Sunday, May 30, 2010

Writing Diary: Finding Voice

I enjoy interviews on craft and the writing life, especially by those writers I especially admire.  This way, if I ever meet them I wont feel compelled to ask questions they've heard a million times "What's your writing regime?" "How did you get published?" "What's your inspiration?" .... I hate blending in.

Anyway, lately one topic seems to come up often in these interviews that's especially interesting (and elusive): voice.  The question that usually precedes this topic is "What's your advice to new writers?"

In Zen in The Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury describes years of in which he confessed that most of his stories were mere immitation of his favorite writers' voices.  He says a writer doesn't truly begin to create worthwhile stuff until finding his or her unique and distinctive style, and this comes not from writing x number of word in a lifetime but from digging deep and creating from the source within.  Repetition leads to nothing more than cliche, overdone work.  It's lifeless and dishonest.  Writing, Bradbury argues, is about finding the emotion and questions that drive us to the pen or keyboard.  Once we realize what this motivation is (Bradbury cited numerous childhood nightmares), we've tapped into the thing that matters.

But how does this happen?  Is finding one's voice similar to finding religion, finding our lost keys or finally getting the punchline of that joke?  Is there a moment when everything just clicks and the writer just knows, from some mysterious and complex series of events, that he's ready.  Then everything created after this revelation is somehow better, really ours?  Or maybe it's like finding one's voice more like a journey that we must take and once we've overcome certain obstacles and pushed through certain blocks, we've earned it.

Somehow, I think that finding my own writing voice came not from writing but from living through certain things that I knew I had to confront and question circumstances that perplexed me even though I lived through them, possibly even perservered.  For me, voice is really something to be found on the page in every piece of writing, to be found again and again, whether through metaphor in fiction or analysis philisophical questioning in nonfiction.

In an interview from The New York Times Magazine, December 5, 1976 Joan Didion says "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means."  This is one of my favorite quotes about writing because I think Didion provides a clear answer.  I interpret her reasoning to mean that we must all write to figure things out, not to emulate or repeat, not to make great plotlines or sketch dynamic characters: those things come. 

Because I have this sort of philosophy abou the writing voice, I think I agree with those writers who say go find your own voice.  Because like it or not, MFA or no, hot shot literary friends or not, a writer will either find her voice or she won't.  When I write I do so to explore myself and the those things that I find particularly perplexing about the world around me, be this in fiction or poetry or any other genre; I don't write what I know--if I wrote about what I knew, I wouldn't write nearly as much!--but what I want to know, and the rest seems to take care of itself.  Voice, in this sense, is the consequence of genuine, unabashed curiosity.  This can never be cliche.

.....Musical..Chairs .......

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ATTMP Author of the Week

This space is devoted to a talented writer.  I've only read short pieces by Julie Achterhoff, but I look forward to reading her longer works.  Below are two of her books, and I can't decide which one to read first...
(I'll post again soon.  I've been lazy this week.)

TWO BOOKS by Julie Achterhoff
Quantum Earth

A team of metaphysical scientists is dedicated to finding out why the Earth is in crisis. The rate, size, and destructive power of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions is out of control. All of these acts of nature have become more devastating to human life than ever before in history, but why? Is the Earth cleansing itself of humanity? Or could it be that human thought is the true cause? This is what the team is asking; the hardest question of all: Do we create our own reality?

Review by Danni Milliken:
It's not an easy thing to offer to review the work of an author you don't know very well. If it's a good friend that's one thing, because you can say something honestly if you find that you don't like it. But, if it is someone who you don't know very well, it is a scary thing to offer to do, because the thought screams loudly in your mind, "What if I don't like it?" But, one day I know that it will be me out there pimping my work. So, with that knowledge in mind I found I had to put my hand up. Because, one day I hope someone will put their hand up for me.
Still, it was with trepidation that I opened the ebook and began reading the prologue. By the end of the first two paragraphs I made a very happy discovery. This is a good book. From two paragraphs I could tell that Julie Achterhoff is a quality author. Her writing style is extremely easy to read and the scenes are painted so that you can envision their detail easily without the over the top page wasting some lesser quality authors are prone to spend setting the scene. I could have written a review based only on the first few chapters, but this book was so good that I wanted to finish all of it for the sake of my own enjoyment. An exceptional achievement on the part of Julie Achterhoff there, as I rarely read novels to the end anymore.

Quantum Earth is a unique story where a group of scientists use new age beliefs to examine whether or not humanity creates its own tragedies. As natural disasters escalate, this team of researchers use a number of methods to collate data including trance, hypnosis, and dreams prior to the event.
This is a fantastically unique story and it is incredibly well written. At the current price of $15.99, you are getting a real bargain. I have no doubt at all that Julie is a future bestseller, and you won't regret the short time it takes to enjoy either Quantum Earth, or her new book "Deadly Lucidity"...


Deadly Lucidity
Caught in a tangled web of dreams and nightmares,
Marie Reilly is being hunted by a psychopath in the
dream world she can't escape. Her single ally, a
Ranger named Murphy, may be her only hope. He
must help her reach the great Fortress, where
they've been told there is a way back to her reality.
Together, they fight their way through the twists
and turns of Marie's mind so she can have her life
back. But what of their burgeoning passion for each
other? How can she leave the man she has come to
love behind in this nightmarish world he has called
home as far back as he can remember?

Review:

Caught in a dream world from which she can’t escape, Marie finds herself
hunted by a dangerous psychopath. Her situation is far from hopeless, though, as
a handsome Ranger named Murphy vows both to protect her and help her find a
way back to the real world. Over the course of their shared adventures, Marie
looks very much forward to getting her life back to normal – but her growing
passion for Murphy makes the prospect of leaving him behind an increasingly
difficult choice to make...
Skillfully crafted by author Julie Achterhoff, Deadly Lucidity is an engaging
suspense thriller. In it, Achterhoff has crafted a compelling alternate nether world
straight out of the darkest regions of any imagination. In addition, as Marie wends
her way through a series of increasingly perilous events, you find yourself rooting
not-so-silently on her behalf, turning each fresh page in rapt anticipation of
precisely what fate awaits her as the story progresses. Furthermore, the genuine
affection that she and Murphy feel for one another adds a layer of palpable
tension to the overall tale, drawing the reader in even more as this modern twist
on the age-old tale of good vs. evil plays itself out in fantastical fashion.
A dynamic, riveting thriller with a host of intriguing twists, Deadly Lucidity
is a recommended read for lovers of well crafted fantasy suspense tales.
Trailer: http://tinyurl.com/2esq54p

Both Books are Available at Amazon & ATTMP
To keep up with Julie, check out her blog at: http://earthwalkr.wordpress.com/

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reconsidering Rejection



What is it that keeps a writer going?  It’s a profession that guarantees regular rejection and demands of revision on one’s creation.  What’s more, it’s not a profession that promises great wealth or benefits (we’ll see).  In fact, the decision to write for a living is not rational on any level.  For many, it is a luxury to write, a hobby to take up after retirement or to indulge in on weekends.  But some of us work toward the dream of writing for a living, which is largely sold by a sort of writing-self-help industry that paints beautiful pictures of a writer's life: comfy retreats in the woods, secluded cabins by a lake with nightly wine and readings, only an occasional appearance at a quaint bookstore or literary event will detract from our time to write.  The truth is, most writers have to work.  As a result, there exist a few fellowships and retreats that promise a writer seclusion and inspiration.  I've been wanting one for a while, a writer's vacation, but as I was beginning to research the possible applications I would turn in for 2010, I realized my heart wasn't in it.

I applied to three fellowships while I was writing Musical Chairs, and my only return was a partial scholarship and two apologetic rejection letters.  The letters basically said that they would not fund my project, which was fine.  I ended up writing it when I could, and ending up quite happy with my output.  Now, I have a less focused set of projects. I've been working on a novel, but also writing short stories almost daily that I am sorry to say have yet to prove a thread that will bind them into a collection.

So, when I found myself searching the fellowship opportunities, most of which require a $25-50 fee, along with a writing sample, letters of recommendation and a letter of intent, I caught myself thinking, why bother?  Maybe I should give up on the idea that I can actually get paid to write.  Maybe it’d be freeing to do so.  True, I do get royalty checks, but they are usually reinvested in various writing contests and fellowship applications that seem to offer the odds of a slot machine in Vegas.

This seems a dreary post so far, eh?  Defeatist, even. Well, good.  It’s reflecting the truth of difficulty that this business can bring.  And it’s also bringing me to my point.  I’ve decided to stop applying to fellowships and the like.  Not because I feel defeated by the rejection, but rather that I've reevaluated my motives.  I will continue to submit my stories to journals and publications, when I believe they are ready, but I will no longer invest any money in the writing industry that I believe would be much better spent on a good book; time much better spent jotting or typing. I firmly believe that my desire to get paid or offered a fellowship that promises time and isolation required to complete a masterpiece has actually stunted my growth as a writer by eating up more time than allowing.  As a sort of rejection-fueled resolution, then, I have decided to focus all energy on the act of writing, not the business of writing.  We'll see how it goes, but I'm optimistic.  And sure, I'd still love a cabin in the woods, but somehow I think I'll have to write my way there, rather than get there to write.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

ATTMP Author of the Week: Kenneth Weene

Widow’s Walk by Kenneth Weene tells the story of Mary Flanagan and her search for meaning, life, and love. It is also the story of her Irish roots and her immigration to America, her marriage, her husband’s life and death, and the lives of her two children. And it is the story of her relationship with Arnie Berger, a man who is totally different in background, religion, and approach to life. Theirs is a deep and meaningful love that gladdens the heart. If only things could always flow along with such ease. But they do not, and Widow’s Walk becomes a powerful tale of human pain and emotional conflict.
Recently released, Kenneth Weene’s new novel, Memoirs From the Asylum, is a comi-tragic tale of madness and sanity, of desperation and hope, of possibilities and fate. Set in a state hospital, Memoirs From the Asylum focuses on three main characters, a narrator, who has taken refuge from his terror of the world, a catatonic schizophrenic, whose mind lives within a crack in the wall opposite her bed, and a young psychiatrist, who is dealing with his own father’s depression. This is a book that will have you laughing, crying, and discussing.


An Excerpt From Widow’s Walk
People like Danny O’Brien don't just wash their cars – they bathe them with deliberation. First they get ready, which starts with the right clothes. Danny always changes into his cutoff jeans, the last pair he has left from college. He has to suck in his stomach to snap them shut, and they have long ago stopped feeling comfortable, but they represent his youth so he won’t throw them out. He doesn’t tuck his Grateful Dead T-shirt in. He probably wouldn’t have anyway, but with it hanging out no one can see if the snap on his shorts has opened. His old tennis shoes go on his bare feet, and he feels like he is ready to go back in time and play Frisbee in Hollis Quad.

His equipment, too, is laid out carefully. Sponges, clean rags, a plastic pail, the garden hose, Turtle Wash and Wax, a Dust Buster, and finally cleaners for the glass, the vinyl, the leather upholstery, the chrome, and especially the tires – the car will not be to his liking until the tires gleam – not like new, but shining beyond newness. Even the placement of the car is – to his mind – just right. It is carefully parked in a specific spot so that he can get maximum efficiency from the hose.

His neighbor, Harry Brown, is tending flowerbeds. Not particularly a lover of nature, Danny leaves that task to the gardener. "Hey, Harry, how's it going?" he calls to the neighbor, who is busily weeding around the azaleas.

"Damn weeds just keep growing." It is a ritual exchange. The two men aren’t close, but they have as many rituals as any fraternity. That is one of Danny's special qualities; his every relationship has rituals built in: little sayings or a special piece of body language that makes the other person feel that theirs is a special relationship

Danny is aware of a change in the light. He looks up and sees Kathleen watching him. He smiles. “Hi.”

She half smiles in response. Embarrassed by his notice, she starts slightly as if to move away.

"Do you like cars?" He isn’t sure where, but he knows that he has seen her before. “She’s cute enough,” he thinks. “Might as well chat her up.”

Kathleen, not having really taken a step, feels she has to respond. She smiles shyly – not flirtatious but friendly. "Actually, I don’t know much about them. I’ve never even learned how to drive."

"Seriously?" Even while he is saying this, Danny is wondering if he shouldn’t perhaps take a more serious tone, one more appropriate to the classy young woman he perceives her to be.

"Why? Is there something wrong?" She can feel herself tensing, pulling back, becoming defensive. "I always wanted to learn, but I never had the chance."

He takes another look at Kathleen and decides that she might be worth his time. "I tell you what. You help me wash, and I'll give you a driving lesson."

"I don't even know you," Kathleen responds with hesitancy.

"Harry here will vouch for me. Won't you Harry?"

"Lady, I'd stay far away from that crazy Irishman. You should never trust a man who doesn't garden."

"I don't really think I should," her voice conveys doubt and a hidden wish.

"Suit yourself. If you ever change your mind, stop by any weekend. If I'm not home, my mother almost always is. I'll tell her if a beautiful woman named …" He pauses.


At first Kathleen doesn’t understand why he is waiting. Then she wonders if it’s ok for her to answer. Finally she stammers, "My name is Kathleen, Kathleen Flanagan."

"Pleased to meet you, Kathleen Flanagan. Danny O’Brien at your service." Danny winks at her, and Kathleen feels a rush of confusion – her face flushes. "We Irish folks have to stick together especially around a Brit like Harry." Danny’s sweeping gesture toward his neighbor sprays her with soapy water from the sponge he’s holding.

The cold tingle of the water makes her laugh lightly.

"Good. A sense of humor is the thing to have, but I am sorry." He offers her a clean rag.

"That's all right! I'm sure I'll dry before I get back."

"Back where?"

"Subtle, boy," Harry comments.

"I live at the hospice, the one near the Star Market, in the staff housing."


Danny smiles broadly. "The freckles on his forehead seem to dance when he smiles," Kathleen observes to herself.

"Would the nuns be upset if I were to drop by some day?"

"That would depend on your intentions."

"Better than they were when I went to Saint Edward's."

He grins again, and Kathleen is struck by the sparkle in his eyes. She waves as she walks away.

"That's a nice girl, Danny." Harry remarks as Kathleen leaves. “Not a bad looker either.”

"That's for sure." Danny turns back to the car, but his mind is following Kathleen down the street.

Words of Praise for Widow’s Walk
“Here is a story whose breadth of vision is exceeded only by the depth of its characters.” (Jon Tuttle, author, The Trustus Plays)
“This story includes the passions of everyday life that will touch you in a special way.” (Abe F. March, author, To Beirut and Back, They Plotted Revenge Against America, and Journey Into The Past)
“Written in the present tense, Widow's Walk achieves the difficult balance of urgency and character-driven action possible with this technique. With deft humor and unexpected turns, universal dilemmas and unique perspectives, I believe Widow's Walk captures all the elements of great fiction.” (Jen Knox, author, Musical Chairs (Me!!))

An excerpt from Memoirs From the Asylum

Arthur and I are pacing up and down the dayroom. That way the aides don’t notice. As long as we look agitated, they don’t care about our conversations. They figure we must be ourselves: the simply crazy. If we were to sit down on the bilious green Naugahyde and chrome chairs and couches that have long since deteriorated to junkyard quality and talk like normal people, then they’d get pissed off. They count on us to be psycho, to appear nuts. It’s like the cops and the criminals. The criminals might not want the cops around, but the cops need the crooks so they have jobs. And, if the cops disappeared then everyone could commit the same criminal acts so there’d be no payoff for being a crook. So, bottom line, the staff needs us to keep getting their paychecks, and we need them to keep getting our rubber-rooms, straightjackets, and butts full of Valium.

But, the numbers are changing. The psycho drugs have reduced the size of all the hospitals. The staffs have shrunk; now they’re resisting every discharge. No normality here! Nobody should get out. That’s the rule.

So we are pacing and discussing the alleged newest member of our very nonselective club. Of course, it is all rumor and conjecture. The rolling TV never plays the news; it’s considered too upsetting.

Newspapers and magazines only make an appearance when an infrequent visitor happens to bring them, which is always well after they’re better suited for wrapping fish. Visitors are few and far between. We who have survived the medication boom and still live on the wards have few family members interested in us. The aides and nurses do bring gossipy magazines that they share with each other and then leave around for us. We always know the latest tittle-tattle from three weeks ago. We can always tell that our bleached out castaway clothing isn’t the latest from Paris.

“Maybe. But, then what’s to stop them from frying every nut case,” I pause for effect, “including us?”

“Would you do something like that?”

“No.”

“Well, neither would I.”

“Of course not, but you did attack those people.”

He giggles nervously. “God told me to.”

“I know, but maybe God told him.”

He raises his voice, always a foolish thing to do, but theology is always a hot button in the day room. “God would never tell him that – not something like that!”

One of the aides looks up at us. I catch her out of the corner of my eye, the one that I always keep directed at the nurses’ station.

“Sshhh,” I hiss at him. But he is way too far-gone. God’s prophet is on the pulpit, and nothing else matters. It only takes a minute before they drug him, wrap him, and carry him off to restraints.

They might decide I should get it, too, that I have been provoking him, that I might get others started – that I might be the “King of the Crazies” – and they talk about our paranoia. I walk away as fast as I can.

Too late! They have grabbed me and wrestled my ass to the floor. I’m not resisting. There would be no point. They still rough me up. One aide, this big hulk of an idiot, a sadist too afraid to take on anyone who can fight back, smacks me in the face – no reason, just his pleasure. My nose starts to bleed. They hold me down so that I’m coughing and choking on my own damn blood. One of the nurses brings the syringe. The big V to the rescue.

I wake up the next day on the medical ward. There is a hole in my throat where they inserted a tracheotomy tube. The bastard has nearly killed me. God, is my throat sore. I get to suck on ice chips and suffer. The bastard got to go home for his dinner.

A day later I am back on the ward. One of the women patients sidles over to me. “We heard they had to give you shock treatments,” she hisses.

“No,” I croak back pointing at my throat.

“I thought your brains were up here,” she says pointing to her head.

I try to laugh and then think better of it. I pat my ass. “No, down here,” I tell her.

She is still cackling as one of the nurses came out from behind their counter with the medication tray. My pills are different. I look at them and then at her. “Take your meds,” she commands firmly.

“They aren’t right.”

“The doctor changed them.”

“Why?”

“Ask him.”

“Come on, at least tell me why,” I plead, afraid of the side effects.

“We want to make sure that you behave yourself. No more incidents like yesterday.

I want to cry, but I just nod. I try to hold some of the pills in my cheek to spit them out once she has gone, but she checks my mouth and makes me take a second cup of the horrible juice they use. It tastes like a combination of the bug-juice they serve at summer camp and some powdered fruit drink straight from the army, and filled with saltpeter.

“Be a good boy,” she says as she walks away. I feel like I’m a dog being patted absentmindedly on the head by a totally indifferent and unfeeling clerk in a department store. “You really shouldn’t have your dog in here, mister; but keep him under control and we won’t shoot you full of meds.”

“Yes, ma’am; yes, ma’am, three bags full.”

No matter how fucked your head, you’ve got to hate the drooling and the shuffling. I try to control the tics and that damned unending pill rolling. I try, but I fail – failure is in the chemistry.

To learn more about Widow’s Walk visit the video at:
http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=wbgzb2yk

To learn more about the publisher, All Things That Matter Press, go to
http://www.allthingsthatmatterpress.com/

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Are Writers Full of Themselves?

Recently, I was asked if I thought writers were egotistical and self-indulgent by nature.  A student, who admitted to despising the very act of writing essays said that he felt writers are full of themselves, and he smartly asked if I agreed before suggesting he be dismissed of an essay assignment.  If I were teaching philosophy, I might have given him an A+ for the class, told him to go home.  Instead, let's just say that I said something incredibly concise, smart and profound in response, but I made him turn in the paper.  The fact is, his question has stayed on my mind and I wanted to address it here, in more depth.


According to Freud, the Ego is the rational part of the brain, the bridge between reality’s limitations and the Id, which contains a person’s passions and instinctual drives. The way the word ego is commonly used, it implies a person is full of self-rationalization or more simply put, is full of ones self. Many times writers and other artists are accused of being egotistical, which to me, makes sense. I mean, if a person that spends hours recording thoughts that he or she deems worthy of an audience, there has to be some ego there—otherwise how could that person rationally believe those thoughts are important enough to share?

I like to think that a good writer puts the ego aside when writing a draft, and simply attempts to record passions, deep-seated beliefs and desires, and that revision is the ego’s place to examine and rationalize such thoughts. Or, if we’re talking non-fiction, a more philosophical take on writing, the writer will actually question his or her motivations and attempt to step outside or at least briefly try to imagine a view that is counter to what is instinctual.

Personally, I am drawn to memoir and personal essays, as a reader, for this very reason—the form insists upon self-examination and reflection that extends beyond mere navel-gazing. When it comes to fiction, the topic is more nuanced, but I think even the best novels and short stories have enough shaded meaning that they can be discussed and argued rather than taken literally as social commentary or a veiled personal story.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that ego might drive us to the very act of writing, but the willingness of a writer to put said ego aside, to step outside of it for even a moment, is what separates (apart from the obvious: craft, word choice, etc…) a strong story from the more common preachy writing that often finds a predictable future: from computer screen or notebook to slush pile and eventually, the trash can or recycle bin.

#

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hungry

I began this blog to keep track of my writing life, to declare my goals, share my revelations and record the trials that I face, but sometimes-OK always-the personal stuff insists itself on my meditations.  This happens in my creative endeavors as well, even the fiction, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I notice this happens when I read lately, too, that my own personal experiences seep into my thoughts as I take in another author's creation.  I'll begin reading and thoughts of my car needing an oil change or the fact that I haven't seen a dentist in eight months will pop into my head and slowly the words, which I'm still reading, lose their meaning.  I think this is what attention deficit must feel like, and I want it to stop--which it most likely will.

Have you ever had this experience, when you try to read a book, even a damn-good book, and you just can't concentrate?

The fact that this has been happening to me makes me wonder how often I've put down fine literary works because I just wasn't in the right head space.  I mean, sure, a book can be poorly written and lose a reader's interest, but then there are times like these when the reader is just too scattered to become wholly engaged.

I bring this up because sometimes, it's difficult to tell the difference.  I've been working so much lately (thankfully) that I think I'm just not able to relax enough with most stories... and, so I've decided to take a little break and read only one book, slowly, and if I feel the addiction calling perhaps I'll consume a short story or two instead of another novel (I usually read three books at once because I know I'll be in the mood each night for at least one of them).

I remember a few years back, I cracked the spine of what is now one of my favorite books of all time The Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff.  I couldn't get beyond the first page.  Then, a year later, I cracked it again and consumed the thing in a matter of days, enjoying every minute of it.

Has this ever happened to you?  What's the cure?  I feel less fulfilled when I'm not reading... constantly...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

ATTMP Book of the Week by Vic Fortezza

A Hitch in Twilight is a compilation of stories of The Twilight Zone-Alfred Hitchcock variety. Most involve ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Lucifer appears in two. Most are set in New York, particularly Brooklyn. They are designed to make entertain and to foster thought. They are 20 tales of Warped Imagination.

Excerpt

Beneath the Boardwalk, somewhere along the Brighton Beach side, leeward of a dune formed by the bitter winter winds, lay a long, narrow cardboard box around which rats were scurrying. There was a restless, troubled murmuring within it. Suddenly the flaps flew aside and a man inside sprang to a sitting position like a jack-in-the-box, casting pages of a newspaper, his blankets, aside in his wake. He fought to regain his breath, muttering angrily, fearfully.

His attention was snared by a click. His paroxysm had been vanquished. His senses had never seemed so alive. He peered beyond the dune, past the small gap between its peak and the underside of the Boardwalk. A cigarette lighter flickered briefly, illuminating a hard though handsome face that featured a thick, neatly-trimmed black beard.

Vic Fortezza writes about the trials and tribulations of life. Be it fiction or reality he captivates his audience with hard-boiled characterizations that catapult readers through drama and intrigue, at times with a touch of humor. Vic’s words flow with strength – he tells it like it is – through the eyes of a powerful, seasoned writer. By the time you’ve read the last page of A Hitch in Twilight, you’ll feel like you’ve lived each story.
-Victoria Valentine, Editor Skyline Review.

Click here to purchase A Hitch in Twilight
Learn all about Vic at his website, read his mainstream stories, free: http://vicfortezza.homestead.com/
Follow Vic’s blog: Selling Books on the Streets of Brooklyn

See a video of Vic in action on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYv9k5Su3wA

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Value of Constraints

I write in pocket-sized Moleskine or imitation-Moleskine notebooks, which means that there's always a notebook in my pocket or bag and I've grown accustomed to writing in extremely small print.  What I like about these small books is that they're portable, and I usually fill each page and consequently each book, quickly.  This provides a sense of completion, even if the story itself is not finished.

Standard size notebooks are a different story.  I admit, I've wasted a lot of paper by leaving blank pages in between stories and essays in my full size notebooks.  Recently, however, I set out to fill in all these pages, and to make my task all the harder, I've decided to write a complete piece in each one-two page space, which has caused me to write a lot of flash.  What I realized in the process of this environmentally savvy act, however, is that I have revisited a technique that was introduced to me in a course I took a year ago at Gemini Ink known as OuLiPo.


The technique, which was founded by Fran├žois Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau in the sixties, is defined as a "generative device" for potential literature.  The theory is that if a writer imposes constraints on her work, she will be forced to create a piece of art that might have (given no constraints) never been realized.  More specific and common techniques of constraint in this practice include lipograms (pieces of writing that excludes the use of certain letters) or techniques used commonly in poetry, such as palindromes.  To me, the limit of space and word count is enough, but perhaps I'll stretch my boundaries when I complete the half dozen or so notebooks I need to fill.  This is fun stuff, and ironically freeing.




Saturday, May 1, 2010

IHOP: A TRIBUTE


Placement, coffee and a certain amount of anonymity are my standard for a good writing spot.

It didn't, not really.  IHOP, or for those unenlightened, the International House of Pancakes, has not changed my life on a macro-level.  But the place sure cheered me up today.  Let me just begin by saying that a San Antonio IHOP on a Saturday morning is no easy place to enter.  Usually, there are people lined up outside the doors, along the always-too-small waiting area and clustered throughout the middle, making it difficult to approach the hostess and provide one's name.  But, if one is willing to persevere, to push and shove her way to that small wooden shrine that holds future diners last names, she will be rewarded with a managable "Ten minutes or less" wait.  Let me tell you, if you're a party of two, it will be less than ten minutes!
Once seated in a two person booth, coffee comes quickly, and sometimes it's waiting on the table (what joy!) and although there is rarely enough sugar and cream on the table, a simple request quickly remedies this.

I always order the quick two egg breakfast.  Over-medium eggs and wheat toast, hashbrowns and lots of ketchup.  And what's more?  It arrives quickly.  I have to caution you, the waitstaff is not always polite.  But it doesn't matter.  It's breakfast food, fast, and it's good.  They even serve flavored coffee now.  And what is it, I don't know, I really, really don't know, about IHOP that assures I will come up with a new story or essay idea with each visit? 

IHOP, whatever your mystery, I applaud you your magical capabiities for me on any given Saturday morning, no matter how moody and tired I am upon arrival.  Keep it up.  I'll keep coming.  I shudder to think what would happen if you ever closed, and I had to go to Starbucks again...




[ Musical Chairs just got it's 50th review on Amazon!!!]

Observations: February 2018

I spent a bit of January in San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale. The rest of the month was a blur of snow, work, family, and writing. In ...