almost over. Until next time.

Now Playing = After Midnight - Nat King Cole Trio

Monday, November 08, 2004

Getting Things Done

Wow - If I stay off the Internet, I can get a lot of things done. I know that's not a revelation that's going to hit the front page, but it's true. I've finished my daily writing exercise, my daily study of a short story, and completed a revision of "Family Plot." And I've exercised. All before 9:00AM. (Of course I had to get up at 5:30 to do it, but I'm a morning person anyway.)

The exercises I'm doing from 'The Artist's Way' (by Julia Cameron) are really paying off. I would highly recommend the book to anyone in the arts, not just writers. The whole purpose of the book is to free yourself from anything (thoughts, people, situations, etc.) that would distract you from your creativity. I've got so many ideas running around in my head competing for my attention - short story ideas, a YA novel idea, song ideas, poetry ideas - what to do first?

Plus I start my new job today.

Now Playing = "If Not For You" - Bob Dylan (from Biograph)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Speculative Stories for Speculative Audiences Only?

I gave two readings today. One wasn't really a reading - it was in my writers' group. We're getting our pieces together for a reading in February (Yeah, we plan ahead.) and I read "Three Nights in the Micro-Universe of John Coltrane." It went over really well! Everyone said it was very impressive, emotional and effective. It was a great feeling. It needs a little more work in spots, but overall I'm very pleased.

Then I read "Family Plot" tonight in downtown DC...

(Actually I read half of it, since we’re only allowed five minutes each. But I found a good stopping point that worked well.)

Understand that most of tonight’s performers read poems about relationships with people or with God. Nothing wrong with that at all. But then I step up to the microphone and read this weird story about a girl coming home from a party with blood all over her teeth...

Didn't go over too well...

I think I'm pretty honest with myself and know when I've written a good story and when I've written a turkey. I have to say, this is a pretty good story. One of my good friends who does read speculative fiction was very excited about the story when she read it last week. But I think it's pretty safe to say none of the people tonight read spec. fic. I wish I knew some people in the DC area who DO read spec. fic. I'd like to hang out with some local genre people from time to time.

So will I keep performing my genre works for non-genre audiences? Yes. I think I'll learn what stuff will be accepted in the "mainstream" and what stuff will sink to the bottom of the pool. (I sure learned tonight!) We must press onward...

Speaking of the genre, I'm reading outside of it right now - James Ellroy's 'The Black Dahlia.'
Now Playing = The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

Thursday, November 04, 2004

World Fantasy, Clarion Buddies and More

When I stepped off the plane in Phoenix last Thursday, I was met with rain and lots of it. Fortunately, that was the low point of my trip. Just a few hours later, I was reunited with five of my Clarion friends and four Clarion instructors. For some of us (myself included) it was our first con. So naturally I had the "deer in the headlights" look for most of Thursday evening ("Hey, that really IS Stephen R. Donaldson!") and Friday morning.

Most of the panels I attended turned out to be:
1 - Fairly informative
2 - Fairly entertaining
3 - Four authors ranting
4 - Two of the four authors fighting

The best panels were the ones with editors. I learned more about writing from listening to Ellen Datlow in one hour than I did in four hours of author panels. The YA panels were pretty good too. (And feisty!)

I met a lot of writers (published and non-published) and editors. I spent way too much time (and money) in the book dealer room, but came away with some great stuff: Eileen Gunn's new collection, Polyphony 3, Rossetti Song (four stories by Alex Irvine), and the Masterpieces anthology.

Saturday was just too beautiful to stay inside, so Njihia, Tenea, Marjorie, Rebecca and I decided to do a little exploring/rock climbing. We managed to survive encounters with small children, an unstable woman climbing in four-inch heels, deadly cacti, and other life-threatening episodes. Lots of fun.

As usual, the time with my Clarion friends flew by faster than the planes leaving the Sky Harbor Airport. What a great group of people. I miss them terribly.

On to see my brother Bob, his wife Lynda, and my mom. It was good to see Mom getting adjusted to life in Arizona. Bob/Lynda/Mom's new house is coming along and should be ready next month. They're all very excited. Now I'm wondering how we can get transferred to Arizona...

Wrote a poem today based on the zombies at BWI airport. (Kelly Link would be proud.) Started studying John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio." I plan to do another pass on "Family Plot" tonight. Bullet's sleeping on the floor at my feet. Rained all day.

Now Playing = Beethoven Symphony No. 1 - Berlin/Karajan/1963

Monday, October 25, 2004

Reading/Stumbling/Learning/Crawling

"Family Plot" got a pretty good critique on Saturday. One one other member of P.O.E. reads speculative/fantastic fiction and her reaction was very positive. As I anticipated, people commented on the story's uneven ending, which I think I can fix.

I do think it's valuable to have non-speculative readers look at your stories. I've received a lot of very helpful comments from them. But I do miss (Am I feeling okay?) the critiques from my Clarion buddies. I'll work this one over one more time before I send it to them.

DC Writer's Way has a reading scheduled for Nov. 6 in downtown DC (at The Corner Store Artist Studio, 900 South Carolina Ave, SE, if anyone's interested) @ 5:30PM. It's always tough - there's usually so many people reading that you only get 5 minutes. Most of the readers are poets, so for short story writers like me, 5 minutes is a real challenge. But I think I can read a portion of "Family Plot" and a 100-word story called "Tonight" that I wrote for a contest.

What did I learn today? That Kelly Link is incredible. (But I knew that already.) I'm still studying "The Specialist's Hat" and I'm still blown away. The twins are fascinating characters; I'm more convinced that Samantha (rather than Claire) has made a transformation by the story's end. It's very interesting that Claire is obsessed with numbers (cold, calculating?) and Samantha keeps thinking about horses. Is Samantha partially living in a fantasy world where she can have her mother back and horses too? By the story's end, Samantha seems to have accepted the situation and the aid offered by the babysitter. I do think that the larger issues here are abuse (by neglect) and the ability (or inability) to establish trust between children and adults. Whether I'm right or wrong, this is one fascinating story. It shows me how far I have to go in my writing, but it's also a big motivator.

Time to get back to it.

Now Playing: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Let Your Dog Determine Your Writing Career

Yesterday I finished the story I've been working on, "Family Plot." I hadn't intended to write a horror story, but that's what came out. My First Reader (my wife Cindy) liked it, but said the ending needs work. I agree. My writers' group P.O.E. (Publish or Else) will critique it this Saturday. Now...to start a new one or revise my John Coltrane story? I'll go see what my greyhound Bullet is doing. If he's sleeping with his nose pointed east, I'll start a new one; west, revise.

Wouldn't you know he's pointing north...

I've been going through my Clarion notes and jotting down the things I feel I need work on in a little tiny notebook. I got in the habit of doing that when I was teaching. Everytime I learned something new from an article, a clinic, a workshop, or just an observation, I'd write it down. I filled seven books in two years. (Shows you how much I didn't know, huh?) Anyway, right now I'm going through some of the great advice that Nancy Kress gave us on character generation.

I'm also studying one short story a week. This week's story is Kelly Link's "The Specialist's Hat." I'm amazed at the way Kelly presents information in a story. I'm going to study that aspect first, then the way she manipulates flashback/backstory. The way the story is layered just blows me away. I've got a feeling I could study this one for a long time and not uncover everything that's there.

One week from today - World Fantasy!

How 'bout those Red Sox?

Today's weight = 175
Word count = 1,400
Now Playing = Let It Be...Naked - Beatles

Friday, October 15, 2004

A View of the Woods

Flannery O'Connor's "A View of the Woods" is not a good story to read if you're having a bad day. But since I had a pretty good day today (I have a job interview on Monday), it all evens out.

I am in awe of O'Connor in general and this story in particular. The first time I read it, I thought the ending was cruel and pointless, but thinking back through it, I wonder if O'Connor is saying that ol' man Fortune has abandoned any kind of redeeming qualities whatsoever and gets what he deserves? He seems intent on heaping any and all types of (unjustified) punishment on his son-in-law Pitts. Fortune's slow progression from a cynical, hateful old man to the deplorable creature at the story's end is amazingly handled by O'Connor. I want to read the story again just to watch this progression of character emerge. Amazing stuff.

Started a new story - more horror than sf or f. As Jeff Ford suggested at Clarion, I'm just trying to let the story tell itself and figure out what it all means later. Jeff is right; the more you do that, the more it frees you up to write the story and not try to press a theme.

The weather's still good, so I think we'll grill some salmon tonight. Mmmmm...

Today's weight: 178
Today's word count: 800

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Post-Clarion Pre-Employment Blues

Finally reality has set in. Clarion (regrettably) is over, our family emergency (thankfully) is over, and the job hunt has begun. The real world is not very nice sometimes. I prefer the Clarion world.

Since Clarion, I've revised and sent out three stories, which may not seem like many, but with all the family stuff going on, it's quite a lot. I always looked with skepticism at the websites of Clarion graduates who wrote that it took them months/years to write again. Now I understand. Any workshop like Clarion dumps so much information into your skull that you can't process it all when you get home. As soon as you start to write a new story, you start remembering something you've learned (but haven't mastered) that's getting in the way of your story. It just takes time.

I've also been working on my copywriting, which right now is moving slower than my sleeping greyhound. I went to a freelance Q & A panel in Baltimore and listened to three people who just sort of fell into it. I suppose like anything, it just takes time.

So in the meantime, the job search continues. I got back from a local job fair about an hour ago. I talked with a few people. Didn't seem too promising, but you never know.

In the meantime, I'm studying copywriting (Bly, Ogilvy) and short stories (Karen Joy Fowler, Lucius Shepard, and my newest obsession Flannery O'Connor) to see what makes them tick.

At least I'm losing weight. (Last week = 183; Today = 178) And the World Fantasy Convention is just around the corner.

Today's Weight: 178
Now Playing: Exile on Main Street - Stones