Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The time has come for Blogger and I to part ways. I need more out of my blogging application. Specifically, I need to be able to change my template and not lose all my comments or to change my template back and not find weird text and boxes all over my archive pages. I don't know enough about CSS to design a template myself, so for the time being I'm moving over to the Mac of the blogging applications: Wordpress.

You can find me here: An Exclamation of Larks.

Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds accordingly.

Thank you!

Memeage: The Magic MASH Machine

Friday, June 13, 2008

I am so thankful for my wonderful friends who find glorious online time wasters and share them with me. Today's find: The Magic MASH Machine.

For those of you who were not blessed with playing MASH in junior high (i.e. boys), it's a wonderfully silly game where you list all your crushes (plus one or two duds), all your dream jobs (plus one or two duds), all your car choices, kid choices, dream city choices, etc. and then wait for the hands of fate to determine your future. And by hands of fate, I mean, the girl that sits in front of you in Social Studies who counts out the answers and who may or may not be cheating thereby making you end up married to the class clown, Sammy Melcheck, instead of to Alan Peterson, for whom you KNOW you are truly destined.

Ahem. . . No hard feelings, Laura.

Anyway, there is now an online version of the hands of fate. I believe it only slightly less biased than Laura Dyer. My results:

You will marry Freddy Rodriguez. [1]
After a wild honeymoon, you will settle down in Deluth in you fabulous Apartment.
You will have 0 kid(s) together.
Your family will zoom around in a Seafoam Green Chevy Nova.
You will spend your days as an Acclaimed Air Guitar Champion, and live happily ever after.

If you are so inclined, leave your fate in the comments.

[1] It totally came down to either Freddy or Meatloaf. Whew!

Austin Literary: William Gibson

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Austin peeps: William Gibson will be at the Barnes & Noble at the Arboretum on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to promote his newest book Spook Country.

Planning on going? Comment accordingly.

See ya there!

So How Was Your Week?

Apologies again for the absence. I was struck down by some awful travel bug this weekend. Hubs got the allergy/cold part of it, I got everything that was (IMO) worse, including dehydration. Dehydration sucks. Drink your water, people.

But before I was felled by the uber illness, I sent two stories out to eleven markets, so at least there was something good about last week.

Also, I posted a bunch of pictures.

I know I keep saying it, but I'm sure this will be the week I get back into the swing of things.

Home Again, Home Again

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hubs and I are back from Alaska. It was a fabulous trip and I'll have lots to say about it once I vacation from my vacation. Blog updating will resume soon, including the monthly reading list but until then I leave you with Nyac, teh cutest otter ever:

May Reading

Saturday, May 31, 2008


  • Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch
  • The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
  • Asking for Trouble by Elizabeth Young
  • Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes
  • The Solomon Sisters Wise Up by Melissa Senate
  • Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
Notable Nonfiction
  • None :(
And there we have my reading list for my travels. Not really highbrow, but it was nice to take a break from what I feel I should be reading and focus on some fun stuff.

A rave goes out to Monkey Beach, which I found in a wonderful Canadian independent bookstore. I'll definitely be looking for more of Robinson's work because this book was phenomenal. Also, I really enjoyed Melissa Senate's The Solomon Sisters Wise Up. I read See Jane Date several years ago and didn't love it so much, so I was pleasantly surprised by this novel.
Both are recommended.

In other reading related news, I have to report that I visited no fewer than eight bookstores on our Alaskan adventure. Highlights included Green Apple Books in San Francisco (spent a good hour browsing there), Hearthside Books and Rainy Day Books in Juneau, and Book Warehouse in Vancouver.

Linkage: "Confessions..."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Via Jade Park: "The confessions of a semi-successful mid-list author"

If you don't want to hear about the noir underside of publishing -- if you're a writer longing for a literary career, or a reader who's happier not knowing that producing and marketing a book these days involves about as much moral purity as producing and marketing a pair of Nikes -- I suggest you stop reading now.

The above linked article is not a cheerful read. I've had a long rant coming on the publishing industry, the death of reading, and the stigma of self-publishing. I'll see if I can't get that up in the next week or so.

My Meme

Friday, May 9, 2008

It's been an absolutely crazy week and it will likely get crazier still. Of course, the best way to deal with a to-do list that is miles long is to . . . blog. Right? Last week, Deborah of the Rhythm of Write blog tagged me for a meme.

You've probably heard this song before, it goes a little something like this:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.
6. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.
So here they are, six "interesting" things about me:

1. I stepped over a rattlesnake when I was nine. I almost stepped on the rattlesnake but at the last moment I felt like something was "off" about the perfectly coiled rock and skipped over it. Only when I turned and looked back did I realize the rock was a rattler.

2. I've been bitten by a tiger cub and hugged by a chimpanzee in a dress.

3. When I was young, I participated in roller skating competitions, complete with the sparkley costumes. I still have my "professional" skates sitting around.

4. My new favorite easy breakfast is a cup of vanilla light yogurt mixed with some Kashi Go Lean! Crunch cereal. That's not really interesting, is it? Ah well, try it and we'll call it even.

5. I am very distantly related to the following people: William Penn, Jim White (discoverer of New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns), John Henry Tunstall (the shooting of whom started the Lincoln County War, he was also the employer of Billy the Kid), and Reba McEntire.

6. I've never had the chicken pox (knock wood). My mother used to arrange chicken pox play dates because she wanted me to get it when I was young. Never took. I was vaccinated against it when I was a teenager.

Deborah challenged her taggees to tag people that they had never met. I'm shy and honestly, this week is so busy I'm not sure I'm going to have time to blogstalk and force you all to complete your memeage. So I'd totally copping out on rule number four. But hey, if you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged. Leave a comment here with the link to your meme and I'll even go back and edit this entry to make it look like I tagged you.


To add some cheer after yesterday's doom and gloom, I uploaded a new blogger template. . . and promptly managed to erase all my comments. :-( I suppose I should have expected that.

The good news is, *I* still have access to them through HaloScan. The bad news is, no one else does. And there were a lot of good comments. Needless to stay, I will not be reinstalling HaloScan, so from now on commentary should survive a template change.

Submissions Update

Thursday, May 8, 2008

When I said I actually wanted to get rejection letters, I didn't mean that I wanted them all to come at once. Really.

One more arrived this morning. I suppose it was one of my not-a-snowball's-chance-in-hell markets, but rejection is still rejection.

Prior to the mail arriving, I was already in a writing funk. I'm realizing how out of practice I am and I'm struggling getting started on a new project. I have something I really want to do, and I have no idea how to start it. I allow myself to write whatever when I freewrite, but when I settle in to officially work on the story, nothing comes out well. And thus, the funk.

Also, I sliced my finger open yesterday and it kinda hurts. (Note to self: sign up for the Central Market knife skills class already!)

I know that writing well requires practice and I am fully aware that not writing for close to four years puts me back at square one. I am also fully aware that really, the only way to even start improving is to just keep working at it. But I'm impatient and I want my writing level to be back where it was four years ago. And so I get into the funk and then I worry that my writing skills may never come back and then . . . double funk.

Any good funk-relief strategies out there? My first impulse is write through this but I wonder if that's the best strategy. What would you do? Write? Read? Take my notebook out to the springs and lounge in the sun?

Well, It's Something...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Two more rejection letters rolled in this week and the latest leaves me wondering, does a rejection count as "personal" when the editor addresses you by name and signs his own? Even if that's all he does?


I'll take what I can get.


Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm playing catch up today. Please bear with me.

If you're in Austin, please note that Michael Chabon will be at BookPeople on Wednesday, May 7 at 7:00 p.m. I will be the giggling fan girl in the front row. Please come and save me from myself.

I finally have a first-ish draft of a story. I say first-ish, because I've written a couple of different stories that reside only within the pages of my notebook. This one not only made it to the computer, but managed some editing as well. This would be the farthest any story has gotten outside of the MFA program. Not exactly something be proud of, but I'm taking what I can get. Finishing this story made me realize that I'm tired of writing stories. I've moved back to my novel. More on that later.

Later this month this blog with be taking a long hiatus. I'm also sick of the green and will be revamping.

Fourth and finally:
I'm reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. If you haven't seen the lecture, you should. Then you should buy and read the book. Then you should pass it on to someone you care about. One of the Pauschisms that is resonating most with me:

"Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things."

April Reading

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


  • "Ysreal" by Junot Diaz
  • "Betrayal" by Patricia Duncker
  • "God's Goodness" by Marjorie Kemper
  • "Greasy Lake" by T. Coraghessan Boyle
  • "Material" by Alice Munro
  • Alligator Dance by Janet Peery

  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

Notable Nonfiction
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Vintage Baldwin by James Baldwin

  • Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
  • Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I did lots of reading this month, but not all of it got finished. A word about hibernating books: I have a 50 page rule. If I'm not enjoying a book or getting something out if it in 50 pages, I give up. I used to never give up on books. I used to force myself to get through anything, but that lead to a lot of slow and unpleasant reading. Thus, the 50 page rule was born.

Book raves for the month include Alligator Dance, which I still cannot coherently talk about, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Book Rave: Alligator Dance

Monday, April 28, 2008

Remember how last week I was all, "literary stories suck... wah wah wah?" Forget I said anything.

I just finished Janet Peery's short story collection, Alligator Dance. I am in awe. It's an amazing collection of traditional short fiction. The writing is superb. The stories are superb. (You see why I don't write reviews.)

But what I find even more amazing is that almost no one seems to have read this book. It has all of four Good Reads reviews and three Amazon reviews. This officially qualifies it as the best book you aren't reading.

Go read it.

/End Whining

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Apologies for the temper tantrum in the last post. Lately a lot of the MFA stuff has come back to haunt me. That's the thing about returning being a full-time writer. You get to live the dream, but you get all the nightmares along with it.

Speaking of nightmares, I may go silent for the rest of the week as I'm working on revising the last story I wrote. There are some major overhauls ahead and I have a feeling I should be concentrating on that and not buying and selling my friends on Facebook. (Thank you, hujhax.)

In other addiction news, Hubs brought home SingStar Rocks last night. We got SingStar 80s on a whim a couple of weeks ago and I feel a new addiction being born. I can totally rock 99 Red Balloons. Maybe if the writing thing doesn't work out I can be an 80s pop star. . .

Wrestling with the Real Writers

Monday, April 21, 2008

My productivity last week centered on typing the first draft of a story I wrote last month. I write longhand. My very first writing teacher said that was a huge waste of time and thus began a long string of advice from writing teachers that I have ignored.

For me, writing longhand is soothing. There's something about putting pen to paper that allows me to shut off the editorial noises in my head and just write. Typing is for revising and editing. But most importantly, notebooks do not have the Internet and so I can't click off my story and onto Facebook or Good Reads or chat or any of the other million ways the Internet tempts me to not write.

It's probably a good thing that most of my work is taken up by mere typing because last week kind of sucked as far as creativity goes. It seems I have some demons to deal with and I've been facing them pretty much anytime I sit down to write.

My MFA program cultivated a certain amount of elitism amongst its writers. Between the 40 or so of us in the fiction program, there were unspoken guidelines about what made you a "real" writer[1] as opposed to someone who would leave their MFA and go work in technical writing for the rest of their lives. (Since I have already lost my "real" writer status by doing just that, you'd think I have nothing else to lose.) Real writers, for instance, wrote literary stories. They were usually about drugs and sex and parents and death. The stories were edgy, sometimes violent, and usually involved taking drugs at 12, midgets, monkeys, and other extraordinary elements. They read Borges and Lovecraft and nothing else published after 1975. They didn't come to readings because they were too busy writing (or thinking about writing while down at the bar). Generally, a lot of the stuff they wrote was very good.

If you didn't fall into this category, they didn't quite know what to do with you. When I started the program, I tried desperately to fit into this category. But I developed my love for reading and writing through contemporary fiction and (cough, cough) chick lit. I didn't grow up with drugs or violence and the story I most enjoyed writing was the anti-love story. In the autumn of my first year of the program, one of the "real" writers who was in her last year at the program suggested I look into romance writing. She did so after she'd sat in on one of my workshops and in a tone that left no question about how little she thought of my work.

I went home, cried for a little while, read through my New Yorkers and Best Americans and resolved to write a better workshop story. I don't think I ever earned the approval of my peers, but I improved my sentences and my characters. I became a better writer, even if what I was writing wasn't what I loved. In the end, I liked the stories I was writing and I thought I was doing a pretty good job at them.

And now? I was at a reading a few months ago for the winner of a local short story contest. As the first place winner read, I grew increasingly annoyed. There was the down-and-out protagonist. There were the drugs. There was the fantastical event that existed more in obscure imagery than in clarity. It wasn't a bad story, it was just the exact same story that I'd spent three years reading in the program. And the epiphany here is more about me than about the story I was hearing: I am simply not interested in the literary genre anymore.

The struggle comes, though, that literary writing is pretty much all I've ever known. Prior to the MFA, I had three stories in my name, one of which, I still work on from time to time. I'm having a hard time letting go of what I should be writing and focusing on what I want to write. Of course, the minute I start thinking about what I want to write, I find myself drowning in my own prejudices and elitism.

I'm starting small, but I'm changing that. Last night at the bookstore I bought a couple of books that looked good. They aren't on any literary lists. They will probably not win any major awards. But dammit, I'm going to start reading what I enjoy again. With any luck, it won't be a long path back to what I enjoy writing.

[1] For the record, I hate the term real writer. Do you write? Then you're a writer. I have no idea what qualifies you to be real.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm reading Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem right now. By reading, I mean I'm devouring every sentence and every word. I love her style.

On a similar note, I've been thinking a lot about reading for language and style vs. reading for story and character. I think there's value to both. My mind defaults to reading for story and character more so than language and, unless the writing really catches my attention (as Didion's does), I usually have to remind myself to look closer at the language in the prose I read.

One of the teachers in grad school suggested that we hand write passages or entire stories that we liked to get a sense for the style of the piece. It was not enough to simply read it, he said. He encouraged us to get a feel for the cadence of writing the story. In a notebook somewhere I have entire handwritten copies of "How to Talk To a Hunter," "Lust," and "Sonny's Blues." It may sound like busy work. I recall one of my classmates rolling his eyes and arguing that he barely had enough time to write his own stories, let alone someone else's. But I had enough time. And I'd argue that I became a better writer for it because it made me pay very close attention to language in a way that I didn't when I was reading.

I came across a great quote by Julie Kramer that may speak to this: "If authors have to write half a million words before they get published, I'd venture that they have to read ten million." The next time you read something really outstanding, try pulling out your notebook and copying a paragraph or two. If you're really ambitious spend some time re-writing your favorite story. See if it doesn't draw your attention to the finer details of the prose.

Tramps Like Us, Baby We Were Born to Run

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hubs and I are back from the Springsteen concert, but the fangirl in me has yet to stop squealing long enough to let me compose a coherent thought. Lowlights and highlights it is.


  • Hubs and I have the uncanny ability to attract loud people who talk about nothing. In line, we were behind the loud people bantering over the weather. In our seats, we were in front of the loud person who described every single section of the arena that he had sat in. And finally, just before the show started, we were in front of the couple discussing when their next sex night would be. Lovely.
  • I-35 between Dallas and Waxahatchie. WTH, people? Can you not pave a road?

  • Staying at the Hyatt Summerfield Suites for the win. Walked three blocks to the American Airlines center.
  • The band. The only other time I've seen Springsteen was for the acoustic Devils & Dust tour, which, while amazing, had a very somber feel. This concert was more of a party. The energy was high and it was great to see Bruce and the band having so much fun.
  • Hearing "Jungleland," "Born to Run," and "Dancing in the Dark" live.
  • The man in full cowboy regalia that rocked out to every. single. song. He was having a great time and didn't care who knew it.
  • Jon Bon Jovi joining Springsteen on stage for Glory Days. There are no words. None. Just gleeful fangirlish screaming.
More when the squealing in my head subsides.

The Springsteen Reader: Songs

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"We cut Greetings in three weeks. But Clive [Davis] handed it back and said there was nothing that could be played on the radio. I'm glad he did; I went home and wrote "Blinded by the Light" and "Spirit in the Night." With the previously missing Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, these songs were recorded, and the record was finished.

"I never wrote in that style again. Once the record was released, I heard all the "new Dylan" comparisons, so I steered away from it. But the lyrics and spirit of Greetings came from a very unselfconscious place. Your early songs come out of a moment when you're writing with no sure prospect of ever being heard. Up until then, it's just you and your music. That only happens once."

~~from Songs by Bruce Springsteen

One Down, 121 More To Go

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well, one of the rejection letters I was looking for finally arrived. It wasn't a surprise at all. But to ease the blow, this gem showed up in my inbox the day before the rejection letter arrived.

It might sound like dwelling on the negative if I say I received 122 short story rejections before my first acceptance. But, for writers just starting out, it's important to hear. If you know I was rejected more than a thousand times while placing fifty stories, it might be hard for you to justify giving up after five printed slips. ~~ Catharine Ryan Hyde

Even counting all the submissions I did in grad school, I still have a lot more rejection slips to accumulate before I get to 122. And that's under the optimistic assumption that I could get published after only 122 rejections.

It's my wish that more successful authors would come forward about their rejections. Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that Michael Chabon sold his first novel at 23, but I'm not 23 anymore and I'm much more inspired by writers who endured round and round of rejection and kept on putting their stories out there.

The piece also reminds me of a quote from Michael Cunningham that appeared in The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers. The quote (and I'm paraphrasing as I'm too lazy to move my butt five feet to the bookshelf to look this up) is originally attributed to Marilyn Monroe and goes, "I wasn't the prettiest or the most talented, I simply wanted it more than anyone else. " Cunningham goes on to apply it to himself and writing, to the act of sitting down at a table daily even though it's difficult and you feel brain-dead and dull. You just have to keep on. You just have to want it more than anyone else.

Sometimes I think I'd be much better suited to being the first-timer that hits it big. (Wouldn't we all?) I'm worried that I don't have enough ambition to be the one who wants it bad enough. This worry mostly hits me on days when I've come to a point where I'm stuck or when I need to start something new and the more attractive option is to throw up my hands, turn on the television, and ensconce myself in a non-writing world. But I think if I were to give into that, I wouldn't be very happy.

So in the end, the one rejection hasn't gotten me down and knowing that there are hundreds more to go is actually kind of enlightening. It may take 121 more rejections. It may take 300. Maybe closer to 500 or a thousand. Who knows? As long as I keep writing, the possibility of being published, or having my work read is still out there. The only way to fail is to give up and I'm not ready for that yet.

The Springsteen Reader: Down the Shore Everything's All Right

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Originally uploaded by Absinthe Green
Ivan first traveled to Asbury Park in 1982, soon after the release of Nebraska, three years after supposedly meeting Bruce Springsteen on a service road in San Mateo, California. He had gone to the Jersey shore with his brother, driven cross-country from San Francisco, hoping to get a glimpse of the world beyond the West Coast, and, more important, the world of Bruce. At the time, I was fourteen years old and a big fan of Madonna, and the crowd I ran with though of Bruce as some overly patriotic guy with a redneck heart and a sweaty bandana. Bruce was a Jersey thing; being from the Gulf Coast, we didn't get it.

~~ from "Down the Shore Everything's Alright" by Michelle Richmond.

The Springsteen Reader: Greasy Lake

Monday, April 7, 2008

I try to keep my fangirlish tendencies to the minimum on the blog, but today when I typed "our drive to the Springsteen show" in my head, I was actually squealing, OMG! The Bruce Springsteen concert is only 6 days away. OMG OMG OMG. You see why I'd want to suppress this side of me.

I've been a fan of the Boss since I was eight and yes, it was that damn Courtney Cox video that did it. In the years since, I've become a more sophisticated Springsteen fan. I would not have gotten through high school without my Born to Run cassette and in the months surrounding the first anniversary of 9/11, The Rising was pretty much the only CD in my car stereo.

True to the fangirl within, over the years I've hunted down pretty much anything I can read related Springsteen. In honor of this weekend's trip, I'll be sharing some of my favorite takes from the literary side of Springsteen. Enjoy!

There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste. We were all dangerous characters then. We wore torn-up leather jackets, slouched around with toothpicks in our mouths, sniffed glue and ether and what somebody claimed was cocaine. When we wheeled our parent' whining station wagons out onto the street we left a patch of rubber half a block long. We drank gin and grape juice. Tango, Thunderbird, and Bali Hai. We were nineteen. We were bad. We read Andre Gide and stuck elaborate poses to show that we didn't give a shit about anything. At night, we went up to Greasy Lake.

~from "Greasy Lake" by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

Goals, Revisited

The time has come to rethink my writing goals.

Of the goals that I came up with a few months ago, the only ones I have been particularly successful at are reading and submitting stories. But now that I've been doing this for a few months some of the goals don't seem very realistic, or very well suited to what I actually need. For instance, writing one new story a month has been great encouragement to actually finish stories, but lately I've been feeling the urge to try for a novel. And I don't feel like I'm writing a variety of things, and thus, not getting a lot of writing practice in.

As for the submissions, even though I make an effort to obey the simultaneous submissions guidelines, I get antsy when more than 10 copies of the same story are out. I should get over this, right?

I revamped my goals into something a little more manageable and specific. They'll still need some tweaking and suggestions are welcome. Writers, how do you measure your progress? Word count? Pages? Completed works?

But for the time being here are the new goals:

  • 60 minutes of writing for at least four days a week.
  • 120 minutes of revision (preferably on stories that are close to being finished) for at least four days a week.
  • Read something related to writing every day.
  • Read one short story a week.
  • Continue whittling down the to-read list.
Speaking of the to-read list, I've finished three books from it: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which was amazing, though I'm not sure how I felt about the ending), Maus (a must read for everyone), and Vintage Baldwin. I'm moving on to Going After Cacciato now, but am also caught up with two book club books, so my reading may slow a little.

And, as for the decisions in the last post, I ended up going with all three. I picked up 5:55 while at Fry's this weekend and snuck it in between the two DS games Hubs was getting. I got the other two from iTunes last night. I'll justify The Hold Steady purchase by saying that it will be a great complement to our drive to the Springsteen show next weekend. And I never could get the Shout Out Louds song out of my head, so. . .


Friday, April 4, 2008

I have a severe case of Friday-itis, a condition characterized by spending long hours staring into space and pushing sentences around without actually doing any work. This wouldn't be so bad except that I've also suffered from Thursday-itis and Wednesday-itis as well.

Also, I've been watching the mailbox like a fiend this week and (I never thought I'd hear myself say this but) when are the darn rejection letters going to come in? I'm getting anxious over two stories that I've had two stories out since November. I also mailed a batch in March and have another batch that I'd like to send off before most mags close for the summer. So in this case, getting some rejection letters wouldn't be all bad. (Except, of course, for the spirit crushing nature of rejection letters.)

And finally, on the current theme of not being productive, I'm trying to decide which of these three albums should be my next iTunes purchase:

The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America -- To indulge the part of my that loves a good rock n' roll song like "Stuck Between Stations."

Shout Out Louds, Our Ill Wills -- Happy Swedish pop group whose "You Are Dreaming" has already firmly lodged itself in my head. (Beware! That link goes to a Harry Potter fan video. I am not happy about this, but it's the best version of the song on YouTube. I'm sure spoilers abound.)

Charlotte Gainsbourg, 5:55 -- Lots of beautiful, quiet tracks like "5:55" and "Beauty Mark" that would make a nice accompaniment on days that I do actually write.

What do you think?

Sugarcat No More

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Let's start with the end of the story first: Mr.B is diabetes free. At least, that's what the tests show anyway. We had a vet appointment early this morning and after four days being off the insulin, his blood sugar was perfectly normal.

The vet was also quick to point out that is a rare case. I'm not saying this to brag on Mr.B (though he is the best cat ever), but to warn anyone who might google for feline diabetes info and think that feline diabetes is something that can come and go in a month. Seeing the blood sugar levels return to normal this soon after diagnosis is pretty rare and we are very lucky. In the meantime, we're keeping both cats on the diabetes diet management plan to make sure Mr.B is stable and because it seems to be helping his IBD. We'll go back in four weeks for more tests to see just how stable Mr.B is.

Now, this story actually begins with a less happy trip to the vet. Last Thursday Hubs woke up at two in the morning because Mr.B was pacing in circles on his leg. Now, Mr.B is a weird cat, but this kind of behavior is unheard of. So we woke up, watched him for about two minutes and then I sent Hubs to get the Karo syrup. We gave him a little and then a little more, but he kept pacing and then fell off the bed. At that point, Hubs doled out another half teaspoon of Karo and I called the emergency animal hospital.

By the time we got him in, his blood glucose numbers were back to normal and we were sent off with instructions to watch him for the night. I stayed up until 5 and most of my "observation" consisted of watching Mr.B sleep.

I'm glad this turned out for the best. As I told Hubs last night, I'd like one week, just one week, where Mr.B would stay healthy and I didn't have to call my vet. From the looks of things. I might get four of them.

March Reading

Monday, March 31, 2008

Short Stories

  • "The Shell Collector" by Anthony Doerr
  • "Burn Your Maps" by Robin Joy Leff
  • The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Notable Nonfiction
  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • "The Charms of Wikipedia" by Nicholson Baker, the New York Review of Books
  • Lisey's Story by Stephen King

It Gets Personal

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm stuck on a story. I've been writing this story for weeks, possibly even years. The idea came to me before I went to grad school and I wrote drafts of it as writing exercises but then I put it away. The story is largely personal, dare I say, autobiographical. Frankly, I'm most comfortable with it tucked away in a drawer.

Within the last three months, I've been culling through those pieces and I've thought about polishing it up and structuring it into some kind of story. I've been adding bits to it here and there. It's been interesting. Truthfully, it's been a little like therapy. Which means I'm absolutely, positively 100% sure I shouldn't ever show it to anyone.

Hence, the stickiness.

My squeamishness makes no sense. Writers have been writing autobiographical novels for years. Pam Houston, one of my inspirations, has said that she pretty much writes everything from her life. The fiction that most often appeals to me is fiction that has a very personal core. Given all this, you'd think I'd be doing more personal writing.

I first came to writing through an online journal I kept in 1997. The content was what you would expect of just about any college junior/senior posting on Livejournal today. I deeply explored the subjects of what am I going to do with my life?, I hate my roommates, and if he says he likes me, why doesn't he call me back? Silly as these issues were, they meant a lot to me and ten years ago I had no problem opening a vein in front of Internet strangers. However, in the realm of fiction, only a couple of stories have come directly from my life. In those, I put enough "not me" details in there to make the character more of a character than a thinly-veiled version of me.

So today I find myself stuck trying to reconcile the personal side of this story with the fiction side of it. The difficulty lies in that I like it a bit raw, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to submit it as it is. I could probably also change up the character a bit, give her more distance from myself, but doing so also seems like a cop out.

Part of me just wants to blaze ahead with this story in all of its personal glory. The other part just wants shove it in a drawer and go back to the characters I can keep at an arm's length.

Austin Literary: Austin Fiction Festival

According to the UT calendar tomorrow, March 27th, is the Austin Fiction Festival. The all-day event takes place at Jessen Auditorium and is free, but I cannot find further information. I'd like to know more and I'll try to drop by during the day. If anyone has more information about the event, please let me know.

Pimp Your Read

Friday, March 21, 2008

In keeping true to my resolution, I have avoided all bookstores and libraries and avoided any and all literary temptations.

But . . .

Hubs and I have a vacation coming up this summer and I have already been advised to stock up on books. Unfortunately, almost everything on my to-read and wish lists are in hardcover. While hardcover is my preference in books, it makes for very difficult packing. That said, I need some books to carry me through two weeks on a ship bound for Alaska. I figure I'll start collecting titles now, start buying later.

Suggestions, please?

Austin Literary: Upcoming Events

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If you live in Austin and you want to know what literary events are going on around town, I've put together a Google calendar for just that purpose. I'll also be posting some of the major events on this here blog.

This week:
3/18 (tonight!): David Simon (creator of The Wire) lecture at UT, 6 p.m.
3/19: Richard Dawkins at BookPeople, noon
3/20: John Spayde at Intellectual Property, 5 p.m.
Amy Hempel at UT Avaya Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.

More information about any of these events can be found on the calendar. If you'd like to have an event listed, please leave a comment or email me and I'll get it posted.

Linkage: A Novel Take On An Ending

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another of my favorite writers, Richard Russo, wrote an editorial for The Washington Post about the Eliot Spitzer issue. It's a great read for writers and non-writers. In a time when the news media gets away with drawing caricatures of their subjects, Russo reminds us that it's the fiction writer's job to get beyond the surface and examine the complexities of character. It doesn't escape me that the fiction writer may be closer to portraying the truth than the CNN reporter. Just something to think about.

(via The Millions)

I Submit!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lest you all think that I've abandoned writing in order to become a professional reader or political junkie, I'll have you know that I spent four hours today preparing six submission packages to send out this weekend. I still have more to go, but I'll need to hit the copy shop again.

Mailing off story submissions to lit mags and journals is my least favorite part of being a writer. I think I could make a killing by providing a service that prepares and mails story submissions for other writers. (Note: MY idea! If you steal it, you have to offer me a discount.) It's a little tedious and mostly frustrating, but it is a good way to feel productive without actually doing anything. Plus it's necessary because, you know, the New Yorker doesn't come knocking.

I've noticed not a lot of writers talk about their submission process. I guess that's because a lot of not-writer readers probably don't give a damn, but here's mine anyway. It can serve as a how-to for those starting out. I'd also love some pointers from some of the seasoned submitters out there.

1. Research, Research, Research. I have a confession to make. I don't read every literary journal out there. As much as I'd like to, I wouldn't have any time to write if I did. But I do have favorites and I keep up on what they're publishing by checking out a copy at the local bookstore. Armand at After the MFA has a list that I find helpful in finding new markets. Duotrope is also invaluable. But (and I can't emphasize this enough) make sure the story you want to submit fits with the content of the lit mag or journal. Other guidelines to look for: word count, themes, submission periods, editors . . .

2. Get to know your friendly Kinko's dude. I have a Kinko's dude. He's always on duty when I go and he's very useful for clearing up paper jams. Anyway, get to know him because you'll want someone to chat with while you are making your ten zillion copies of your story.

3. Write a cover letter. A lot of my fellow MFA grads told me that they didn't waste time with this step and I have no idea how how fiction editors feel about it, but I've always been a believer in the short but sweet cover letter. If you have credentials, give them. Thank the editor for actually reading your work. Keep it professional, no scented or graphic stationary, and use standard business letter formatting. As I said, I go this route but it appears to be a debatable issue.

4. Seal, stamp, and send them off. And then I wait for the rejection letters to come flooding back. But hey, at least you get something other than junk mail for a few weeks.

Tackling My To-Read List

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Now that I'm back in town and have no foreseeable plans for travel, ill heath, or vet visits, I'm going to tackle my to-read list. It's been growing uncontrollably since the holidays. It's sad. And it comes from a bad habit of shelving all my books immediately, instead of keeping a separate stack of titles to work through. So starting with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I'm tackling the to-read list and going on a book diet until I am at least eight books down.

Or maybe six.

In other adventures, diabetes kitty is doing well. We've gotten into a routine with the shots and, other than being mildly offended at having to wait longer for dinner, mister cat is handling it nicely. He's putting all his weight back on, in any case.

Oh, and I signed up for a Twitter account because, you know, I'm just not on the Internet enough. I'm here. If you have an account, please let me know so I can stalk follow you.

Linkage: 10 Ways to Annoy Your Writers' Group

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Over the last ten years I've been in a lot of workshops and writing groups and can say with certainty that these are foolproof ways to annoy your writers' group. I've had at least one of these things happen in every group I've been in (with the exception of my current, fabulous group).

While you're there, check out the rest of John Hewitt's terrific Writer's Resource Center. True to its name, it has a wealth of information that ranges from fiction and poetry to technical and business writing.


In Search of Steinbeck

Monday, March 10, 2008

I have a feeling that if I had read Travels with Charley back in high school instead of The Grapes of Wrath or even Of Mice and Men, I would have actually liked Steinbeck rather than merely appreciated him.

Now part of my Steinbeck indifference was definitely my teenage attitude. At 15 there were other things I'd much rather have been doing than reading novels about the great depression. Also, I had that "what does this have to do with me" attitude I saw so frequently while trying to teach my college freshmen literature from the Vietnam War.

But the other half of the problem was that I was exposed to those two books by a teacher who taught these novels as The Greatest Literary Masterpieces Ever. Great Literary Masterpieces have themes and symbols and, like vegetables, are consumed for (intellectual) nutrition and not for enjoyment. The image of Steinbeck that I took away from that class one of a Very Important American Author, sitting behind a grand oak desk, pondering which Important Theme to tackle next.

Reading Travels with Charley showed me that my imagination was grossly mistaken. In place of the grand desk was a pickup truck and trailer and a poodle named Charley. Steinbeck ponders road maps instead of Important Themes and I was pleased to note that while he has me licked in literary masterpieces, my directional sense is far superior to his. Also, Steinbeck is funny. Really funny. And he uses his wit and dry humor to provide a commentary on American life that is still accurate today.

I have a new appreciation for Steinbeck now. He's still an Important American Author, but one that shares philosophy with his poodle in the same way that I sometimes serenade my cats with Meatloaf songs. Okay, maybe not the same thing, but the point is, the memoir humanizes Steinbeck and makes him assessable. It's a shame I didn't read this sooner.

February Reading

Sunday, March 2, 2008


  • Nobody's Girl by Antonya Nelson
  • The Last of the Savages by Jay McInerney
Short stories (inc. collections)
  • The Knife Thrower by Steven Millhauser
  • "The Thing in the Forest," by A.S. Byatt
Notable nonfiction
  • The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King by Michael Craig
February was a bum month for reading. Not only did I not read very much, I also didn't read anything really great. (Nobody's Girl was a reread. It's great, but it it doesn't count.) I had high hopes for the Last of the Savages because Brightness Falls is one of my favorite books and I always enjoy McInerney's novels, but I was only lukewarm about this one. I loved half the stories in The Knife Thrower, but had a hard time finishing the other half. I have high hopes of finishing Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories . . . but not this month.

Politics Politics Politics

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Granted, most of my political know how comes only from Aaron Sorkin or my reactions to my Christian Conservative family rants, neither of which are really very informative. But on one point, I may have been kinda sorta right.

From the Pink Lady, who knows a heck of a lot more about politics than I do:

Brace yourselves. According to a new LA Times/Bloomberg poll, in the general election, McCain leads Clinton by six percentage points (46% to 40%) and Obama by two points (44% to 42%). McCain is viewed favorably by 61 percent of all registered voters, including Democrats. This all happened while we were screeching.

And on top of that, Ralph Nader has decided to run again. . . . Cause, you know what a help he has been in the past.

I have a big bottle of gin just waiting for November 4. Who's with me?

She Likes to Play for Double or Nothing

I imagine that going to Las Vegas is a lot like pregnancy and childbirth. It's grueling and painful and in the end, you feel awful. And six months to a year later, you've forgotten how terrible it was and want to do it again.

At least that's my theory. The last time Hubs and I went to Las Vegas, I told him that I thought I'd had quite enough Vegas for one lifetime. That was in October of 2006. And yet, a few months ago, over dinner with our friends J and F, the subject came up and somehow I found myself saying that we were long overdue for a Vegas trip. Note to self: the next time you start to say something like that, shut the f--- up.

It's nothing against Las Vegas, it's just that every time I leave there, I feel a little worse for the wear. And it's not just the gambling and the inevitable monetary loss, but the walking (my feet hate me), the smoke (God bless my beloved town that passed a smoking ordinance), the noise, the time adjusment, and the crowds.

But despite all that, I thought I'd make a list of the best Vegas experiences from this trip.

Best trip back through time: The Boneyard. The boneyard is were all the classic Vegas signs go to rust. The museum is trying to raise enough money to restore and preserve the signs and one way they do that is by offering group tours of the Boneyard. It's money well spent.

Best food: Bouchon. If I do cave and go back to Vegas, it will be for the sourdough waffles at Bouchon. That was the most amazing brunch ever and, by Vegas standards, it was reasonably priced.

Best sleeping spot: The Bellagio. Okay, so maybe I'd go back again if I could stay at the Bellagio. The room was wonderfully swank, had a shower and a ginormous bath, but even better: automated curtains. You have not lived until you have opened your drapes simply by rolling over and pushing a button.

Best trainwreck experience: The Rio. All I can say about The Rio is OMG. From the skanky waitress costumes to the horribly choreographed "Show in the Sky," the Rio is the best place to see Vegas kitch, and I don't mean that in the good way.

Best casino to remind you how old you are: The Hard Rock Casino. The people who can now legally go to Las Vegas are eleven years younger than me and they all congregate at the Hard Rock Casino. On the plus side, I realize that I don't miss my twenties at all.

Best reason not to go back to Vegas: Readjusting to real life. In Vegas, we were never in bed before two or three in the morning and most of the time I didn't even notice. Now that that has caught up with me, I am regretting it. Twelve hours of sleep did nothing for me yesterday. I can only hope I'll fall asleep soon, but unfortunately, it's only midnight on Vegas time.


Las Vegas: Before and After

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Again with the apologies. Hubs and I went off to Las Vegas this weekend to make our annual donation to the Casino Association of Nevada. Well, Hubs did anyway. My idea of gambling is to put $10 into a 25 cent blackjack machine, lose it, and call it a day. Although, this time I made an attempt at playing craps, but more about that later.

Anyway, it's been hectic here and that means no writing. Instead, I have a week filled with vets and pet sitter interviews. Before we left last week, I took White Cat to the vet for the third time in the last two months. He has feline IBD, but lately he's also been losing weight and acting funny. We did some blood work and he was diagnosed with feline diabetes. There is nothing that will make you feel worse than getting news like this, then hanging up the phone and getting on a plane to Las Vegas. So today we have an appointment to learn the ins and outs of feline diabetes, including how to give White Cat a daily (or maybe twice daily) shot of insulin. Good thoughts, prayers, and other vibeage directed toward White Cat will be much appreciated.

On top of that, we returned to find that Tabby Cat, our normally healthy, resilient cat had been ill while we were gone. I blame the food, but am also feeling like a terrible Cat Mom for leaving them in their hour of need. And on top of that, we're leaving them again in a couple of weeks so I have to quickly find a trustworthy pet sitter who can give insulin injections.

So, yeah. Not writing today. In the meantime, I'll have some pictures from Vegas and some highlights from our trip up on the blog shortly.

Wake Me When It's January

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This is how voter apathy is born.

As a Democrat who, for the first time in her voting career may vote in a primary that may actually matter, I've been trying to weigh the options between both candidates by visiting web sites, blogs, forums, and otherwise gathering information. I've found about 20% of the material is really good stick-to-the-issues debate that really makes me think about what each candidate has to offer. The remaining 80% of material is pathetic name calling, personal attacks, and general snarkiness about "the other side."

I may be done with the Democrats. It's nothing personal. Love the social policy, will agree to disagree on some of the fiscal policy, but for the love of all things holy, I cannot take another minute of political sniping among the party. The division seems so heated, that I'm concerned one side or the other will defect. McCain is moderate enough (a "damn Liberal" if you ask my father) that some Democrats might vote for him rather than their party.

I'd like to be wrong on that. I'd like to think that in a couple of months both Clinton and Obama supporters can sit peacefully at fundraisers for whomever wins the nomination. Maybe when all the dust clears they can, but until then, I'm going to worry. . . and research McCain.

Writerly Report Card

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It occurs to me that I haven't really checked in on any of the goals that I set back in November. Since December got really messy and unproductive, I'm going to cheat and only hold myself accountable for January.

I got an excellent rejection letter from one of the lit mags that I queried back in November. Excellent in that I actually got a personal note that encouraged me to send more stuff (even though they didn't take this particular story). It's a bit confusing to explain how a rejection letter can be a good thing, but it is. Really.

On the other hand, I need to step up on my submissions. December and January passed without sending anything out.

I've been doing really well on my writing goals. I completed a two first drafts last month and am on my way to completing one this month. Now I need to turn at least one of those first drafts into second draft. I'd hoped to do so for next week's writing group, but I've failed. Instead they're reviewing two stories that I hope to be sending out to lit mags next month.

The freewriting wasn't as helpful as I thought. While I was in the midst of writing stories, I did some freewriting, but I actually found it distracting. I'll give it another month before I decide whether or not to remove it from my goals.

Reading / Study:
This is going well, though I tend to spend more time on book group selections or research than in going through any particular canon. In any case, being a part of the short story reading challenge will keep me reading authors that I don't have much experience with. Still, I could probably step this up a little bit.

Overall, I'd say things are going along swimmingly. There's still plenty of room for improvement, of course, but I am really happy to be producing new work again. Right now, I want to focus on making that the rule rather than the exception and getting my productivity back to what it was during the MFA years.

So far, so good.

Well Now I *Really* Love the Frog

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gah... 6:30 on a Sunday morning is a ghastly time to be awake. Someone needs to tell my cats that breakfast is not due for another two hours at least.

But since I'm up, I'll brag on my friend Laura of A Life in Scribbles. She's an extremely talented artist an has a real gift for comics. She took a blog post that I wrote last month (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Frog) and turned it into an amazing comic! I'm so honored that she chose my piece to illustrate. Please check it out. It's very, very cool. Click on the illustration a couple of times to get it larger.


Desert Island Top Five Fridays

Friday, February 8, 2008

I have a new blog feature to announce. In the tradition of Nick Hornby and High Fidelity, I am pleased to bring you Desert Island Top Five Fridays. Have you read High Fidelity? Have you at least seen the movie? If so, then you're probably already familiar with the concept of the Desert Island Top Five lists. If not, well, it's simply a list of your top five, all-time, bestest ever, most favoritist _________. The _________ being the thing that will change every other Friday. Got that? Great. Then please play along at home or in the comments. Or you can repost on your own blog and leave a link to it in the comments so that I'll know you did a Top Five Friday and go read up.

So for the first installation of Desert Island Top Five Fridays we have . . . (drum roll, please) . . .

Top Five Junior High Slow Dance Songs

(Warning: Clicking the following links will take you to the videos in all their hairbandy glory.)

5. "Patience" - Guns and Roses
Frankly, this one only makes the list because it was my first slow dance ever. With my first boyfriend ever. I'm not sure if we were even boyfriend and girlfriend at that point. The "do you like me/check yes or no" note may have come later. But if I recall correctly the slow dance was a Big Deal. So big, that it took us the entire dance to get around to it and we only got one slow dance in. Ah, the seventh grade dating rituals. . .

4. "Faithfully" - Journey
I'm cheating here (see how that works, I make the rules and promptly break them) because my most poignant memory featuring "Faithfully" actually comes from my junior year prom. I went with a guy friend, as I did for so many proms and homecomings, but off and on throughout the year I'd had a crush on a senior named Jorge. Jorge was my pal. My bud. And anytime one of us was interested in the other, the other was, of course, not interested. But somehow we managed to end up dancing this one song together. And everything clicked. Just in time for him to leave for California a month later. Suck.

3. "I'll Be There For You" - Bon Jovi
While it was a favorite among my junior high school peers and a staple at school dances, I will forever remember this song for the number of times I played it on repeat during my breakup with my first ever boyfriend (see Number 5, "Patience" - Guns and Roses).

2. "Purple Rain" - Prince
Purple Rain was the most coveted slow dance song if only because it was nine minutes long. Nine minutes! Even playing seven minutes in heaven got you a mere seven minutes of cuddling with your sweetie. There was a lot of strategic shuffling going around in the final moments of junior high school dances so that you could be standing near the exactly right person to dance that song with. Getting the right person could make or break a dance. Getting asked by the wrong person made it the longest, most terrible slow dance song ever.

1. "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - Bryan Adams
I'm pretty sure I'm giving up all pretense of coolness to admit that this is my all-time number one junior high school slow dance song. But it is. It was the song that ended every prom, every homecoming, every winter formal from the time I was 13 on. And. . . I loved it. I still love it. I hear it in the car and it takes me back to that dimly lit junior high cafeteria where I'd wait in my denim skirt and jangle bracelets, hoping that my homeroom crush would leave his group of guys and come ask me to dance. Sigh. . .

Anyway, that's it for my trip down memory lane. What's in your top five?

Scenes From the Coffee Shop

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

We interrupt this (surprisingly productive) writing time to bring you breaking news. Virgin Galactic's second space port is being built right outside my adopted hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico. It is! Really! I looked on the internets.

I'm sure this is old news to everyone but me. I was just sitting here at my little coffeeshop table, minding my own business when I heard the guy at the table next to me say something about Las Cruces. Now, I always tune in a little more closely when I hear Texans talking about Las Cruces or New Mexico. There are some pretty wild ideas floating around about my dear state. Most notable is the idea that the Organ Mountains are hollow and home to super-secret military underground bases. I once went on a blind date with a Dallas boy who had the inside scoop on these bases. Apparently they were infiltrated years ago and the military is keeping it all hush hush for fear of causing world-wide panic. Who were they infiltrated by you might ask? Spies? Terrorists? Nope, aliens. Snake aliens!

How happy am I to be married now?

But anyway, at least half the time I hear someone mention Las Cruces it's usually to repeat a conspiracy theory about the government covering up aliens or nuclear waste or lizard people or whatever. After all, my fine state is home to Roswell and people get confused, you know? And while I don't fault anyone their beliefs, I am a little more Scully than Mulder. So when I heard him mention Las Cruces and spaceship in the same breath, I had a moment of discreet eyerolling. But then I googled. And it's true, New Mexico is getting its very own space port.

The whole thing makes me kind of proud, but also I kind of wonder what this does to nostalgic view of the desert southwest and, weirdly, what it does to the stories that I have set in New Mexico. If there's a friggin' spaceport being built 45 minutes from where your protagonist resides, you can't just ignore that. This could lead to some pretty cool opportunities.

Or some big headaches. We shall see.

Super Tuesday

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My browser crashed not once, but twice after I'd completed the Select a Candidate quiz from WREG-TV. Hmm, do you think it's trying to tell me something?

I'm not feeling the excitement of this election year like (apparently) the rest of the country is. I think I'm still worn out from all the madness and disappointment over the 2004 elections. And from the 2000 elections before that. Needless to say, the last eight years have not been good years to be a Democrat.

But the good news is that I've been hearing more election buzz this year over any other. Talk of the primaries and the national election has spilled over to the few knitting and lifestyle message boards I read and to other (usually) nonpartisan blogs. I don't recall this happening as much last election, but I'd like to be wrong about that.

Politico junkie that he is, Hubs is reloading I'm. . . well, I'm probably going to skip the returns and retire to the sofa with an O.Henry collection of short stories. I can't see any definite winners coming out of tonight, can you?

Quiz update: Finally got it to work! According to this quiz, it's a 50-50 split between Clinton and Obama. However, this somewhat similar quiz suggests that I'm much more in line with Clinton's platform. Interesting. . .

Short Story Challenge: The Woman in the Woods

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My first official short story challenge selection is The Woman in the Woods by Ann Joslin Williams. I came to Williams by way of "Cascom Mountain Road," a story published in Story Quarterly, issue 42. There are many, many good stories in that issue but I was so entranced by that particular story, that I immediately sought out more.

Williams' collection did not disappoint. Okay, it disappointed a little when I discovered that the story I'd fallen in love with wasn't in this collection. But then I started reading and immediately became enamored with the new characters and all was well again. The stories in the collection are all set in the mountains of New Hampshire and follow a brother and sister through their lives. The collection is centered on David and Kate and in the first story we learn that they lost their father when they were children and that Kate lost a young son, and with it, her marriage. All together, the collection paints a collage of these lives, through their adolescence and the discovery of new love, through the eventual loss of their own loves, marriages, and children. Taken individually, each story is a beautiful moment in time.

"Before this day there were many other days, like the day Jeff Driver found the beagle lying dead on the trail, and how he wrapped the dog in a blue blanket, carried it to them like a baby. Or when Peter Lorde drove his big truck through the little poplar trees to make a road, and how they popped as they broke and flattened under the tires. Or when her mother and father held each other and circled the living room to the beat of a scratchy blues record, and how he lifted her and stood her on the table and held her hand so they danced like that, with him below and reaching up to her."
Williams' writing is rich with imagery, creating a world I found myself never wanting to leave. These are not just the stories of lives, but the stories of extraordinary lives. Whether it's a woman that's part deer or a cult hitching a ride on the back of a comet, there's an element of the extraordinary in every story. But it's not flashy. It's handled with such subtlety that you may lose it among the stunning prose.

I loved this collection as much as the original story that turned me on to Williams. I highly recommend it and I hope there will be more stories from Cascom Mountain one day.

January Reading


  • Second Glance by Jodi Picoult
  • Step Ball Change by Jeanne Ray
Short stories (inc. collections)
  • The Woman in the Woods by Ann Joslin Williams
  • "Cascom Mountain Road" by Ann Joslin Williams
  • "Year's End," by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • "My Old Man" by Melissa Bank
  • "The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine" by Melissa Bank
Notable nonfiction
  • The Biggest Game in Town by A. Alvarez
  • Postitively Fifth Street by James McManus

More About Morning Writing

Friday, January 25, 2008

Courtesy of Gordon at After the MFA: How to Write First Thing in the Morning.

For me, writing first thing in the morning is about focus. Years ago, a visiting writer told our seminar that the first thing she did in the morning was the thing she ended up doing all day long. Thus, she chose to start her days with writing rather than emailing forwards amongst her friends.

I've noticed that days that start with the internet often have the productivity sucked right out of them. For some reason, the internet can become all consuming for me, and not in a good way. I have squandered hours searching random crap on the internet. And trust me when I say that at the end of the day I am no better off knowing that Beck is a Scientologist or that I can ace the Facebook "Do you know your states?" quiz.

Whereas if I write for an hour or more before I check facebook or google reader, I have a much better chance of avoiding massive time suckage.

The article has a lot of good tips about getting up and getting writing. I suspect it's not even limited just to writing. If you're like me and wondering how to be more productive in your day, give it a read. The 4 a.m. wake up time won't be happening for me, but I can vouch for many of the other tips.

Apologies, again

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Apologies again to my two blog readers. Once again I am hopelessly behind with bloggage. But I have a good excuse. Instead of writing blog entries, I've been busy on the first draft of a story. I finished said draft yesterday. It's strictly in shitty first draft stage right now, but I'm proud of it. Proud because this is the first short story in two, maybe two and a half years, that I have actually completed. Tomorrow I'll beat myself up over having so little to show for the last couple of years, but today I'm going to enjoy the moment.

Also, I've finally found a writing schedule that seems to agree with me. I've been getting up and going straight to the coffeeshop in the morning. No passing Go. No collecting $200 (or even $20 from the ATM). I go straight to work and once I'm there, I make myself keep going for X amount of time. If there are people out there that still believe the writer's life involves sitting around the house and scarfing bon bons while watching The View, waiting for the muse to strike, let this be evidence to the contrary.

That said, today I'm sitting around the house, eating bon bons and watching The View.

No, but I am taking a one-day reprieve from fiction writing in order to attend to the laundry, the cooking, the grocery shopping, and all the other errands (and bloggage) I've neglected. Tomorrow, it's back at the coffeeshop bright and early.

Money, Meet Mouth

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's been a while since I've taken any sort of reading challenge (I think the last one was my 50 book challenge in 2006, which I barely managed to pull off) so when I heard about the short story reading challenge, deciding whether to be involved or not was a no brainer. I write short stories; therefore I should read short stories. Plus, it's kind of on par with my decision to read more things that I should have read whist getting my MFA and studying fiction again. So I signed up.

My choice is Option #5, the "build your own" option. Of course, I'm borrowing from the other options and incorporating that I read more authors that I have not read before.

Books I am planning to read:

  • The Woman in the Woods by Ann Joslin Williams
  • Best American Short Stories 2005 edited by Lorrie Moore
  • Collected Stories by William Trevor
And before you say it, yes, I know the fact that I haven't read any William Trevor is a sin. I am working to redeem myself.

That's a start. I'm not going to plan anything beyond that. Instead, I'll be following the short story challenge blog and looking to other lit blogs to find other new and noteworthy stories to read. Suggestions, of course, are always welcome.

If you're one of the two people reading this, then I want to challenge you to take the challenge as well. If you're hesitant, try Option #1: reading 10 short stories by 10 different authors over 2008. That's not even a story a month! If you're more daring, try one of the other options. Either way, let's help make 2008 the year of the short story.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Frog

Friday, January 4, 2008

Frog. (v) to frog. The act of "ripping" out already knit stitches by removing them from the knitting needles and unraveling the stitches. In some cases, you merely "frog" a few rows back to fix a mistake. In more extreme cases, one may "frog" an entirely knit sweater to reuse the yarn.

Back when I learned to knit, after I'd made my first uneven garter stitch square thing, I started becoming a perfectionist about knitting. A psuedo-perfectionsist rather. Simply put, I hated to frog and would do just about anything to avoid it. My strategy? To turn a blind eye to glaring errors or dissatisfaction with the pattern. I kept knitting only to end up with an unwearable sweater or a scarf that would get sent to Goodwill.

The reason for this particular bout of crazy was that one of my first overly ambitious projects had been a mohair lace scarf. Being a beginner, I'd made a lot of mistakes and had had frogged to the extent that the yarn had become a frayed mess. The scarf never got made and for the next several years I avoided both mohair and frogging.

About two years and two drawers full of unwearable knits, I was talking about my dissatisfaction with the pullover I'd just completed. The gauge seemed off. The waistline decreases had a few mistakes. It didn't fit me right. Overall, not good.

"Frog it," my knitter friend told me. "It's only yarn. Besides, you can use it for something else."

And it clicked. Don't know why it took me so long, but right then I thought, She's right. It is only yarn. So what if I spent two weeks knitting it if I don't like it? I went home and frogged the pullover. I raided the unused knits drawer and salvaged yarn from three other projects. For the final liberation, I pulled a wrap off the needles that they'd been on for three months. I'd hated the yarn and was only halfway through. Part of me thought, What are you doing? You've spent three months on this, just go on and finish it, but the other part of me slapped that crazy knitter upside the head and began winding the yarn. And that's how I learned to stop worrying and love the frog.

However, even though I've been a writer for longer than I've been a knitter (or maybe because I've been a writer longer than I've been a knitter) I've never been able to apply that lesson to writing. When it comes to writing, have the same problems, I don't want to "frog" any of my stories. This is part of why I handwrite first drafts. The computer seems too final to me and when I handwrite something I know I'll be rearranging and revising as I'm typing it in. And, in remembering that, I can allow myself to write a shitty first draft. But even doing that, I can get pretty grouchy about having to "give up" any part of a draft that I've spent time and energy on.

Today was a good example of that. I spent about three hours in the afternoon working on a draft of a still incomplete story. I recently read Ron Carlson's book on story writing and am trying to observe his credo -- stay in the room -- as much as possible. And so this afternoon I stayed in the room. And stayed. And stayed. And I ended up with a good five or six pages. However, I'm also trying to observe Carlson's other credo about listening to what the story tells you, and I swear to God that at least five or six times I heard the story go, Oh hell no, you aren't doing THAT. But I persevered and at the coffee shop this evening, I realized that of the five or six pages I'd written, I had maybe three paragraphs that were usable.

I know that's part of the writing process, and I've come to accept that there are entire stories that sometimes just have to get out on the page so that one gem of a line can be used elsewhere. I deal. But that doesn't mean I can't be grouchy about it. Anyway, as I was ripping pages of my notepad I thought about how a story is only a bunch of words. They can be rearranged and reused elsewhere. Maybe even in this story, but definitely not as they are and not right now.

I've met a few writers who claim to start fresh on each revision by completely rewriting the story from scratch. I envy that. Even though I do a lot of revision, I can't claim to ever throw out the original draft and start fresh. I envy the writers who can, though, and I wonder if it wouldn't be a good exercise to rewrite one of my more complete stories without ever referring to the original or even the latest draft. Could be interesting.

So why not try it? It's that part of me, that crazy knitter part from before, who is thinking, My god, what a waste to completely undo everything that you've worked so hard on. Leave it alone!

I think it's time to slap that crazy knitter upside the head.