Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Published Author: Ask Him Anything! (guest blog #4, with CONTEST!)

"Vivid and accurate prose, a gripping, imaginative story, a terrifically inventive setting, a hard-bitten, indestructible hero, and an intelligent, fully adult heroine -- We haven't had a science-fiction novel like this for a long time."
-- Ursula K. Le Guin

Last Monday, you heard from my best childhood friend, Sarah, on the perils of loving a writer. Today, you get to ASK THAT WRITER ANYTHING! Felix Gilman will tell you his background himself, but you should know that he's British, so that you can imagine this post read aloud to you with the driest of Jeremy-Irons-esque accents.

Hello, all. I’m Felix Gilman, and this is a guest post while Carrie’s in wherever. [France! Back next week. -ed.] My own blog is at and gets updated essentially never. [Which is why he's written more books than I have. -ed.] I’m the author of two novels published by Bantam: Thunderer and Gears of the City. My third book, The Half-Made World, will be published by Tor in October. About a week ago I finished a fourth book, and my agent sold it to Tor. That one doesn’t have a title yet. These are what you might call fantasies, or secondary-world fantasies, if you prefer. Thunderer was billed on the hardcover version as a “High Fantasy,” which with hindsight was probably a mistake: it makes people think of Dwarves and Elves, which I don’t care for. [These novels are in fact in urban settings! The New Yorker in me loves this immensely. -ed.] Later it got described as New Weird. I don’t exactly know what that means. [Felix also has a short story in a collection called The New Weird, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, and I read it, and I don't know what it means, either. -ed.]

The Half-Made World gets described as steampunk. I don’t know exactly what that means, either. But everything has to be called something. People ask, and I say, I don’t know, just books. But that doesn’t work, they keep asking. There has to be an answer. Whereof we cannot speak, we cannot market. Anyway, I suppose all this means I’m in early-mid-career as a writer.

"Career" -- probably the ugliest word in the English language.

So far I’ve got by on blind luck and also not caring all that much if it doesn’t work out. Also, everything I’ve published so far was written or begun or at least substantially committed to before my first book was published. Now, for the first time, I’m planning out a new book with some sense of the shape of the market and my place in it and where I might want to be in five years’ time and where I might actually realistically expect to be... It’s a very different experience. There are things to balance that I’m not sure really can be balanced.

I suppose I don’t really have a point here. Does anyone have any questions about publishing or my views on writing after a couple of books? Boy, have I have got some vague and unsatisfying and potentially inaccurate half-answers for you.

Also there should be a contest. A copy of my first two books to (1) the best cute animal YouTube posted in comments; (2) the best song posted in comments, according to my own arbitrary tastes; (3) any person who proposes a workable and cost-effective solution to the Deepwater Horizon leak.

Please note that the video below is the most recent one sent to me by Felix, so the standard for cute/funny animal YouTube is HIGH, y'all.

I'm keeping this contest open until the end of next week, July 9th at midnight EST, to give the first contest some time to settle before the winner of this one is announced. TWO BOOKS! Enter now!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Who's In Charge Here? (guest blog #3)

The Scene Stealer

Today's blog post is brought to you by Lisa M. Palin, who I met at my last law firm job. We were good friends and working in offices directly adjacent to each other for MONTHS before we each realized the other one also wanted to write... while sharing a taxi home from a firm holiday event, we realized we had both done NaNoWriMo that previous November. She writes primarily romance, but usually a genre-blend version of romance rather than straight category (including overtones of mystery, literary fiction and supernatural YA/"New Adult"). She blogs about solo hiking and camping at Her Side Of The Mountain, and can be found on Twitter: @joanarc4. She hopes to be around today to chat with you in the comments. Enjoy!

Let's face it. Characters can -- and frequently do -- take on a life of their own. This can be fun. That's when writing is like a wild ride, and as the writer, you hang on for dear life and enjoy the thrill. Sometimes, however, you're confronted with characters who simply. won’t. cooperate.

What then?

There are several different kinds of unruly characters, including:

  • The Scene Stealer: though she's not supposed to be the center of attention, she captivates everyone, including the other characters;
  • The Mule (i.e. stubborn as a): he refuses to do what you want him to do and you have to drag him kicking and screaming though the plot;
  • The Lazy A**: he'll do what you ask, but with the energy of pea soup; and
  • The Control Freak: she thinks she's directing the action and knows better than you.
Today, we'll talk about the Scene Stealer. The Scene Stealer is perhaps the most difficult to deal with, because, let's face it, she's so gosh darn cool.

About a year ago, I got an idea for a novel. I put fingers to keyboard and began to write. At first, it was going really well. The heroine was interesting, the hero enigmatic. I had a great villain ready-and-waiting in the wings. The action was exciting, the world interesting, and I thought to myself: Lisa, you have an incredible thing going here. Finally!

Then, she walked in. And ruined everything.

It happened so quickly, I barely had time to catch my breath before the story came to a screeching halt. Her name was Lily, and she glowed. Without my having thought too hard in advance about her -- she was a supporting character, a means to an end, after all -- she swept in and stole the scene. When it was time for her to go her own way, I found myself looking longingly after her, wanting to follow her and see what she would do next, rather than staying in the scene with my main characters.

As a test, I gave the first couple of chapters of the story to a frequent beta-reader of mine. He read the chapters, and said, “this is great. But that Lily, she’s something. What happens to her?”

Darn it.

Suddenly, my story was at an impasse. I couldn’t move forward because Lily was there, on the sidelines, being sexy and interesting and smug about her awesomeness.

So what do you do with the Scene Stealer? How do you keep him or her from derailing your really quite great story?
  • Make her less awesome. You could go back, force her into submission by making her less dynamic and interesting. I don’t like this, because it smacks of Harrison Bergeron. Why snuff out a shining light in order to even out the playing field? Feels like a waste.
  • Distract her. When I was a kid and raising hell, my dad would distract me by giving me something different and new to focus on. It can work on unruly characters as well. Take your Scene Stealer and put her in a different -- maybe uncomfortable, if you’re feeling spiteful -- situation. Write a few pages, let her get tangled up in some new mess with other characters. She’ll like the attention, and then perhaps be distracted long enough for you to make headway on your story while she’s otherwise occupied.
  • Give in. Temporarily, anyhow. You want to follow the Scene Stealer for a while? Do it. See what happens. At worst, you might end up with unusable but insightful character study. Maybe you’ll hit on a seed for a new story (to work on LATER, once you finish what you started). And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with some usable nuggets that will make your story better. (Just make sure you don’t get too carried away and get back to the original story before too long.)
  • Make your other characters better. What makes the Scene Stealer so interesting and dynamic? That something is clearly missing from your other characters, or else she wouldn’t be so easily able to steal the spotlight. Instead of handicapping the Scene Stealer, look hard at how you might solve the problem by bringing your existing characters up to the level of the Scene Stealer. Give her some competition.
  • Smack her into submission. You can do it. You’re the writer. She may think she’s in control, but it’s an illusion. Ignore her long enough and she’ll settle down. If she doesn’t, then you’re probably looking for a distraction, and that’s an entirely different subject.
I brought Lily into submission, and saved my progress on the story, by giving in for a while (I gave Lily her own story, which I sketched out and set aside) and by making my hero and heroine more interesting. Turns out, they were just waiting for the opportunity to shine.

Have you ever encountered a Scene Stealer? What did you do to deal with this unruly character?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing About Real People (guest blog #2, with CONTEST!)

BIO: Audrey Beth Stein is the author of the memoir Map, which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award (the Oscars of queer books). She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and is a two-time national prizewinner in the David Dornstein Memorial Short Story Contest. She teaches memoir and novel development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Direct links to order Map can be found at

GIVEAWAY: Audrey will be giving away one copy of Map to a lucky blog reader chosen at random. Enter by commenting on this post by July 2nd, midnight EST. (That's BEFORE the long weekend, people. I'll announce the winner when I get back on July 6th.) Anyone who intelligently references and links content from Audrey’s websites (start browsing at or in one of their comments will be entered twice. Fine print: Winner must be at least 14 years old and must provide a U.S. mailing address upon being chosen or an alternate winner will be selected.

PERSONAL STATEMENT: Audrey's memoir made me cry. The same chapter that caused her mom to cry (in a good way!) when she read it, in fact. It's really a great piece of writing, and I highly recommend it. Now... onto the guest post!


When I teach writing classes, whether memoir or novel development, invariably someone asks about the legal ramifications of writing about real people. I worried about the legal stuff myself for quite a while, and then someone pointed out that here in the United States anyone can sue you for anything. Even if you’re completely in the right and have documented proof, it’s the mere existence of a lawsuit that wreaks havoc and drains resources. I’d also read somewhere that a lot of times when people sue doctors for malpractice, what they really want is an acknowledgement of hurt, and an apology. So I made a decision to concentration on the moral issues in writing about real people, and let fate handle the rest.

Our writing has consequences—often good, sometimes harmful. Not writing has its own consequences. There are some people who argue art above all, but I disagree. We are human beings first, living in the world and in community with other people. Our art grows out of that, out of the relationship between our self and the world we inhabit. And thus I believe we have dual loyalties.

Do whatever you need to do to get the story out, I tell my students. Lock up the manuscript, give yourself permission to burn the pages later, write in secret in the middle of the night, eat lots of chocolate, whatever. You owe yourself the space to explore and express your truth, to get it onto the page without anyone’s censors. If you’re not doing that, what kind of artist are you? But once it’s out, I say, and you are ready to share it with others, then you have a responsibility to consider the potential impact of your words. If your story is going to drive a reader one step closer to suicide, cause a family rift, or tarnish someone’s character, you don’t escape responsibility by hiding under terms like “artist” or “truth.”

It’s not for me to make anyone else’s decisions—I wrestle enough with my own—but I advocate for those decisions to be made thoughtfully, maturely, bravely, with respect and kindness for ourselves and for the others who will be touched by our stories in many different ways. Here are a few resources you might find helpful as you do so: The Courage to Write by Ralph S. Keyes; “Peering at Privacy in Creative Nonfiction” by Kaylene Johnson (in the September 2004 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle); and the memoir Half the House by Richard Hoffman.

In the case of my own memoir, Map, I rewrote scenes with minor characters over and over until my writing group saw my own vulnerabilities coming through rather than the hurtful descriptions I’d camouflaged them with. Over a period of nine-and-a-half years and sixteen revisions, I reached out to each of the main characters with an offer to read the manuscript. “Tyler” helped clarify facts and reminded me of a couple of events that were important to include. My parents confirmed that I’d captured the coming out scenes accurately. “A.J.” sent a vote of confidence and encouraged me to tell even more. “Jake,” reading the final draft, thanked me for bringing back some good memories. It took me a long time, though, to get in touch with one major character--my first love, “Catrina”--and even though I had changed names and identifying details, even though I had written from truth and revised with care, I was nervous. What would she say? Would she--my biggest fear, dubious in retrospect, stemming from my twenty-one-year-old insecurities--ask me not to publish, and what would I do if she did?

(This is the point where I refer you to Map for the rest of the story. Isn’t shameless self-promotion the point of a guest blog?)

Amazingly, when it came to writing my (as-yet-unpublished) novel, the decisions were in some ways even harder. Memoir is at least straightforward—you’re either writing about someone or you aren’t. But fiction? Where characters inspired by real people or amalgams of real people transform into fully-realized fictional entities? Where you use this made-up stuff to get at the truth of your life and the lives around you?

I was terrified I’d hurt my mom. And I was terrified that my fear of hurting her would stunt my own growth.

In order to find the book I needed to write, to delve deep enough to reach the emotional truth, to use my words to help me understand my family, I gave myself permission to work on the novel for an entire decade and still destroy the results at the end.

I certainly couldn’t have made such a pact if this was my first book, or if I didn’t already have a failed novel under my belt. And I knew the odds of me actually turning a manuscript into garden compost after so long were rather slim. But it gave me the room I needed for the next eight years of writing. The room my characters needed to become whole. The room my novel needed to become about much more than its beginnings.

I still don’t want to hurt my mom. But I’ve grown enough through these eight years to be ready to have the conversations, and now that I’ve found my own voice in the family through this novel, I want to hear hers in response. Is the book done? I don’t know. After she’s read it, I might know. I might have more to say.

How do you navigate responsibility to your writing and to the people around you? How do you get the hard stuff onto the page? When and how do you share it? What compromises have you made, and is there anything you’d do differently next time?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Perils of Loving a Writer (guest blog #1)

Greetings, friends of Carrie! Let me first introduce myself. My name is Sarah and I met Carrie during a mommy play-date. Not a play-date between our children, but one between our mothers back in nineteen-seventy-something. [I have photos of Sarah at my 2nd birthday party in 1975. -ed.]

We had a lemonade stand together. We played with Barbie dolls together. [Technically, I believe they were Sindy dolls that I got for doing a commercial for the toy, plus Jem and the Holograms dolls. Because Jem is truly outrageous. -ed.] I met Carrie's husband before he grew his first beard, and she met mine while he still had inappropriately long hair. (Yes, we both married teenage sweethearts. Everybody say aww.) Carrie is the closest thing in my life to a sister. [The first time I met Sarah's husband, he watched us for a while, then said, "Oh, God, there's two of you." -ed.]

So what I’m saying is, I was here first. But I’ll share because Carrie is too awesome to not share. [Aww. -ed.] Besides, you make me feel like an incredibly hip early adopter.

I’m not a writer myself, but my husband is soon-to-be-famous author Felix Gilman so I’m going to talk about his first book. He’d talk about being a writer back when he was 20, but by 30 that seemed to be over. Then, with a three month gap between jobs he announced, almost sheepishly, that he was going to write a novel rather than find temporary employment. He’d apparently been planning for some time and had a plot, characters, and a genre all mapped out. I was elated to find that his lifelong dream had not fallen by the wayside of adulthood as they so often do.

And then as sequestered a section of the desk for his reference books, the fear set in. Was that [book] by [author]? And the sequel? I hate those books. They go on and on with prose like dense jungle undergrowth and nothing resembling plot or character development. Of course, my husband feels differently about them…

“Oh lord,” I thought, “I’m going to hate his book.”

I had lobbied unsuccessfully for the right to read early drafts, but as time passed I began to be relieved. This gave me time to plan my faux-compliments and the appropriate adoring gestures to go with them.

Fortunately my plans were unnecessary; I loved his novel. I would actually struggle to stay awake just to keep reading. But I wonder sometimes what I would have happened if I’d felt differently.

I’ve noticed Carrie usually ends with a question of some kind and so following her example I offer this chance to get it off your chest – although you might not want to name names. Have you ever hated a book written by a loved one? What did you say when they asked for your opinion? Or, since many of you are on the other side, did anyone close to you hate your work... and how did you manage to forgive them for their bizarre lack of taste?

You can find Sarah's husband Felix at his blog, and I highly recommend that you check out his author bio. And then hit refresh. And then hit refresh again. I think he has eight different bios on there, and they're all HILARIOUS. ALSO! Wednesday of next week Felix himself will be guest blogging for us, complete with a TWO-BOOK GIVEAWAY! So cool. Come on back now, y'hear?

Friday, June 18, 2010

In which I make others do my work for me

Have a cute: from the New York Times

Here's the deal. I'm sick. Really sick. Barely-functioning-as-a-parent sick. So that's why there was no post on Wednesday (although there was a bonus video on Tuesday!) and that's why today's post is gonna be quick. That's also why you're getting penguins. I make up for giving you short shrift by offering up some adorableness.

I'M GOING ON VACATION starting Sunday, and I'll be back after the Independence Day long weekend. (For my non-American readers, that means I'll be back July 6th.)

While I'm gone, there will be guest blogging on Monday and Wednesday of each week. So, you're getting four posts in that time instead of my usual six... but TWO of them will be giving away free books! And, I am actually friends with each of these people in real life (wild, I know) so I think they're awesome and that you're going to love what they have to say.

Please come back and check them out next week. And I'll see you again in July!

Monday, June 14, 2010

How Do I Get An Agent?

Jeffe Kennedy, this one's for you (not because she asked, but because someone asked HER). I've had this post brewing for a while. It took me a while to find all of these websites, so I think it's a worthwhile resource. Plus, sending someone a link to this webpage is a hair more polite than sending them the Let Me Google That For You link.

So, I give you:


Agents & Agencies You Can, In Theory, Actually Submit To (but please check their websites first, sometimes agents periodically close to submissions so they can get caught up, or just because their lists are full):

Agent in the Middle (Lori Perkins)
Agent Savant (Laurie McLean)
La Vie en Prose (Meredith Barnes)
LiteratiCat (Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency)
The New Literary Agents (Kae Tienstra of KT Public Relations & Literary)*
Pub Rants (Kristin Nelson)
Rachelle Gardner (of WordServe Literary)

* Both "KT" but no relation to each other.

Agents & Assistants Who Won't Represent You But Are Valuable Resources:

Ask a Literary Agent (Noah Lukeman, not accepting new clients)
Lit Soup (Jenny Rae Rappaport, retired)
Miss Snark (archives)
Query Shark (aka Janet Reid)
SlushPile Hell (what not to do... ever)
The Intern (currently working at "Venerable McPulitzer publishing house")

** A personal favorite. Le R. and I are, in fact, engaged. You know, internet-engaged. But it's still quite meaningful, I assure you.

Editors & Other Industry Players:

Editorial Anonymous
Editorial Ass (Moonrat)
Nathan Bransford (formerly of Curtis Brown Ltd.)
Redlines and Deadlines (editors at Ellora's Cave Publishing)
The Anonymati (Pitch Clinic)
The Book Deal (Alan Rinzler)
The Swivet (Colleen Lindsay, former agent, currently at Penguin)
Writer Beware (writer-run industry watchdog group)

*** Want to know how to format your submissions? Anne will tell you how, in exhaustive detail, with PDF sample pages. A not-to-be-missed resource.

Note that not all these agents or editors are going to be for you. At the most obvious level, some only represent children's literature, or Christian literature, or some other genres and categories that you don't write. Many of these blogs will be very helpful for you to read anyway, but then please pay attention to submission guidelines when you are sending out queries, so you don't end up wasting everyone's time.

If you're just starting to investigate the whole getting-represented-by-an-agent thing, go read The Big Five: Nathan Bransford****, Janet Reid, Rachelle Gardener, BookEnds, and Pub Rants -- pay special attention to any posts they might have linked in their sidebars: the FAQs, the Must-Read Posts, the Popular Posts.

Then, when you think you've got it figured out, go read Miss Snark (who I personally think might have been Janet Reid, but I can't prove it). Yes, I know Miss Snark is retired and the last post is over 2 years old. Go read her blog. Yes, in its entirety. Have you done that? Okay, NOW you might be ready to query.

**** ETA: as of 11/6/10, Nathan is no longer an agent, but the archives of his blog are a goldmine. Just like Miss Snark.

I like Agent Query for finding possible agent-matches (narrow by keywords or genres, etc.) but there are lots more resources out there. Here, let me Google that for you...


Update: GalleyCat now has a list of the Best Literary Agents on Twitter for your added convenience.

Friday, June 11, 2010

LGBTQs in Fiction

It's Pride Month! Time for some links.

First, Malinda Lo is doing an amazing 5-part blog series on Avoiding LGBTQ Stereotypes in Fiction (she says it's a series on YA fiction, but I've read nothing in the posts that would limit her advice to YA novels). The series is divided into (1) Major LGBTQ stereotypes, (2) Gender, (3) Words to watch out for, (4) Secondary characters and gay jokes, and (5) Resources. Beautifully done.

Second, if you are into YA fiction, there's a great blog called I'm Here, I'm Queer, What Do I Read? that covers gay teen books, culture, politics, and more. In addition to the core content, it's also link-tacular.

Finally, here's some fiction I personally adore, with prominently-featured queer characters:

Uncle Bobby's Wedding: Bobby’s niece Chloe is worried that she won’t be his favorite person after he gets married. The fact that Bobby is marrying his boyfriend Jamie is more or less incidental to the story, which focuses on a little girl always wanting her uncle to think she's special. Also: they're guinea pigs. So good.

Commencement: A story about four best friends who went to Smith College together. One friend falls in love with a woman, even though this conflicts with both the wishes of her traditional family and her own self-identification as a straight woman. One of many nicely-complicated relationships portrayed in the novel.

The Corrections: Y'all have already heard of this one. The mother in this novel is terribly afraid that her daughter is sleeping with her boss, a married man. She isn't. She's sleeping with her boss's wife.

The World According to Garp: Again, you all already know about this novel. Best trans character I've ever read. And I'm not just saying that because John Lithgow played Roberta in the movie. Nope, I'm saying it because the character was an ex-football player for the Eagles. (Go Philly!)

God Says No: "The story of a young black Christian struggling with desire and belief, with his love for his wife and his appetite for other men... a riveting picture of how a life like his can be lived, and how it can't."


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What Girls Do

I'm going to take a moment today to talk about the expectations we have for the gender roles of fictional characters, in particular female characters. Nothing too heavy, just a few thoughts.

Has everyone seen Joss Whedon's series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Never mind, that doesn't matter. In season four of that show, there's an episode called Hush in which some nasty-bads called The Gentlemen steal everyone's voices so that they can go about their evil business (cutting out human hearts) without anyone being able to raise the alarm. According to the fairy tale books (that are in fact real historical documents and real research in the Buffy-verse), the only way the destroy the Gentlemen is for the "princess" to scream. Of course, the characters have to get their voices back for that to happen. In the end, one character smashes the box containing the voices, and Buffy cuts loose with a scream (video here: scream happens at approximately 5:30).

The first time I saw this episode, I was blown away by that scream. Because it wasn't a high-pitched girly-girl scream. It came from her chest, not her head. It had anger in it. (And, of course it would, if you know anything about that character.) And I thought that it fit perfectly in an episode that managed to convey so much with next-to-no dialogue.

It's annoying that this kind of characterization is rare enough that I noticed it so dramatically.

Maggie Stiefvater is also a little cheesed off about girly-girl and manly-men stereotypes (And Now, I Scream, Because That's What Girls Do), and Malinda Lo has also taken on gender stereotypes from a queer perspective (Avoiding LGBTQ Stereotypes in YA Fiction, Part 2: Gender, although I don't see any reason why her post should be limited to YA).

Now, last week Will Burke was kind enough to pass along The Versatile Blogger award to me, which asks for me to share seven things about myself. I've recently done some "ask me anything" style posts, so instead I'm going to share seven things about the main character in my first novel. And, with gender stereotypes on my mind, here are seven things that may or may not make her a typical "girl."
  1. She doesn't wear makeup. Like, ever. (She probably would wear it for a job interview or a really fancy dinner party, but she runs her own business and doesn't have a black-tie kind of life, so that's moot.)
  2. She does, however, have a small collection of really awesome high heels (although we never see them described in the book).
  3. She punches a guy who pisses her off (see also Hermione, above).
  4. Her favorite writers are Hemingway and W.H. Auden.
  5. She loves horror movies (especially J-horror), anime, and comic books.
  6. When she and her best guy-friend rent a car, she drives.
  7. If she gets married, she won't change her name. She will, however, be a total freak about getting all the stationery just-right. (Hey, it's what she does for a living!)
Forget about gender roles, men and women. What is one thing that makes your main character HERSELF or HIMSELF?

Monday, June 7, 2010

A hint of what's to come...

Image from Kitsune Noir

It's time to register for a new season of Grub Street classes! I know I haven't passed along much interesting stuff to you lately on that front, but that's just because the Ten Weeks, Ten Stories class really just doesn't lend itself to summarization: either you did the homework and got the in-class feedback, or you didn't, you know?

In the summer, however, I will once again be taking some seminars, and those usually provide quite a lot of good material for blogging. I'll also be taking some week-long intensive courses, which I've never done before. Here's my upcoming class list:
  • Unruly Fictions with Tim Horvath

    Monday-Friday, July 12-16th

    In this intensive version of the popular weekend seminar, we'll look in particular at works that have been dubbed "experimental," flagrantly challenging the conventions of narrative order and logic, cause and effect, plot and characterization, time and space. In several cases, they don't even look like stories. By trying out the exercises in this class, you will stretch yourself and explore some unconventional narrative modes. But this class is by no means geared exclusively toward those who already find themselves drawn to the literary avant-garde. The guiding assumption is that all writers can benefit from the ways in which such work galvanizes our minds and our pens, uncovering latent potential in whatever work we are already doing. By trying out everything from stream of consciousness to Oulipean games, montage to typology, you'll get fresh vantage points on your characters and storylines already in progress, whether in your mind or on the page.

  • From Revision to Submission with James Scott

    Monday-Friday, July 19-23rd

    Intended for the writer who needs a final push to submit their work, this class provides one last objective look to make certain that the writer is in the best possible position for publication. The first half of the class will be a revision workshop, focusing on the art of sanding down, smoothing out, and touching up the writing. The second half will help students discuss and find markets for their work. The last class will partially be devoted to assembling submissions and celebrating finished pieces.

  • Funny is the New Deep with Steve Almond

    Tuesday, July 27th

    Contrary to popular belief, writing funny doesn't mean sacrificing depth. On the contrary, for most literary writers the comic impulse is inextricably linked to tragedy. In this informal class, we'll look at the work of Lorrie Moore, George Saunders, and others, in an effort to learn how you can be funny and break hearts while doing it.

  • Why Your Manuscript Was Rejected (also with Steve Almond)

    Tuesday, August 3rd

    If you're like most writers, you've gotten lots of rejections. Like, maybe even one earlier today. The big question in the mind of all of us is: WHY? Why didn't you take my brilliant prose? Is something WRONG with you? In fact, there is a reason your piece was rejected, and probably several. In this intensive and often incoherent seminar, Steve Almond (man of a million rejections) will provide a cogent summary of mistakes writers make, both in fiction and non-fiction prose. Among the topic's we'll cover: disorienting the reader, wandering plots, canned dialogue, and the ever-popular flowery prose. Taking this course virtually guarantees that you will NEVER BE REJECTED AGAIN. At least until such a time as you send out more work.

  • Crafting the Villain with KL Pereira

    Monday, August 23rd

    Some of the best and most memorable characters in literature are villains, rough and tough monsters, sly and sexy femme fatales, and naughty and deceitful oligarchs. They unnerve and excite us, sending a chill down our spines, and striking fear into our hearts. Yet when creating our own villains we often fail to overtly acknowledge the complexity and moral ambiguity that compels them to cause mayhem, delegating their motivation to a need to cause evil for evil’s sake and resulting in two-dimensional baddies. In this one-day seminar we will discuss traditional and non-traditional villains, why they are an essential part of any juicy tale, and how we can develop truly sinister and captivating characters that will antagonize, needle, and provoke even the bravest reader.
ALSO! I will be out of town for two weeks at the end of June, but I will not be leaving you in the lurch! I am in the process of selecting some guest bloggers for you, and at least one of them will be hosting a BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST so you'll want to check that out for sure.

Don't I sound organized? Now, where are all my socks...?

What have you got planned for the summer?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Own Your Ambition

The world makes way for those who know where they are going.

I tend to assume that other people are fundamentally like me.

Sometimes this is good: after all, just because someone is 20 years older (or younger) than me, or votes differently than me, or comes from the other side of the planet, or has a completely different job or educational history, etc... doesn't mean that we can't care about many of the same things or have similar underlying hopes and dreams.

On the other hand, sometimes people are not like me at all. Often I'm just fascinated. Really? You believe [completely different set of values and/or life philosophies]? How is that possible? Weird. Okay. But periodically I find myself totally blindsided. This recently happened to me in the area of AMBITION.

So as not to point fingers at people who are actually in my social circle, I'm going to use Jacob Appel as my example here. You may have heard about Jacob by reading one of his more-than-one-hundred short stories that have been published in the most prestigious literary markets around the world. You may have read his communications with Literary Rejections On Display, which included his estimation that he has received eleven thousand rejection letters on the way to getting those publications. He's also a bioethicist as well as an author. He has a B.A., two M.A.s and an M.Phil., an M.D., an M.F.A., and a J.D. And he's 37. Born not-quite 10 months before me, in fact. Oh, and he's a licensed sight-seeing guide for NYC.

And I thought taking the NY and MA bar exams at the same time was hard.

I mean seriously, who has that kind of time? More importantly, who has that kind of drive? Let's face it, I like sitting on my butt some nights instead of mailing out 11,000 copies of various short stories to various markets (not to mention the time it took to write those stories). Relatedly, I never wanted to be a partner at a law firm, and I didn't want to be in film badly enough to be willing to waitress (or do whatever other odd job was available to me) between acting gigs. I am just not that ambitious.

I used to feel bad about this. But I've decided to own my ambitions. I have them, to be sure. But we don't all need to want everything, all the time. For myself, I want to write well and do good work, then check out and be with my family.

This is also why I went back to work part-time after having my daughter. I wanted to spend part of the day using my education and writing skills and socializing with adults, then spend part of the day as Mom. Some parents want more time at home, others want less. Some writers want to give up everything for art, some don't. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of those choices; these are our own personal ambitions, and may we all be granted what we seek.

Have you "owned" your ambitions? Are you comfortable where you are? Are you trying to be BETTER than you are now? Or are you still trying to figure out what you want?

What kind of writer do you want to be?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Things You Don't Want To Hear From Your Doctor

  • *whistled intake of breath upon seeing the inch-long splinter in your big toe*
  • Yeah, that's going to need a digital block. I'm sorry, but this anesthesia's REALLY going to hurt.
  • Seriously, I don't want to build this up too much, but I don't want to lie, either, and this shot's gonna hurt.
  • You're going to feel three-to-four seconds of sharp pain and a strong burning. But then you won't feel anything! Six seconds, tops.
  • Sticking the needle into the lacerated flesh will hurt much less than going into healthy flesh.
  • That's good. Screaming is good. I hate it when people hold their breath, they just end up passing out. Just another second more.
  • (while cutting into healthy toe to remove the splinter beneath) Really? That should be totally numb right there. No, huh? Sorry.
  • REALLY? Because that whole area should be just totally numb. It should stop hurting when I put the antibiotic on it. Okay, then it will definitely stop hurting when we bandage it up and it's no longer exposed to the air. No? Well, it'll calm down eventually.
  • The pain's not subsiding at all? The pharmacy's downstairs.
BONUS! Ways You Know You're A Writer:
  • When your first thought through all the above is: "This will make really good material."
And the doctor was NOT screwing around. The shot hurt worse than the original injury and all botched attempts to remove splinter combined.