Friday, April 30, 2010

ATTMP Feature of the Week

Drum roll please.
And here it is...

Timothy Stelly’s HUMAN TRIAL (2009, All Things That Matter Press) and HUMAN TRIAL II: ADAM’S WAR (2010, All Things That Matter Press), present the tale of a ragtag group of survivors of an alien-launched thermal war that has destroyed nearly all human amd animal life on the planet. HUMAN TRIAL raised the question, What happens when all that remains of the world is fear, distrust and desperation? HT II follows the group on a cross-country trek that results in a final, frenzied battle against the extra-terrestrial invaders.  
Reviews for part one of Timothy Stelly’s sci-fi noir thriller, Human Trial, have been positive. Readers and critics from the U.S. and Canada have praised the book for its grittiness and frightening tenor.  
“…Superb. It's as if I'm one of the 10 going through the same trials they are. I can hardly wait to read the next installment.”—T.C. Matthews, author oif What A Web We Weave 
“The book scares me because of the possibility of this happening in our future and how we will handle it. Scary. Deeply thought out…Timothy definitely has his own voice and it is powerful.” —Minnie Miller, author of The Seduction of Mr. Bradley 
“Human Trial was a well written, well thought out book with plenty of biting, satirical social, religious and racial commentary interspersed within the dialogue. The drama, and the pathos, were nonstop, and I never knew what to expect next.” –Brooklyn Darkchild, author of This Ain’t No Hearts and Flowers Love Story, Pt. I & II 
“[This] story has been haunting me-reminds me of Octavia Butler's 'Parable of the Sower’…Stelly's work haunts me two years after I read it.”
--Evelyn Palfrey, author of Dangerous Dilemma and The Price Of Passion 
“4 out of 5 stars. I felt the echoes of other notable science fiction novels, including "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler, "Lucifer's Hammer" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and "Manhattan Transfer" by John E. Stith. Timothy Stelly creates a believable milieu of small-town America being turned upside down by forces beyond comprehension, and puts the reader right in the middle of the action.—Claxton Graham, review 
“Human Trial is at once a sci-fi story, a look at the psychology of survival, and a timely cautionary tale regarding current environmental woes; our individual and collective responsibility to one another and to the planet…It is an entertaining and intricate story that can be read and enjoyed along with the likes of Mitchener, King, or Peter Straub. Stelly intuitively knows what everyday people will do to survive and how their interactions with each other will sound.”—Brian Barbeito, Columnist and author of Fluoride And The Electric Light Queen 
“Gritty and intense, Human Trial will leave you stupefied and terrified, neither of which will protect your gut from wrenching.  The message finally revealed is not only horrifying, but real, as is the omen foretold.  Turning tables and unbalanced scales foster confusion and terror in an epic far greater than its words.” - Brian L. Doe, Author, The Grace Note, Barley & Gold; Co-Author, Waking God Trilogy
“Oh the suspense, the drama, the intensity, the love I’m having for this story…trust indeed that my adrenaline cannot go any higher. This will be a series finale you don’t want to miss.” –  Walee, author of Confession Is Good For The Soul and What’s On The Menu? All Of Mw!
Timothy N. Stelly is a poet, essayist, novelist and screenwriter from northern California. He describes his writing as “socially conscious,” and his novel, HUMAN TRIAL,is the first part of a sci-fi trilogy and is available from, and in e-book format at Reviews of HUMAN TRIALcan be read at
HUMAN TRIAL II: ADAM’S WAR (All Things That Matter Press) is scheduled for release in MAY, 2010.  Stelly also has a short story included in the AIDS-themed anthology, THE SHATTERED GLASS EFFECT (2009) . His story SNAKES IN THE GRASS, Is a tale of love, betrayal and its sometimes deadly consequences.  
In 2003, Stelly won First Prize in the Pout-erotica poetry contest for his erotic piece, C’mon Condi.  
Contact Info:
Both books available at and  
Human Trial is still available from and Paperback
$18.99, e-book (kindle) format, $10.99.
Read the Brian Barbeito review of HUMAN TRIAL at: Read more online reviews at and

"Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol." -- Steve Martin

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Writing Notebook

This, folks, is the scary part of the job.  I have a mess of notes, handwritten and typed.  I have a few possible outlines, none of which I'll likely follow.  I've clocked a lot of hours meditating on this project, and now I look at my pile of characters, scenarios, conflicts and possible resolutions that I have to a. put in some chronological order and then b. shape into a story that c. people want to read, and I feel my heart quicken.  This will be no easy task.  And I've been putting it off, telling myself that there's more to consider before I really get to it.
I don't think I can put it off any longer because lately, when I sit down to meditate or ruminate or take notes, I fall asleep or find silly chores to keep me busy.  So here it goes... wish me luck.  I'll need it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Method Acting for Writers

I'm a sixty-three, burdened by what Dr. Randall calls, "Unresolved anger surrounding my wife's premature and unexpected death."  He's an ass.  I'm not angry at Wendy.  I mean, everyone has to die; I guess the thing that pisses me off is that she left me alone with our irresponsible, pansy-ass son.  She left me in this house that's falling to pieces, and the neighborhood-the one I've lived in my whole life-is going to hell; the economy is in the toilet; and to make all this worse, I'm getting fat. I mean, I'm getting really fat.  At least I still have my sense of humor?  Yeah, well, it's fading fast, and if something doesn't change soon, I'm going to go batshit, just like everyone around me, and when that happens, watch out... 

This is Wallace, a brief character sketch of the protagonist I've been tussling with over the past year.  I've been blocked with this guy, and for quite sometime I've felt his character is falling flat.  At the same time, I'm compelled to tell his story.

In my quest to write fiction at all after five years of memoir-intense study, I sought out advice from how-tos on the process of fiction writing and found a bunch of cliched advice and vague suggestions.  So, I decided to think outside the box a little.  Whenever I write, I want to write from some emotional core.  When I was writing Musical Chairs, I would meditate, try to re-imagine the times I was capturing on paper and all the emotions that I felt at the time.  This was often painful, but I think it really fed the writing.  So, I recently tried something similar to plump up the flatness of my characters in Absurd Hunger.

Wallace couldn't be less like me.  I'm in shape, I'm thirty, a woman, childless, and I have a wonderful relationship with my husband.  Nonetheless, I know that I need to really understand and empathize in order to write Wallace's character, so I recently decided to study method acting, a process by which an actor summons her own experiences and past emotional states in order to feed her character.  This technique has been utilized by some of the most versatile actors around: Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, Al Pacino... So I thought, why not apply it to writing?  Let me just tell you, this has helped a lot!

Try it.  If you're working on a piece of fiction, especially a character-driven piece, take a few minutes to read up on method acting.  Try to get in your character's head space by evoking images from your own emotional past that might relate in some way to your character's dilemma.  It's working to reconcile things between Wallace and me, so I thought I'd share.  Here's a good article on the subject, and how to employ it.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

They Plotted Revenge Against America: A Synopsis

 (Excerpt – page 148)
An American attack on Baghdad leaves heartbroken and angry survivors. Two families, one Muslim and one Christian, are wiped out; their young adult progeny are determined to avenge the loss of their loved ones. David Levy, an Israeli Secret Service Agent with a grudge of his own, knows just how to tap into the vulnerabilities that grief leaves, and organizes the training of select individuals whose desire for vengeance is strong enough to consider a deadly covert mission in America. Trainees will learn to blend in, disappear in the multicultural mix of the US and then infest the food and water supply with a deadly flu virus capable of mutating and infecting the human population. The antidote - if it works - will only be revealed under strict demands. Some team members come to realize that they could ultimately be responsible for millions of innocent deaths. Their actions could break the stalemate between the Israelis and Palestinians - or bring on unparalleled tragedy.

…Now she expected to endure the same fate at the hands of the security police, as she would have expected in Russia.  She bit her lip.  Her face took on a determined look.  No, she would not give them what they want and they would not break her.  Without her knowing it, someone had been sitting in the room observing her.  She was startled when the person said,
“How did you come to know David Levy?”
     “Who’s to say I know David Levy?”
     “Are you denying it?”
     “I simply want to know who is saying that I know him.  And why was I abducted?”
     “I’m asking the questions.  You will answer them.”
     “I am not required to answer any of your questions.  You have kidnapped me and brought me here by force.  And why must I remain blindfolded.  Are you afraid to show your face?”
     “I ask you again, how do you know David Levy?”
     “Why do you want to know?”
     “You impertinent sow.” He slapped her across the face.  Her head snapped back like whiplash.  The stinging of the slap was nothing compared to the fury she felt.  If only I could get my hands on that person ,he would never slap me again, she thought…

Review by Malcolm R. Campbell
”Terrorism frightens people because it operates outside the traditional rules of war. It's hard to combat because the attacks are no longer limited to people wearing military uniforms at well-formed battle lines: they can happen anywhere, at any time, and they may well target people who don't have any direct knowledge of the peoples and issues involved. Part of the terror is the pervasive feeling that nobody’s safe.

This is the arena of Abe F. March's chilling novel They Plotted Revenge Against America. The novel is chilling, not because it's filled with “just more violence” in the Middle East, but because the story occurs on American soil as survivors of the American attack on Baghdad blend in to mainstream society to personally extract revenge against everyday citizens.

They Plotted Revenge Against America is a plausible, sobering, intricate and effectively plotted story about a group of well-trained, well-coordinated teams who slip into the U.S. with forged papers and then painstakingly work through a plan that will infect food and water supplies with a deadly virus.

These team members are not the gun-wielding, grenade-throwing stereotypical terrorists we see in most TV shows and movies. They are everyday people who have suffered personal loss and who want to fight back. Once their mission is complete, they plan, if possible, to go back to their normal lives. As the mission unfolds, they alternate between excitement and doubt while trying to avoid detection, and in the process, they discover while blending into community life, that Americans are not the monsters they expected.

March’s story tends to humanize both the terrorists and their victims, showing Americans as largely unconcerned and ill-informed about the agendas and issues involved in the long-time conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors. On the other hand, the terrorists see themselves not as criminals but as soldiers responding to what they view as acts of war taken against their communities.

Since the overall mission leader is a double agent working for Israel's Mossad, group members must not only avoid Homeland Security and other U.S. law enforcement agencies, but the highly effective Israeli intelligence agency as well. This subplot is a nice touch in a book that suggests we're more vulnerable than we suspect.,.” 

For more information:
Author’s website:
Author’s Amazon Profile page:

Advertising fear and guilt

I'm curious about this sort of advertising campaign.  In a way, both of these pictures are powerful and will potentially stick with a person, but can they really evoke change in a person's behavior?

Take this one on the left.  Sure, it could be argued that smoking is a slow suicide, as is any action a person takes that is not health-conscious: overeating, eating the wrong things, drinking, or a sedentary lifestyle; but are guilt, fear and antagonism really the way to help people make better decisions?
In these cases, the ads are for good causes, and they're powerful enough to stick with a person for a while.  But, are they actually defeating the purpose of the cause?  I mean, what's the response?   If I run half a load of laundry, is this image supposed to haunt me or simply capture my attention? More likely, it will make me think of all the natural resources a person must have wasted to create this campaign. 

I agree that smoking is dangerous and that environmental responsibility is a good thing, but all these ads do is piss me off.  If I were pro-smoking or thought global warming a myth, these appeals would not change my mind but help me to disregard the opposition as extreme and illogical.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Meditation on Marriage: Year One

The first thing I learned about marriage is that it's not at all the way anyone, especially married people, told me it would be.  It's been a year (see my earlier post (without reading it, the following might seem mushy), and now I wake up each morning and put on my wedding ring each day, without thinking, just the same way I brush my teeth and put on my shoes before leaving the house.  But other than this, what's really changed?

Chris and I had spent six years living together before taking what some people refer to as the plunge, and when we both woke up on the morning of our wedding day, we agreed that we would not change; we were happy, and we entered matrimony with cautious optimism.  When I say cautious, I might mean anxious, I'm not wholly sure, but there was an undercurrent of trepidation.  Let me be clear, I wasn't worried that I wasn't marrying the right man nor was I concerned that Chris wasn't in love with me.  What worried me were the numerous divorces I'd witnessed, including my own parents divorce, and the pathetic statistics attached to lasting marriages.  What was marriage doing to people?  The union itself seemed to have the power to consume the most passionate relationships I'd witnessed and I worried about it's destructive powers.  Moreover, neither of us felt compelled to marry for religious reasons.

Truthfully, we were doing it for practical reasons, to ensure we could take care of each other and commit to each other under the imposing umbrella of society.  We were partners, and willing to do whatever to prove this to the world, but marriage was mysterious and everyone's advice: contradictory, conciliatory; as their wisdom, warnings, etc... worried us both.

OK, OK, so what's changed?  What's changed is, I suspect, the same changes that would have occurred had we not married.  We have only become closer and more connected on an emotional level.  Sure, we have arguments, usually just because one or the other of us is in a bad mood; and there are certain days we're both in bad moods and these fights turn to uneasy silences.  But here's the thing, they never last.  Wether or not we find common ground on a matter, we always discuss it, and we discuss it soon after we argue, and as a result, the subject of the argument finds it's place on the totem pole, far below our commitment, married or no.

So, communication is good.  Practically, change has occurred in the form of combined debts, combined assets, combined paperwork, and this is messy.  But, perhaps given the fact that we both earned masters degrees under the Bush regime, we owe a lot of money, and therefore don't fight over money (a thing we don't yet have).

I have to say it, the mysterious nature of marriage isn't so mysterious anymore.  It's surprisingly comforting, and it's taught me to wear jewelry regularly, but other than that, I'm proud to say, the plunge was nothing to fear after all.  Sure, some would say, we're still newlyweds, but we're still taking risks together, for the good of each other, and I doubt we'll stop.

Over the weekend, for instance, we shared the cake we'd frozen (as was suggested to us by a friend) a year ago, and, equally worried that the icing wouldn't hold up as well as we had, we tapped bite-sized pieces of defrosted cake and took another plunge, hoping, wishing, cautiously optimistic that we wouldn't get food poisoning.  So far, so good.

Musical Chairs

Thursday, April 15, 2010

ATTMP Book of the Week

Carol Smallwood has appeared in English Journal, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, The Writer's Chronicle, The Detroit News. Short listed for the Eric Hoffer Award for Best New Writing in 2009, a National Federation of State Poetry Societies Award Winner, she's included in Who's Who in America, and Contemporary Authors. Writing and Publishing: The Librarian's Handbook, is one of her recent American Library Association books. Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages, co-edited, is her 22nd book.  Check out her latest, here:

Lily's OdysseyLily's Odyssey unfolds in three parts with the inevitability, impact, and resolution of a Greek play. The dialogue rings true, the concrete conveyed along with moods and half-tones to paint Midwestern middle class flawed characters with poignancy. The psychological detective novel explores the once largely unacknowledged: it is not only soldiers who get post-traumantic stress disorder and child abuse whether it is overt or covert incest is a time bomb. From daughter to grandmother, Lily's voyage is told with lyricism, humor, and irony using a poet's voice to distill contemporary American women's changing role in religion, marriage, and family.

From the Preface:

Weight of Silence, and Nicolet's Daughter were considered as novel titles but it remained Lily's Odyssey. Odysseus, the epic hero from Greek mythology in The Odyssey, helped by the gods with his band of men, maneuvers the Scylla and Charybdis passage as one of his many adventures in ancient times. Lily, from the Midwest, named by a gardener mother she doesn't remember, struggles with a subconscious she fears will destroy her. Her narrow passage is between reality and disassociation, her time the latter 20th and early 21st Centuries. Her odyssey without help from the gods, reflects a passage through linear labyrinths women interpret as round. Lily's fragmentation is echoed in the writing style.


That evening after we saw Dr. Schackmann, Cal said, "You must realize that building my practice takes all my energy, and accept that as reality." He was mixing his martini before dinner on the glass-topped mahogany sideboard. As he spoke, I studied the sideboard's inlaid rosewood and ebony squares, again thinking he was a good surgeon, widely respected, and it must have been my fault that I wasn't a good wife.
I got a coaster and placed it on the sideboard. He frowned and turned it so the pheasant on the coaster squarely faced him. "You don't even know why you're so dissatisfied," he said, and laughed. "How can you not even know that?"

At the luncheon, I made as many trips as I dared to the restroom without causing people to wonder if something was wrong with me. Inside the unheated cement block room, my long deep breaths came out like smoke signals when I opened and shut my mouth to relieve my clenched jaw, shake my head in disbelief. Each time I went in, I saw cracks in the ceiling that I hadn't seen before. Some natural light came through a small casement window dotted with snow, and I recalled making dots of snow on windows into fairy tale pictures when a child.
When people had complained about the cold rest rooms to Father Couillard, who was the priest before Father Mulcahy, he'd say, "Enjoy the cold while you can, my friends. Where many of you are headed, it will be plenty hot."

Smallwood is a watcher. Her eyes are unblinking. And her ears can detect the mercurial ticks of a heart. As a storyteller, she's as sure as any Preakness jockey. She knows when words need to clip-clop up to the gate, when to bide, and when to unfetter them, to let the truth loose. Truth thunders in Lily's Odyssey.
-Katie McKy, author of Pumpkin Town, Houghton Mifflin, and Wolf Camp, Tanglewood Press.

Smallwood is an incredibly gifted author with a broad range of experience. She demonstrates commitment to conscience in her work through Michigan Feminist Studies, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, and Best New Writing 2009.
-Sandra Potter, CEO & Founder, Dreamcatchers for Abused Children,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

AWP, Denver, Other Stuff...

Much of my trip to Denver for the AWP Conference was enjoyable—it turned out to be, surprisingly, like a big writing reunion and hardly the intimidating networking deal I'd anticipated.  I had the opportunity to participate in an impromptu reading with staff and friends of Our Stories and to meet many of my favorite writers and editors in person.

Sure, the B&B where I was staying was dusty and chilly and adorned with competing flower collages that are imprinted forever in my subconscious, not to mention the fact that the establishment was tucked snugly between two bars and a liquor store, which made a night's sleep difficult. Oh, and  I lost my phone and credit card due to my sleep-deprived, zombie-like state, but in the end, it was utterly worth it (and my property did eventually show up again, thanks to the honest nature of writers).

I was at home with a community of my peers and literary heroes They're all as crazy (dedicated) as I am, I thought, as I navigated the conference rooms and exhibits, noticing the sleep-deprived saggy eyes and coffee-in-hand lurch was common, not mine alone.

One panel, which I want to discuss briefly, seemed tailor-made for me, my current struggles and joys (and the topic of many a blog post lately); it was called “Truth or Trash” and it was a panel of female memoirists who discussed the value of the genre and the way it is often cheapened or ridiculed by mainstream media and critics as being self-indulgence and only labeled "art" because self-disclosure is "trendy". The panelists each told a story similar to my own, about reviews, good and bad, that discussed the writer, and not the writing.

It was a discussion about the common trivialization of the genre in general, especially when the topic is a woman's life or hardship. Many of the writers discussed the fact that memoir is not often enough recognized as art, even when the craft that goes into it is as demanding as that of the novel. What these women and the hundreds of people in attendance at the talk gave me was hope—guess what? There are people out there beginning to recognize the value of contemporary literary non-fiction!  But, we cannot be so delusional as to think that as memoirists, we will not be the target of many critiques, critiques that do not even attempt to look at craft. When it comes to memoir, it can be more difficult to be taken seriously as a writer and acknowledged for attention, no matter how much is paid, to the development and balanced portrayal of our art.
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression

Loose Girl: A Memoir of PromiscuityThe prevalence of nonfiction narratives is, well, interesting.  With increased numbers of output, there are more good works being put out there, but the trouble is that literary nonfiction is being clustered together with a lot of crap.  What the panelists assured me is that this will change; the more voices (a more diverse scope of voice) will be heard, and the adversity in the community of writers who take on self as subject, and do it well, will eventually be understood for their humbling and difficult trek through a well-written memoir. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I've been empowered by the company I keep, namely the fabulous women who gave this panel (Kerry Cohen, Sue Silverman, Rachel Resnick, Melissa Febos, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah (author of Willow Weep for Me). I'm so grateful. And perhaps Musical Chairs will find a broader audience of readers, after all, due, in no small way, to the ground-breaking efforts of other such writers.

Friday, April 9, 2010

ATTM Press ~ Blog Tour

In all honesty, I haven't read Shooting Angels by Nicolas Sansone, but it sounds fascinating...
A NASA Space Shuttle plummets to Earth. A team of eight rescue workers plunges into a treacherous Texan wilderness to recover the wreckage, and become entwined in a cosmic conspiracy. An uncouth disembodied head enslaves an elderly rancher and uses his cellar as the war room of its campaign against God, a noir-style slickster with a buxom blonde wife and a taste for margaritas, who rockets down from the suburbs of Heaven on a comet to do battle with metaphysical evils. "Shooting Angels" races from the jungles of Texas, to the dark corners of undiscovered space, to the innermost reaches of the human mind, to the smoggy streets of Central Heaven, where people are free to give in to their most detestable urges. The novel asks its characters to confront their ordering theories of the universe, and raises questions of how we are to envision divinity in a technological age.
"Shooting Angels" is an immensely creative and eminently page-turning first novel from Nicolas Sansone. Sansone's imagination delivers a world in which the outrageous is entirely believable, the everyday and mundane are eerily unnerving, and God (as well as Mrs. God) is a truly relatable being. This fast-paced and quick read allows readers to readily consider the "big" questions of faith and reality with good measures of humor, compassion and irreverence. Sansone's tight depiction of his large cast of characters, who range from the ordinary to the downright bizarre, contributes to his characters' accessibility and believability (in the face of the extraordinary). After this read, I can only look forward to what will come next from Sansone's rich imagination. Though his characters and their predicaments may be out-of-this-world, to quote the novel, "They are born of the imagination, but so is everything real". --S. Lemme
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My web site:
My blog:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fiction vs. Memoir: Part I

It's early in the morning, when I'm at my best, most sarcastic, most energetic; right now, it's a magical time for me, just between the buzz from that first cup of coffee and the crash I usually get from the obscene amount of sugar I put in said coffee.  And I want to discuss memoir as a genre and it's place in the literary world.  I recently read an  article that claimed memoir is easier to write than fiction because the material is already there.  Allow me to examine this claim...

I am currently writing a novel, and I've written and published numerous short stories; Musical Chairs is the only widely distributed piece of nonfiction I've written.  So, there's my authorial statement: I have experience on both sides of the game.  Now for the examination:

Critics of memoir usually cite absence of plot as a primary reason for disliking the genre.  This, I agree with.  It is easy for some memoirs to fall into the trap of structureless rambling.  I found that The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts an excellent book about how to get around this issue as a writer, but it's a tricky thing, to maintain integrity by accurately portraying life (which is often chaotic) while imposing a structure that parallels plot.  How to get around this?  Find something more adaptable to drive the narrative, a question or philosophical angle that will glue the scenes together and keep them cohesive.  But easy, this is not!

The second, and it probably should've been the first reason that memoir is criticized is because there are blurred lines between the genre of memoir and the biography.  Memoirs are often considered personal biographies, as though they are just a record-keeping of sorts, written by narcissists.  Could be, on occassion this is true.  Could be that many a ghost-written celebrity "memoir" is exactly this, and yet it will be shelved next to a literary gem, such as "This Boy's Life" or "Speak, Memory".  Unlike fiction, there are no sub-genres of memoir, and therefore they are all clustered together.  As a result, some really phenomenal works are overlooked, just based on their placement in the bookstore. 

Critics of fiction  Yeah, they exist; I hang out with them.  They say that novels are always a social, political commentary or a personal story that is veiled and gutless and therefore labeled as fiction.  Well... rationally, this can be true for many, many, many books.  In fact, due to the fact that the memoir wasn't even recognized as it's own genre until around the late 70s, early 80s (and let's be clear here, I'm not talking biography and celebrity tell-alls, I'm talking memoirs that are written with the same literary attention as novels), many memoirs were automatically categorized as fiction without a second thought.  How might this change, if we were to go back in time and categorize some of the classics a bit more accurately... Would the memoir genre have a bigger pull, a larger place in the literary circles?

Critics of fiction also say that, converse to memoir, a novel often relies too heavily on plot.  Character-driven works tend to be the most highly acclaimed (I have nothing but my own assumption of this fact to back this statement up) among the literati, and yet most fiction, especially by new authors, is plot-driven.  And how many plots are there really? So the genre is bogged down with rewrites of the same old stories again and again.  At least each person's life offers a range of experience so unique it is impossible to replicate.

So, criticism out of the way, I think I'll return to this discussion in a part two of sorts.  I'd love to know what you all think, however, and whether any of you consider yourself to be biased toward one genre or the other, and if so, why?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Set of Eyes: Some Obvious Advice

I went through a creative drought after graduate school, and although I'm still a bit dehydrated, I think I'm recovering well.  Writers out there, only you know the anguish of not writing.  It's serious stuff!  But again, I'm recovering, and I owe it in no small way to other writers.  I am confident I will be fully recovered one day, but this confidence came after I addressed another interrelated and serious problem. (Go figure, right?) You see, as I replenished myself with a few words a day, a story a week, I realized that I no longer had a paid audience of teachers and mentors to read my work.

Being a teacher myself now, I tell my students that, when revising, they need readers (at least one), who will tell them the truth about their writing and provide feedback. I think this is true no matter how long a person has been toiling away the business.  Writers need second opinions.  And these second opinions must be somewhat objective (sorry, Mom).  Without some feedback, we are privy to assume that the readers of our final drafts think the way we do, and this can lead to logic errors, especially when writing fiction.

I've been reading a lot of work lately.  For some reason, since my book came out friends, family, writing center visitors, and people I don't know have been chucking their stories at me for opinions.  I want to be clear: I don't mind.  I love giving my opinion and reading others' works.  But, these relationships (for the most part) are unbalanced.  I realized recently that I rarely chuck my own stuff before submitting it, and this is a problem.  As a result of a long habit of keeping my writing to myself until I thought it perfect, it took me a long, long time and a graduate degree to learn that there is a clear divide between revised work and polished work.

Now, I've made it a sort of resolution to try to get feedback from at least one person, preferably a writer whose work I admire, before submitting anything.  Even if I don't agree with another's critique it's important to consider all feedback before dismissing it.  This is how a writer can continue to grow, even after the terminal MFA.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Weekly Book Recommendation: Shaman Circus

Shaman Circus by Gail Gray is a unique and well-written book that makes a reader question percpetions as she teases out the fantastical in this timely tale.

Here's the book jacket description:

In New Orleans following Katrina all bets are off; all masks dissolved. “Don’t forget the sham in shaman,” Jacob Laguerre lies to his new apprentice, Alex Hampton. When Alex, a twenty-eight year-old anthropology professor goes on field-study to post-Katrina New Orleans, he enters a chaotic and altered landscape where he’s psychologically, physically and spiritually challenged by the sarcastic mentoring of the mulatto, Laguerre, a current day voudou shaman.

Both Laguerre’s and Alex’s psyches struggle through stages of transition and rebirth as their lives are enmeshed with a group of quirky fringe-dwellers, as colorful and eccentric as New Orleans itself. Lily Hampton, a sculptor, torn between her love for both men; Mavis, an artist who spent nights in her attic, but survived the floods; Perry Laguerre, Jacob’s hermaphroditic twin, and Bad Jacqui, lesbian owner of a French Quarter bar: are pulled together to form the cynical but ultimately idealistic team who vow to stay in post-Katrina New Orleans.
They all follow a taut path between madness and redemption in the no man’s land of Refrigerator Town as they assist in the aftermath and healing of both the city and those who remain.
Shaman Circus is a magical realism/dark urban fantasy approach to the failure of the levees. This raggle-taggle group discovers how devastated and government-abandoned New Orleans leaves no quarter for societal charades and consumer societies. Cast adrift and crashing together they attempt to make sense of both internal and external wastelands, ultimately leading to transformation and sanctuary.
"Shaman Circus is a story of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The writing has great detail and provides an understanding of what life was like in that city with clarity that wasn’t in either the news media statistics or the graphic pictures provided at the time of the storm. I was especially affected by a section where an artist was cleaning her studio. When she discovered that one of her works was only half destroyed from water damage, she ripped off the ruined part and kept the rest hoping she could recreate the painting someday. Gray’s images of huge out of control trash fires and colorful Louisiana Voodoo rituals performed in half destroyed warehouses, pulled me into her story and held me there. There was also a fascinating love triangle between Alex, Jacob, and Lily. Their relationships swirled around with almost as much destructive force as the hurricane. Shaman Circus is the type of book that makes its readers want to slow down to carefully pull in every word. It is more than a good read. It is a wonderful journey."
 - Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul

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