Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Why don't they make self-packing suitcases?

I hate packing. But I want to have clothes to wear when I get to L.A. So I'll be shoving things in a suitcase today instead of blogging.

I promise to post from the conference. I'm dying to hear Leonard Marcus speak. And to see the art at the Portfolio Display. And to buy a $10 latte every morning. (Actually, I do meet people in the coffee line, so it's not a complete waste of money.)

I have something RED picked out for the "Paint the Town Red" pool-side party. I've budgeted money to buy lots of books and have them signed. I've charged my camera. I'm debating reading material for the plane flight. I must begin the grand shoe elimination and only take the necessary pairs. (Will someone invent a way to fold running shoes into tiny squares so I will pack them and use the treadmill by the pool?)

I can't wait to see old friends and meet new ones. If you see me, PLEASE say hello. Now, off to negotiate a treaty with my suitcase...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Writing is on the Wall

Haven't had time to read my blog lately? No worries. Wordle has composed a summary of the Read Write Believe feed for you. (Click on any image to view it more closely.)

Here's one of Letters From Rapunzel:

I first heard about Wordle from Laura. (Check out the image of her 50 States Poems collection.) MotherReader tried it, too. And Barbara played with it yesterday.

Besides being beautiful, I think writers could use this to check their work for theme and for balance. Or just to procrastinate. Here's one compiled from my poetry:

Monday, July 28, 2008


How do you know when you're done with a revision of a manuscript?

A) You re-write a paragraph multiple times. Three hours pass. Then you delete everything and reinstate the original.

B) You start adjusting the spacing at the beginning of chapter headings.

C) Your deadline is a welcome restraining order. Step away from the manuscript!

D) You're a different person than when you began. Something wild has been released. The manuscript has escaped the cage you first built for it and left you, its creator, to deal with the aftermath.

If you picked D, you're a drama queen. Just like me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: The God Abandons Antony

The God Abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy

I know this poem is about death and losing and gods deserting you. I know it's about doomed Antony, of historic fame as told by Plutarch, and of literary fame, as made immortal by Shakespeare. But there is something so defiant and joyous in the rhythms of it that I can't help reading it aloud and feeling that I, too, have been given "this kind of city" on some rare days.

Listen to the exquisite music of that strange procession.

The Poetry Friday round-up is with Mary Lee and Franki today, at A Year of Reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Retreat Musings: Alone Time

One of the hard facts about writing is that you do it alone. You can have a fabulous critique group, an understanding family, maybe even an astute agent and/or a kind editor. None of that helps when it's just you and the blank page.

On the retreat, many of us craved alone time. Little kids, day jobs, distractions...we were leaving them behind, temporarily. We were holing up in those lovely cabins and a-write, write, writing, bay-beee!

Only, that didn't quite happen. Turns out there's only so much alone time a person can stand. And that writing, while solitary, demands engagement with the world. How to find the balance?

I did spend a lot of time alone on the retreat. I kept the shades to my cabin windows pulled. I drafted new material for my manuscript under revision, which made me happy, but dang it, that manuscript didn't say thank you or even good job, sweetie. It looked at me greedily like I was a fading light source and it was a pulsating black hole.

That's when I crept out, in search of company. I joined the afternoon critique sessions, which turned out to be the ultimate motivator. Wow! My fellow retreaters were kind listeners. They were funny. They were lyrical. They were brave. They were wild (yee haw!)

I learned so much from hearing them read their work aloud. About rhythm, and structure and voice. I dared read a piece of my novel-in-verse-in-progress. They demanded that I write more of it---the next day! (So yeah, they were more powerful than that black hole.) But I did. I wrote more, for them. And it woke me up to the simple power of what happens next? in story-telling. We write alone, but we create story to be shared.

Thanks, Cassandra and Anne Marie and Alma and De and Loree and Katy and Kristy and Linda and Kathy and Tanya!

(More photos and words from De here)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Retreat Musings: Cry if you Want To

More things I thought about on retreat:

Our stories are supposed to make you laugh and cry, scare you and thrill you, change you, distract you, challenge you, take you into the dark forest and out the other side. So how come we don't talk more about how much of an emotional roller coaster ride it is to write like that?

In the last week, I:

---finished a paragraph, and ran laps around the house, arms Rocky-like above my head

--wanted to burn the entire manuscript, page by crappy page

--woke in the night to worry over a character

--laughed at my own words

--cried at a made-up situation that I made up!

This is probably why I don't write in public.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Retreat Musings: Nuts and Bolts

I promised to share some of my thoughts from my recent writing retreat. Here's a start:

Sometimes, I think people pigeonhole writers as the flighty, imaginative sort. We're good at dreamily gazing out the window, making up things out of thin air. But I think the act of writing (and especially revision) is closer to problem-solving. Writers are the mechanics of the written word! And a great deal of what we do is by trial and error.

Last night, my son called me down to the basement to fix his guitar.

I don't play guitar, I don't know (in any detail) how a guitar works, and I absolutely don't know how to fix one. But I did it, and without Google!

Above is the part that was broken. It's where the musician plugs in the jack for the amp, and it was designed by the devil. (Or maybe that evil coffee mug designer.) The nut and the thin washer underneath had both fallen off, causing the 1/4 inch jack receptacle they support to collapse into the guitar.

Imagine us, one holding the guitar upside down, to make the metal tube slide barely out of the hole. Then the other person would try to grab it, straighten it, and hold it by a fingernail. Then the fruitless attempts to slide either the washer or the nut over the tube without knocking it back down inside. AAAAARGGGGH!

Finally, I called in the needle-nosed pliers. And yes, they could hold the tube out more firmly than a fingernail. But...they were always in the way. It's not mechanically possible to put a washer or a nut over something you're also gripping by an edge. (That didn't stop me from trying, however. Sometimes, I think the laws of nature will bend to my stubbornness.)

And then! And then!! I had the brilliant idea of slipping the washer and the bolt over the end of the pliers BEFORE I stuck the end in the hole. AND I didn't grip the tube; I inserted the pliers and kept the tube from slipping back into the guitar with pressure from the inside. Voila! The washer settled over the tube, then the nut, too. We screwed it tightly back on. I did the Happy Triumph Dance of Mechanical Genuis. (Please do not tell me if you already knew the answer five paragraphs ago. I'm still impressed with myself. )

Anyhow, it made me think of my writing retreat, and the sessions where we'd all gather and read our work. Time after time, I was impressed with my fellow word mechanics. These writers were willing to do whatever it took to make their story WORK. There were stalled manuscripts, and whole books that had to be re-built from the ground up, and loose parts, and maddening boxes of pieces that were supposed to go somewhere, but just didn't fit.

And yet, we all worked for the solutions with stubbornness of good mechanics. We shared tools with each other. (Cool! A storyboard!) We asked for test runs. (Could you try that in third person?) We didn't let each other give up on what needed fixing.

Because as Laini said: the only tool a piece of writing has to use against you is intimidation. You, on the other hand, have way more than needle-nosed pliers: You have a keen sense of smell, able to detect word crap. You have an ear for when a story engine is running smoothly and when it's not. You have a heightened vision for seeing a character's deepest desire. You can taste the right opening for your story when it rolls off your tongue. You can find your way out of the deepest plot thickets by touching your fingers to the keyboard, over and over and over.

Those tools, plus lots and lots of trial and error (and yes, some stubbornness) are the nuts and bolts of writing. Thank you, fellow retreat writers, for letting me witness the work of mechanical geniuses in action!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Yes, I know it's going to be 94 degrees today

I printed out my revised manuscript. It's resting. I'll fine-tune it when I get back. But for now, out-of-town friends have informed me that I'm about to be kidnapped and taken golfing.*

* ...or as Mark Twain put it: "A good walk, ruined." At least I'll have my friends to talk to. And all this controversy to read when I get back.

Also, if you didn't see the marvelous discussion in the comments last Friday about YA poetry collections and novels in verse, go there now. You guys ROCK. I may have to gather and reprint the wonderfulness in a separate post.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Poetry Friday: Tell Me

Hello. I'm back and I need you. Your opinions and your advice.

When I finish the revisions for the novel I'm working on, I'll return to the partially completed drafts of two other projects. One's a novel in verse, a love story involving math and Rilke and the pursuit of the unknown. It's proceeding very slowly, needs research, and may be done some time in the next century. The other is a collection of YA poetry, a poetry slam in a magical setting, centos for frog princes and free verse in seven league boots---that sort of thing. I've written most of it, although the overall structure is sorely missing at this point, and may cause me much heartache later on.

So tell me, if you read novels in verse or themed collections of YA poetry, what's your favorite thing about them? Why do you read them, and what do you look for that you can't get from straight prose? In your opinion, what's the point of telling a story this way?

On the negative side, I know many aren't fans of verse novels which they see as merely prose in disguise, lines broken up on the page. You can tell me that again, if you like, but I'm also interested in other things that turn you off. And if you don't read these kind of books at all, why?

I'd really like to know. The good and the bad. Thanks.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kelly Fineman, who introduces the new U.S. Poet Laureate.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One Happy Camper

Hey! I feel like blogging.

It's been 14 days since my last post. (That sounds vaguely like it was overheard in a Catholic confessional, doesn't it?)

The truth is, I could have blogged over the last two weeks, but I didn't. My energy and focus were elsewhere, and that's a good thing.

So what have I been up to?

Retreating in Honesdale with a fetching array of amazing writers. (That's me, to the left, skipping with delight at my good fortune.)

I'm not going to blog about the nitty-gritty of it much (sorry) because part of the joy was simply experiencing the feeling of retreat instead of analyzing it. Enough to say that time to write + supremely funny, compassionate and talented writers + unbelievably yummy food = one happy camper.

I do plan to blog about some of the things I thought about over the week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The post I didn't think I'd write

You know what's on the horizon? My blogversary!

(That's me, on the right, with serious cake face.)

On July 6, 2007, I started this blog (on a double-dog dare from Jules and Robin) with a post on a Poetry Friday. I called it Enter, because as I explained, the word "begin" has always "terrified and paralyzed me."

Little did I know that the word "blogversary" would also immobilize me. It's four days away and I haven't bought myself you a present. I haven't planned a surprise party. I haven't written a witty and tender post about my first year in Blogistan.

Worse, I'm about to go on a blog vacation! Family and a writer's retreat have claimed my attention, not to mention the final tweaks on my revisions. And of course, my blogversary falls on a weekend, when I lazily do not blog.

I feel like I'm standing in front of the rack of gift cards on Christmas Eve. Bath and Body Works? Victoria's Secret? Cheesecake Factory?

A year of blogging doesn't seem long enough for a retrospective celebration. But I'm doing it anyway. Unless you really want a 7-Eleven gift card.

The post with the most comments? Saying Yes with 33.

The shortest? The aptly named A Very Short Post. My life in six words.

Strangest title? An Anti-Chair Polemic.

Post with the most unexpected consequence? Out with the Cappuccino, In with the Mountain Dew. Without any help from me, the comments on that one gave birth to a whole new blog site for older boy readers: Guy Lit Wire. (I'm embarrassed when bloggers site or credit me for this. I was the ooze! Just the primordial ooze. Fabulous other bloggers evolved it.)

Post that mentions Elmer Fudd? Fight's on!

Post that gets strange search engine hits? Drop down and give me twenty! I think because I mention pushup bras.

Post that makes practical types gnash their teeth? Credo. Because it's most often found by a search on "how to write a credo." I don't think they want a poem that begins "I don't believe in..."

Post about nothing and everything? Where Ideas Come From. Coffee sludge, anyone? (Or if you prefer, Potato Chips and Coffee, in which I write a poem before your very eyes.)

Post truly about nothing? Empty as a Pocket with Nothing to Lose...

Favorite Big Question post? Am I Living my Life for an Audience? I virtually sit on Oprah's couch and refuse to give the right answer.

My best writing tips? Attention, all those in the waiting area: The importance of delay. Taking Out the Trash: How a cheap notebook enables me to write. It's All in the Manuscript: It's all in the title.

Post with the best shoes? At the prom... My interview at 7-Imps. (Side note: number of posts that mention shoes? 23!)

Most rewarding experiences of the year? Tie between Cybils judging and writing a crown sonnet with six other fabulous poets and co-blogging about exercise and writing with Liz.

Post I didn't think I'd write? Today's. A year. I've been blogging almost a year. I've published 287 posts. And made countless friends.

Thanks for making me feel at home in Blogistan. I promise to get you a present next year.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Writer Brainradio

Kelly's got her Brainradio. I desperately need one.

I've tried writing to music before, but never found my groove. I'm not sure music with words will do it for me. But I love running to music, so here's my secret playlist.

I'm putting it out here in exchange for your suggestions as to a writing playlist. I need song, artist, and what aspect or genre of writing work it's good for---warming up, plowing on through, delicate word manipulation, blasting out a draft, cleaning up rough edges, etc.

Come on, tell me. Make something up if you have to.

A sampling of Sara's run playlist*

*to save time with the linky-links, I published it as a Sports iMix on iTunes. For some reason, it wouldn't pull up the CCR tune as part of the mix, but that's on iTunes, too.

Lyle Lovett: She's Hot to Go "You don't have to care who sees your hair..." (gets me out the door. Plus the bit about "she's UGLY" makes me laugh every time.)

Steppenwolf: Magic Carpet Ride (convinces me running might be fun if I just get in the zone.)

Elton John: The B**** is Back. "I can b*****. I can b***** 'cause I'm better than you." (Gets me up hills.)

Tracy Chapman: Talking About a Revolution
"Don't ya know ya better run, run, run, run..." (Cruising)

Usher: Yeah! (So I can distract myself by rocking the dance floor in my head.)

Stevie Wonder: You are the Sunshine of My Life. (Downhill. I don't care if you see me smiling like an idiot. I'm happeee!)

Nickel Creek: The Fox (Mr. Fox saying "a couple of you are gonna grease my chin" makes me pick up the pace. Am I the fox or the chickens?)

CCR: Bad Moon Rising "I know the end is coming soon. I feel rivers overflowing. I hear the voice of rage and ruin." (Hills again. But really, any time you need to whup something.)

Aretha Franklin: Freeway of Love "How'd ya get ya pants so tight?" (Ha!) "I kinda think we're going for an extended throwdown...let's cruise on into to Better-Than-Ever Street." "Drop the pedal and GO, come on, now...GO!" If you won't run for Aretha, you won't run for nobody.

And if I'm wiped out and still have 8:29 to go, I recommend Meat Loaf. You know the one.


Thanks to Buzz, Balls & Hype for the post on music to surf to, with specifics for the exact day and type of waves. My favorite of his suggestions? Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads (recommended for much bigger surf as in the line: ‘and you may say to your self; my god! What have I done?’)

So, let's hear it...real or imaginary...what songs could you write to? Bonus points if you make your Writer Brainradio into an iTunes mix and post it.

UPDATE! Adrienne just posted her mix! TRIPLE Bonus Points to her! Here's her blog entry. If you have iTunes, you can download it here: