Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 22, 2015 Edition

> If you enjoy hearing writers describe how a piece of writing began, took shape, changed, and finally grew into its final form, you'll like Matt Bell's (short) process story, about his short story, "The Receiving Tower." Best takeaway: "Discovering the rest of the story required dozens of iterations of key scenes and images and individual sentences, all of which required a lot of meticulous attention combined with an openness to revision and rewriting."  (Then you can read the story at Bark.)

> A forthcoming blog from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), is looking for "articles, essays and blog posts from all who participate in or are interested in independent literary publishing — that includes publishers, authors, readers, librarians, educators, historians, booksellers and all who care about our community." More here about Front Porch Commons, due to launch this summer. (Essays and articles are paid, posts are not.)

> Alison K. Williams a.k.a. "The Unkind Editor," explains at The Writers Bloc how sharp freelance editors work and why, and the reasons writers want to work with an editor who is allergic to B.S.   (via Sheila Webster Boneham)

> In the Boston Globe, Sage Stossel, offers one audience member's notes (and mini transcript) of a PEN New England talk on "Mothers and Writing" with Heidi Pitlor, Lily King, Kim McLarin, Megan Marshall, and Claire Messud.

> The Guardian explains this week's British supreme court ruling allowing pianist James Rhodes to publish a memoir of his childhood sexual abuse at a private school. One of the issues was whether his ex-wife could prevent publication because of the book's possible adverse impact on their son's development.

> The New York Times takes a look at United Airlines' in-flight literary magazine, Rhapsody, now 18 months old.  (Buy why limit it to first class passengers only?)  h/t @monkeybicycle

> The Six Word Memoirs website has a new-to-me feature, Behind Six Backstories, so those who post their six words can tell the longer backstory. I had fun with this last week when, after blues legend B.B. King passed away, I posted my six -- "B.B.'s birthday: invites teen. Lucky me." -- and the backstory.

> If you've ever worked in a bookstore (or wandered into one to find ...something), you'll enjoy David Raney's feature at Compose, "The Blue Book by That Woman."

> Finally, something fun. While I'm not a huge fan of online quizzes, but "Can You Guess The Children's Book by These Emojis?" was good fun (if a little too easy). via @paulakrapf

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where Essays Begin: Sudden news, old friend, odd lyrics, far away

Sometimes an essay or piece of memoir begins in my head as a scrap of something that will not quiet--a phrase, a bit of remembered conversation, a line of lyrics. Like this one, a 1960s tidbit.

My boyfriend's back and you're gonna be in trouble.

That line circled my brain a few years ago, insisting that I write…something—in response to news I heard about my first real boyfriend. How the lyric connected to our story, or to my reaction to his news, was a mystery.


There it was, an earworm, a prod, that wonderful awful feeling as I'm drifting off to sleep or when just waking up, that says, Hey, you! Get out of bed, start writing.

Only, as I began to write, I heard the lyric differently, altered.

Your boyfriend's back and you're gonna be sorry.

Over the next few months, the piece took shape, fell apart. I put it away, pulled it out again. Pushed it aside again. Let it marinate. Let myself figure out what I had to say. Fiddled with it again. Forgot it for months. Tried again. 

Draft number four.

Then a few things happened.

First, I asked a half dozen readers for input; not my usual writer friends, but students in the MFA course I was teaching last fall. As a way of sharing in the psychic pain of their first graduate workshop experience, I invited them to comment on my draft.

Draft number five.

Next, I realized it wasn't only about an old boyfriend, but about how he helped me understand things—some then, more later—about romance, love, sex, kindness, passionate hobbies, and eventually, even a little about mothering teenage sons.

Draft number six.

Then, when the piece, eventually titled, "Your Boyfriend's Back," was accepted for the Spring 2015 issue of Front Porch Journal, smart editors had some thoughtful questions and intelligent revision suggestions.

Final piece (draft number seven).

Here's a very short excerpt of the longish piece:

...I tried to think about what Joe would look like now, and compared that to the tiny, poorly focused photograph in the magazine of him on a bike, wearing a helmet. Perhaps it wasn’t my Joe. But I didn't think M____ was such a common surname. And the age was right. The Joe I remembered had not been athletic. Yes, his arms always felt strong around me, and even then, he’d ridden his bicycle for miles, but a triathlete? But then, I hadn't seen Joe in decades. So much can change...

I'd love it if you would visit the journal and read the full piece.

Now, like all writers I suppose, in my head, I am circling another scrap of …something.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Odd Timing of an Essay about Good Timing

Earlier this week, I talked here about why I hadn't written a Mother's Day essay this year. What I didn't say is that I had written something about my mother late last year, which was published, coincidentally, just before Mother's Day, in a new collection. I didn't think of it as a Mother's Day essay, and I still don't.

The timing, however, is interesting, as the piece is titled "All in Good Timing," and pivots on something my mother taught me that's applicable to so many areas of life—the kitchen, workplace, family life, even the bedroom: Timing is everything (though she never said it quite that way).

She taught me that strategically timing requests, demands, suggestions, and advice, will skyrocket your chances of success. In the essay, Mom's own impeccable timing is on display, as well as her timing advice for me.

 Here's an excerpt from the middle of the piece, which appears in Only Trollops Shave Above the Knee: The Crazy, Brilliant, and Unforgettable Lessons We've Learned From Our Mothers.

"…What she had to teach me about timing had more to do with timing what we can control.

Besotted with horses practically before I could talk, my pleas for a pony, from age 10 to 13, only made my father smirk (Are you crazy? Where would we put a pony? Do you think I'm made of money?). But Mom was on my side (and knew we could afford it). She told me, with a wink, to drop it, for a while.  

Then I signed up for a summer acting camp that my father had found and supposedly vetted, one that cost a bundle and was such a bust, I left, along with dozens of kids, on the first day. The parents would all wind up in small claims court in September; but I arrived home in early July downtrodden, a vacant summer sprawling ahead.

That first night home, while eating out, I asked for a dog. Both said no, but when my father went to the men's room, Mom leaned in.

"Now," she said. "Ask for a horse now. The timing is just right."

One horse turned into five, into 10 years on the horse show circuit, into blue ribbons, into my parents both beaming from the bleachers. 

When I was 24 and my on-again, off-again boyfriend…"

I'll leave it there. Suffice to say, Mom's advice worked that time too (he's now a husband of 27 years).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Mother's Day Essay I Didn't Write

Unlike many writers, I did not write an essay timed for Mother's Day, though I read many. Some were achingly beautiful, others funny, or sad, or interesting in novel ways. I'm glad to have read them, but surprisingly not upset that I didn't have one among them. 

I thought I understood the reason for this; that I was busy doing other things, things I was happy to be doing. (Isn't this just the flip side to my belief that If you are going to write, you are going to NOT do something else?)

Lately, my calendar awareness has shifted to teaching markers. When is the class proposal due? When must the syllabus be turned in? When is the first day of class? Spring break? End of the semester? Which is fine. The work energizes me at the same time it leaves me scrambling for the mental energy for personal writing projects keyed to the calendar. It was understandable that I hardly noticed the closing window to write and submit a Mother's Day essay. I simply needed to get more accustomed to balancing teaching (and editing and coaching) with writing. 

Yet many writers with much heavier teaching loads than mine still managed to write that Mother's Day essay, and come to think of it, I did write other essays that were time-sensitive in the not-so-distant past, as well as many other pieces too. So the teaching calendar can't be to blame.

Finally, on Mother's Day, as I was posting a photo on Facebook, of my mother and I on my wedding day, I discovered the real reason I didn't write a Mother's Day essay.

Mother's Day, I noticed, was only a week before what would be the third anniversary of my mother's death. I had skipped writing a Mother's Day essay for…three years.

What makes us write? What makes us not write? The answers are complex and complicated, even, or maybe especially, when we think they are simple.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - Dave Bleasdale

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 1, 2015 Edition

> Does your throat go dry (or your email go blank) when you need to ask someone to do something that will help your writing career? Check out Kamy Wicoff's excellent tips and get that Yes!

> In the final session of nearly every class I teach, I spend time answering any student questions about getting their essays and short memoir pieces published, so Richard Gilbert's "A Teacher's Advice to Students on Revision and Submission" was of special interest -- and not just to student writers!

> Any writer over 50 (me!) will probably find themselves nodding at Nikki Stern's post at Brevity on being a writer of a certain age.

> At Apostrophe Books' an Advice for Writers page offers video clips from folks like Margaret Atwood dispensing, well, writing advice.

> Though not everyone ranks him among favorite writers, nearly every writer I know swears by Stephen King's words of writerly wisdom, and 10 terrific quotes are graphically captured here.

> One last bit of AWP coverage: Michele Filgate's attendance adventure essay at LitHub.

> What's more fun than seeing my #cnftweet on the back page of Creative Nonfiction magazine (issue # 55)? Seeing that one of my undergraduate students from fall semester has one there too (posting a #cnftweet--or 10--was part of an extra credit assignment).

> While I can't vouch for the accuracy (though it mirrors other illogical and accurate explanations I've read), and I can detect just a slight whiff of snark (which I rather liked), there's a lot to think about in "How the New York Times Bestseller List Works".

> Finally, 
is Times New Roman really the death knell on a resume? Do we care?

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - Boston Public Library