Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 Writing Resolutions: Writing After the MFA

Writer friend Jamey Hatley shared this link on Facebook today, where PEN/Faulkner winner Ann Patchett comes to the astounding discovery that if you write you will get more writing done. I know I’m being snarky here, but this, actually, is a valid observation. The point has been made before (Stephen King makes an especially strident case in his book On Writing) but it bears repeating — writers have to treat writing as a job, or it won’t get done.

I’ll try not to quibble in that writing for Ann Patchett IS a job, i.e. she is PAID, but those of us in the fledgling ranks must flap with due diligence. Today I finished Water for Elephants (as part of my quest to read books that non grad students read). Sara Gruen apparently sat in a closet to avoid distractions as she finished. My strategy is to live alone and not have reliable internet access.

Ann Patchett says that last year, for the first 32 days of the new year, she wrote everyday. Her claim is that setting this precedent, aligning this mental juju helped. I’m signing up, along with 30 minutes a day of Pilates or yoga to lose my MFA muffintop.

You in?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Family Reading

Home for Christmas is always a slap of reading reality. Hang around writerly types too much and you’d believe everyone is griping about how The New Yorker only publishes Alice Munro.


Here’s what the fam has in hand this week: Nora Roberts, Michael Creighton, The Christmas Gift (about a woman reconciles some family issue), and some 19th century Celtic adventure that has a blurb by Frank McCourt on the back.

Me? U is for Undertow.

Nobody has to ask who Sue Grafton is. This was Mom’s present from my brother and his wife. Within minutes I had ferreted it upstairs. I went through a huge woman P.I. phase about fifteen years ago and I still want to write one. To tell the truth, it’s a relief to read a story where I don’t have to stop every other sentence and marvel at its perfect construction. O, the entendre!

The other day I met with a friend of mine, who is editor of a national magazine. I picked up her recently purchased copy of Middlesex sitting on the counter. She wanted to know what I thought. That’s a tricky one. Mainstream plot twister? Or esoteric literature?

“Okay,” she looked me in the eye. (These are the real book reviews, that take place in a kitchen with two fingers of bourbon). “Is it good? I mean, will I enjoy reading this or will it be work?”

“Well,” I said. “I dug it. But I love sprawling family epics.”

“Uhhhhhhh. I couldn’t finish A Hundred Years of Solitude.”

“What I will say, is that the book isn’t sprawling just to be sprawling. Meaning Middlesex is plotted. There’s a reason that you need Part A for Parts B and C.”

“Dang, this was my beach read,” she said.

“Oh, I liked it!” said the woman to my left, the third heat. Not enrolled in a PhD program, her readability opines can be trusted.

“Yeah?” said my friend, more interested now.

Maybe my freshman are right, there are only two real reviews: 1) It was good, I liked it. 2) It was boring.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vladimir Has a Blog!

The EBM guy at Third Place Books has a blog! In it, he even mentions my order! Now you can follow the labyrinthine navigation of the subtleties of copyright law, the hilarious effects of technical difficulties, and the obscure list of titles that people are requesting (hello, Adventures of Piang The Moro Jungle Boy).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Give and Get Lists: The Book Edition

Penguin has a page on its website devoted to its authors’ lists of books they are giving to others for the holidays and books they wish to get. It’s pretty nifty. It also puts me in a mind to examine my literary purchases for the season.

For my brother, the last book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, The Gathering Storm. A deep and abiding obsession with all things fantasy is one of the few traits my brother and I share, and we had both invested years in this series when Robert Jordan died in 2007 without finishing the final installment. My brother is not aware that this book even exists yet, so I’m hoping it will be a nice surprise. I’m currently catching up on the penultimate and pre-penultimate books. Don’t hate me because I love books that include maps of places that don’t exist.

My father gets David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers. This one is on a bunch of year end best-of lists.

The EBM-spawned copy of Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush goes to my aunt. She digs historical nonfiction, especially of the pioneer-lady ilk. As a side note, my camera doesn’t work so I couldn’t take a picture of the beautiful, stupendous edition that I got. I can say that it looks every bit like a real book—the color quality and design of the cover is brilliant and the book itself is indistinguishable from a mass-produced paperback. The only flaw was that a couple of the pages were out of order.

For my friends Frank and Suzan, with whom I watched Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre for the first time, I purchased Wallace Shawn’s Essays. I had to ask for help finding this one from one of Third Place Books’ friendly info desk guys. When we found it in the stacks, he took one look at the cover image of the author and said excitedly, “Vizzini!”

The fiancĂ© has already received his Christmas tome, Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room. It takes place in a fictionalized version of Prague. We got engaged in Prague. It seemed appropriate.

Perhaps most apparent in this list is the absence of any poetry books. It’s not surprising. I am, admittedly, not a poetry proselytizer. If my people don’t typically read poetry, I don’t tend to push it on them. Besides, my poetry reading friends also read this blog, and I don’t want to ruin any surprises that may be coming their way.

On the get list: Ted Hughes’ Crow and Frances Wilson’s The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth. Also Ana Bozicevic's Stars of the Night Commute.

"And what does Sorrow care / For the rosemary?"

DIY Poetry Infusions

Sunday, December 13, 2009

FIction, Nonfiction or Poetry? A Genre Quiz

You didn’t prepare for workshop today. What’s your excuse?

a. Sorry, too drunk.
b. Sorry, my meds were off.
c. Bumblebee.

You wrote all day today. The following describes your process:

a. Writhing in agony, pulling of hair, torrid typing, screaming, pacing, pounding of head on keys.
b. The above, but you finish the day with a hot bath.
c. Over hibiscus tea, you penciled in a comma. After a long stroll by the stream, you came back and erased it.

Characterize your intimate relationships.

a. Cradle Robbers R Us.
b. Quite healthy, actually, unless your meds are off.
c. Random pressing of bodies in narrow, wallpapered hallways.

You’ve just finished Lolita. Describe your mood.

a. I should perform the literary world a favor and shoot myself.
b. Inspired by Nabokov’s descriptive powers, a writing exercise comes to mind OR the book triggers such disturbing memories you can’t finish.
c. That first paragraph. Delightful!

Time to make money.

a. I’m going write that YA graphic novel.
b. I’m going lie about how I joined a pack of wolves.
c. It is with great sorrow that I part with my grandmother’s brooch.

Describe your perfect meal:

a. Cheeseburger and a fifth of Jack.
b. French cheese, Indonesian curry, and Mexican goat tamales, accompanied by a story of how you nearly died learning to prepare each.
c. Lavender crumpets and rainbow mist. One perfectly butchered lamb chop seasoned by the waft of a rosemary sprig.

You have no doubt by now figured which letter corresponds to which genre. If you had significant answers in a second category, congrats! You’ve discovered your second genre. You are going to be rich.

Friday, December 11, 2009

EBM: How Do I Geek Out Over Thee?

Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park has a new Espresso Book Machine and it is up and running! Haven't heard of the EBM? What, have you been living under a rock? Are you a savage?

Essentially, it's a print-on-demand machine that bookstores can purchase in order to gain access to over 800,000 titles that can be searched for and printed in-store while the customer waits. It's a nice alternative to online ordering in that it gives you the option of supporting your local bookstore and you get instant gratification. That is, if the title is available for printing.

There are still some kinks surrounding copyright and digital availability, of course. For example, when I tried to order two sci-fi books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, this is the answer I got:

Hi Trina,

After doing some research here's what I have:The Strugatsky books are nebulous-- There are versions available as pdf downloads or txt files, but I can't seem to figure out wha the exact copyright status is on them. I'm not really trusting any .ru sites since they are notorious for book piracy. I'll see if I can get an answer on these in the next week or two. IF they are available, then we'd offer a service where we'd take the pdf or txt file and work it into an actual book-- these would cost more since they are essentially a special order; nothing prohibitive, but probably in the order of 15 - 20 dollars for the process (including the book, of course).

So much for instant gratification. Still, I've been searching for these titles for months at local used bookstores to no avail. The University where I work even offered a class on Russian sci fi that included the books on its syllabus; however, when I visited the U Bookstore to try and pilfer student copies, there were none available. Copies available from bookstores online run anywhere from $13.90 (before shipping) to $59. It can't hurt to wait and see.

On the bright side, Vladimir the EBM guru was able to find and print Susannah Strickland Moodie's delightfully named Roughing it in the Bush: Or Life in Canada for the relatively low price of $15.95. It's waiting for me at customer service as I write this.

I'm not saying that the EBM will revolutionize publishing or save the industry or anything. Some might say that the EBM is just a glorified copy machine. Having worked with some pretty phat copy machines in my day as well as in a press room, I'm still impressed by the notion of a self contained machine that is this small and can MAKE A BOOK from start to finish in under 30 minutes. I want one of these in my living room.

And no, I can't really explain why I'm so enamored with the EBM while Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader leave me cold. I'm not opposed to either of the latter, per se. I'm not afraid of shiny things. I quite like shiny things, especially when they give me almost unlimited access to all the texts I could ever want to read. Maybe I'm just disappointed at the limitations of these digital readers when I know they could do so much more. If I'm going to go digital, I want the full hypertext experience. I want to be able to look things up on the Internet as I read and come across information that needs to be explored further. I want digital books that are hyperlinked to their references and that have notes linking to other books or websites or images or whatever. Otherwise, print will do just fine.

The true test, of course, will be the object itself. I'll be picking it up tonight after work. Pictures will be posted. Further analysis to come.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Not Attending That Meeting

As I retreat farther and farther away from normal activity w/r/t writing, the web sure is a big help. In an attempt to be involved in that thing called the outside world ( meet with writers, readings, Rogers Park, Chicago) I’ve “joined” several groups, maybe left a tiny scrawl on the message board, then chickened out when the event time rolled around and didn’t go.

I attended a single meeting of a local writer’s group. And had a great time and met some people and learned their names. And then I chickened out and didn’t go.

I pass the Mess Hall almost daily and see a sign for the Next Objectivists Poetry Meeting. And I am joyous and excitement abounds. And then I’m too nervous to go into a room with people I don’t know and just imagine walking in and sitting down and desperately wanting—as I always do in new spaces—ask the Captain Obvious question “Is this the [insert name of event going on] meeting?” Well of course it is! But that is the only ice breaker I can conjure. I wish I had better ice breakers. (How much does a polar bear weigh?)

Yes, indeed, I am only hurting myself. Yes, indeed, I’d like to retreat into anonymity. But abandon the perks onymity has to offer?

If you search the internet, scour it enough, I bet you’ll find the traces of places where I’ve been but never went.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Life as Myself: A Memoir

I’ve been using the winter break to finish my nonfiction book, and after working all day every day on this project for two straight weeks (and beginning four years ago), can I just say that I am so sick of me? I’m sick of my thoughts, what I see, how I describe it, the people I meet and what I say to them. I’m sick of my observations, my musings, my jokes, my interactions and my interpretations.

Now I know why I write fiction. I want to be somebody else. Because I am freaking tired of me.

People tend to think of fiction writers as the egotists, but consider the ego it takes to write first person nonfiction. The writer has to assume that the world can’t wait to read her thoughts on whatever she feels like writing about.

This is my first book-length experience inhabiting the same narrator. Before I’ve written essays or stories from different POVs. Well, right now I don’t know that I will ever, ever want to spend over 300 pages with no one but myself again.

I’m going to Columbus tomorrow for a little road trip, Thai food and gourmet ice cream. It’s for the best.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Bartleby of One's Own

Maybe this is one of those "hey we've all known about this forever why didn't you" posts, but I hadn't heard of this, so I'm passing it on.

I might be giddy from our first date, but I think this is for real.

Sorry, Microsoft. We're done. And wasn't this relationship always a compromise? You were what everyone expected, but I was never happy. And your features? I am sure they will make someone very happy but they just never did it for me. Thanks and see ya.

Hello, Scrivener. Designed by a writer for a writer. Not by a robot for other robots.

I have been working on a book and reached the point of wondering just how many windows I could have open before my desktop collapsed. It's been unwieldy. Unattractive. Irritating!

Now I can have a tidy little binder to my right. And I write in any format/font I choose, and then when I export, I can create settings. I can even export as a Word document.

I don't want to be that annoying person who can't stop talking my wonderful new relationship, but if you write, and especially if you write novels or research-based projects. Check it out.