Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.




Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Fridge Clean-out Redux

►Anyone else as sad as I am about the recent passing of Sydney Pollack? Pollack was, of course, a prominent director, skilled actor and savvy producer. While I'm no ace at deducing a film director's skill, his output alone was stunning. But what I adored most was his acting: the man had the chops to make a supporting character part come alive, embodying even a small role physically, psychologically, emotionally – every gesture, every bit of dialogue, every grunt and sigh, was pitch perfect. Not so unlike a consummate writer at work, chiseling a character mostly by deciding what small detail to put in, and a whole lot of what to leave out.

With Pollack's acting – and the performances he pulled from some unlikely stars -- there was never an unnecessary head shake, never a superfluous lip twitch. Everything had meaning, which reminds me of some very good advice I once got about writing: Make every word count. Every. Single. One. Even when barely anything else in a film was working – I'm thinking Eyes Wide Shut – a few moments of Pollack's character onscreen could undo a lot of cinematic damage and either get the story going again or tell a story all on its own. He made villains likable, in the sense that he made each one remind us of the humanity – and villainy – in all of us. Plus, he reminded me a little of my Dad. I'll miss the guy.

►Check out my new favorite
word geek site. Well, I guess if you are also a junkie for journalism news like me, you'll love reading the rest of Poynteronline, too.

Blaise Pascal once said, "I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Many other writers have amended the adage over the years, apologizing to editors for too-lengthy manuscripts, citing how long it takes to shorten, edit, pare. But just in case you're not convinced, I am officially challenging writer friends and blog readers to try crafting a Six Word Memoir for that ubiquitous book's forthcoming second volume.

►Though I don't write about sports that much anymore, I just subscribed to ESPN The Magazine, not only because my teenager and husband like it, but because my favorite sports columnist/essayist, Rick Reilly, whose Sports Illustrated column I read semi-religiously for years, starts his new gig there next month. Plus, even though I could be bright green with envy (OK, so I am green, and not in the earth-friendly way), I just love it when a writer – almost any kind of writer, but especially a magazine writer – can score a six-zero contract.

►I never thought of Las Vegas, where my parents retired in 1981 and where they tried, unsuccessfully, to convince me to live too, as a hot media town. In fact, on frequent visits, I derided the daily newspaper, and ridiculed the local news offerings on radio and television. But obviously the newly unemployed journalists from the Washington Post – otherwise known as
reluctant volunteer buyout takers -- know something I don't.

►Most of us will never see the inside of Leno's or Letterman's green room, but we can all hang out at the
Red Room, with some of our favorite writers.

In the middle of reading: The Best American Short Stories 1999. Why? When someone is awarded a big prize, or is generating a good bit of current buzz in the literary world, like Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri, I like to dig back a few years and read something he/she wrote before all the hoopla. The bonus was finding a really terrific short story, "The Piano Tuner," by a writer I had not read before, Tim Gautreaux. Don't you just love that? Who have you "discovered" recently?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sports, Literary Journals, and Strange Bedfellows

My husband doesn't read much; you know, opposites attract and all that. That is, he's not a reader. He does devour each month's Consumer Reports, the newspaper sports pages, and sometimes the stuff I write – that is if I put it in his hands before I sign off on the final proof because it happens to mention him.

Which brings us to my latest publication – an essay in a literary journal I have a feeling my husband will actually read. The journal is
Sport Literate, whose tagline reads: Honest reflections on life's leisurely diversions. My essay, "A Well-Jumped Fence," appears in the current print edition (Winners and Losers 2008, vol. 5, issue 2).

So, next time I see hubby headed into his "reading room" (don't we all know where that is?), I'll hand him the journal (at 132 pages and an easy-to-handle 5x7 size, it's not so overwhelming), and see what happens. While I’m hoping he enjoys the entire fine issue, I'm wondering if, once he discovers the other essays and articles – about golf, tennis, archery, baseball and other sports – he'll even get around to reading mine, which is a look back at the huge role horses and competitive equestrian competition once played in my life, and how I feel about its absence now.

I don't often tout journals here, and try not to tell my readers what to buy, but a
subscription to Sport Literate strikes me as a win not just for the writer-reader in a household, but for anyone else in the clan who may need a bit of a literary palate expander that speaks their language.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Let's Clean Out the Fridge

In our house, by Friday most weeks, it's "clean out the refrigerator" night. All week, I accumulate leftovers from scratch dinners, remainders of take-out food, sometimes a thing or two my mother-in-law sends over, and then on COTR night, I lay it all out on the kitchen counter, hand everyone a plate to fill as they like and point in the direction of the microwave.

I'm always a little elated at this easy meal and also a bit disappointed – in myself. All week, as the leftover bits pile up, I make earnest but vague plans to turn them into a hearty stew, a substantial soup, a stir-fry, a crock pot dinner (even though I don't own a slow cooker). In the end, I rarely achieve this noble goal, and yet nothing much goes to waste, the troops get fed and the fridge is ready again for the next load of leftovers.

Which is my long-winded way of saying, I'm doing a bit of that here today. The past three weeks have been a haze of travel, worry and then trying to catch up. Meanwhile, I've been accumulating interesting tidbits in my "to be blogged about" folder, planning to make somewhat intelligent connections among and between them, hoping in a sense to create a couple of hearty meals for my readers. Alas, it feels like Friday night and the shelves are bursting and if I don't do a general clear-out, I may just get a little overwhelmed and dump it all in the disposal instead.

So, here's my bloggy version of COTR night. If you are a little bit hungry, fill your plate with whatever interests you.

►The Village Voice asked 16 writers
to name their favorite obscure book.

►The subhead of
this Guardian article says it all: "Magazines are peppered with 'real life' case studies - though more often than not, the subject is pleasing to the eye. Why are editors obsessed with unreality?"

►Ever shake your head when seemingly normal people are clueless about the most rudimentary stuff they should have learned in grade school? Though the aim of
this magazine's newest webby tool is slightly different, I can see this idea working in myriad ways: Scroll over the word Montana, say, and a balloon would pop up with: "It's one of the 50 states, dummy."

►Some
good news about book sales from Publisher's Weekly. And some grim news, if you are a book reviewer for PW.

►Check out the
Web Habits of Highly Effective (writers and literary type) People. Do any of your most-liked sites overlap?

►As for my own web habits,
this is one of my favorite new places. I'm not morbid or anything and was never an obit writer myself, but writing that looks back at a life – or looks at mortality or grief -- and not only in the usual way, intrigues me. Which explains why I can't seem to stop writing about my father's death.

►And, I love this
free daily email, which brings me something interesting or funny or unusual in a quick and easily digestible format to break up my day. 'Cause I really do need more ways to procrastinate online.

►Erika Dreifus has a must-read
interview about writers' residencies over at her blog, as well as a follow-up post that points you to a major resource when researching residencies and colonies – a site I've used, and I'm happy to say, helped me land a two-week spot at the Vermont Studio Center next winter.

Let me know how your dish turns out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Writing Motherhood


One of my essays is part of a one-month-only Second Annual Mother's Day Online Anthology over at Mothering Heights. It was an honorable mention in the contest, too.

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers, children of mothers, and people who are like-a-mother, have a mothering nature, appreciate mothers, remember mothers, and especially -- those who dare to write the motherhood experience.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Random Report

Folks who visit here often know I rarely post anything too off topic…but since I was tagged by several bloggers for this, and since I've been away from home for two weeks, and since my mind is on a hundred other things besides anything literary, I thought I'd give it a go. It's supposed to be Six Random Things about me, but since I hate being confined to a number….

1. I once hired comedian
Ray Romano, who nobody had ever heard of, to entertain at a client's fundraiser in New Jersey around 1990. He charged around $300, which is probably about what he leaves as a tip these days.

2. I used to feel cold all the time, even in summer, but ever since I had my first kid, I usually feel hot all the time (yes, temperature-wise. This is a G-rated blog, folks).

3. When I was a teenager, I unknowingly sat in front of
Paul Newman at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, and when I turned in my seat, I blurted, "Wow, you have such blue eyes, you could be Paul Newman."

4. I once played ice hockey. Right wing. My friend Babette and I were 15, and were the only girls on a 12-year-old boys' team. See what happens when your older brother has Rangers season tickets and you develop an over-the-top crush on
Ron Greschner?

5. One of my Catholic-elementary-school best buds,
Ellen Kuras, has won at Sundance for cinematography (twice), and recently made her directorial debut. I always knew she'd do something cool. When she was a teenager, she wanted to be an Egyptologist…..

6. …and hen I was a kid, I wanted to be a: sportswriter, police detective, nurse, probation officer, actress, airline ticket agent. And, I actually did a good bit of sports writing and acted a (very) little while living in California in 1981-82. Can't imagine myself in any of the other jobs, though.

7. When I was 18, I had an 18-inch waist. Guess who was my
favorite movie character in my teens?

8. I am a really good cook but a lousy house cleaner.

9. In the 1970s,
Roger Staubach, the legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback, called my house, asking for my father. (They were on a corporate board together, which I didn't know). I asked who was calling, he said his name, and I cracked, "Yeah, and I'm Barbara Streisand" and hung up. My father laughed and Staubach called right back. Years later, I interviewed him for a magazine article. Nice guy.

End of Random post. Next week: back to normal.

Just finished reading: Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen. This helped a little to take my mind somewhere else for an hour each night before bed, while away from home and helping my mother with her health issues.

Just started reading:
Dream Me Home Safely: Writers on Growing Up in America, edited by Susan Richards Shreve; foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Published in 2003 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Children's Defense Fund. Some meaty essays in this one.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Poetry Month That Was

During April, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I participated, along with four poets (graduates/students in the Stonecoast MFA program), in NaPoWriMo. It's patterned after NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, which challenges thousands of participants to write a first draft of a novel in 30 days. We aren't quite that insane, but did take up the challenge of simply (well, not always so simply, as it turned out) writing and then posting one poem a day. We elected to do our NaPoWriMo in a private blog, but apparently many others did so publicly.

The other participants are real, bona-fide, published, accomplished, dedicated poets, who graciously allowed me – a nonfiction writer who occasionally enjoys experimenting with poems – to play in their sandbox. From time to time, one or a few of us fell behind, but we all always got caught up somehow, shared some great dialogue by commenting on one another's poem-posts, and ended the month, I think, enriched as writers for the experience.

Now I've been tagged with a meme to share my NaPoWriMo thoughts, so here goes:



1. Number of poems written in April.
- 28. Okay, I know April has 30 days, but there was some cross-country travel (for a not-fun reason), fatigue and worry; I made up for it with two longer poems the next two days. Sue me.



2. Number of poems you’ll keep and revise.
- Right now I think about six are worth further work. Wonder what I'll think in another month? I am one of those writers who can put something away for months before revising it; and often I decide something is too dreadful to even think about again, and "lose" the folder. Then I rediscover it, usually by accident (or is it?), months or even years later and take another look.



3. List the titles of your top three NaPoWriMo poems (written by me)
-The Cooks on TV
-Walking to the Bagel Shop with my Son
- My Father's Hand
- The Stresslist (which
Raye Tibbitts is publishing next month in the final issue of her cool zine, The Bad Mother Chronicles.)
Oops – that's four. Sue me.

4.
List your three least favorite NaPoWriMo poems (written by me)
- Protection (I felt like hiding my head after this one!)
- Hats (silly but not silly in a well-written way)
- Hand-Me-Down (actually I think this has potential, but I disliked the attempt)



5. Favorite line from one of your NaPoWriMo poems.

rests her hand on her child's back


watches it, rising and falling. And

she sleeps at 6:28

just before the vomit splashes

her cheek.

6. Favorite poem by a NaPoWriMo participant. Sorry, I'm going to list my favorite poem by each participant.

- Carol Berg: The Quidnuncs in my Kitchen
- Kathleen Clancy: How do you say no to the freeway?
-
Mary Harwood: Sweet Sixteen
-
Bridget Madden – some silliness for the desert (3/24/08)
And thanks, Bridget, for introducing me to the very poetic term, ekphrastic (a poem about visual art)

7.
What surprised you most about writing a poem a day?
- That I would look forward to it; that one poem often led right to another on a similar or related theme; that on some days even a really rough (terrible) first draft took longer to write than I anticipated, while on other days, it leapt from my pen nearly before I noticed; and finally, that I would so look forward to reading all of the other participants' poems. No day in April was complete without checking the blog numerous times to see what was new.



8. Now that you’ve started the momentum, what’s next?
- Good question. Still have a final nonfiction prose thesis manuscript to complete (only if want to graduate with an MFA in July!). I think I'll put it all away for a while: weeks for sure, maybe months. But I may keep up the poetry habit, because while I know I will never be half as good a poet as a nonfiction writer, there is something about the way my brain seems to work when in poetry mode that is so different than it does when in personal essay or memoir or OpEd or feature-article mode.

Plus, I really love to pick up my favorite pen (a black Pentel Metal Tip 0.7 mm EnerGel Liquid Gel Ink), grab a notebook, sit quietly (anywhere) and write…well, something that resembles a poem. Thought it may never exist as one, it still spurs me on to some new way into a piece of writing.

If you had any good experiences during National Poetry Month, or with poetry in general, please let me know in comments.