214 posts categorized "writing"

September 01, 2018

Acquiring Story Ideas

Again, here's a handout I use in my fiction/prose narrative classes that I thought might be useful to others.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your classes, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

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Acquiring Story Ideas

Where do story ideas come from?

They don’t just drop out of the sky into your head. Acquiring and developing story ideas is a skill that you can learn. The more skill you develop, the more ideas you’ll have at your disposal. 

This means activelyseeking out and collecting story ideas. Where do you start?

A storyhas a setting, characters, conflict, action, a narrative arc.  A story IDEAdoesn’t need to have any of these.

A story idea may be (but is not limited to):

  1. An IMAGE: something you see, hear, smell, taste or feel, real or imagined
  • “the long arm of a backhoe, folded delicately like a bird’s claw”
  • “the scent of oleander on humidity after a monsoon”
  • “fingers of a sudden cold wind thrust through the button gaps in my shirt”
  • “his cigarette ash, fluttered into my glass of absinthe, the taste still anisette but gritty”
  1. A PHRASE: a conjunction of words that just happens in your head or that you overhear. This can be the title of the story or a central image, or these can be the first words you write down that lead you into the story.
  • “Blue, everywhere”
  • “He said it first”
  • “All the icy stars came out”
  • "Wicked crow"
  1. An OBSERVATION from real life: something overheard or seen.
  • a piece of conversation overheard
  • the a gesture of a toddler and its mother’s response
  • an argument between two of your friends
  • lovers kissing on a bus, swaying with the bus' motion but not falling over
  1. An ABSTRACT IDEA OR QUESTION: maybe something that has been occupying your mind lately.
  • “Why doesn’t the left have violent fanatics anymore?” 
  • “Why can’t my mom and I get along? It’s like we’re programmed to fight, even when we’re happy.” 
  • “What, of all things is so precious to me that I wouldn’t give it up, even if tortured?”
  • “What if Ronald Reagan were cloned by environmental activists?”
  1. A STORY: from a newspaper, magazine, history book or that someone tells you. This is often just the outlines of an incident, begging to be filled in by a competent writer. 
  • A wanted profile in a paper about a drug dealer in his late twenties who was white but wore dreadlocks and “spoke like a Rastafarian” and was usually accompanied by a girl, 9 – 11 years old, who he claimed was his daughter. 
  • An article about the psychology of bullying in American high schools
  • My friend telling me that her boyfriend, who was mourning the death of his father with bad dreams, bit her on the nose while he was sleeping.

EXERCISE:

  1. Get a notebook, preferably one with a pen loop to hold a pen. Get a pen, or pencil. Carry these with you everywhere you go, from now on.
  2. For the next week, spend your free time actively seeking out story ideas; collect at least five from each category. Keep an eye/ear/nose, etc. out and write down images you experience. Write down striking images or moments from your dreams. Go to public places and eavesdrop on people and write down their actions, dialogue. Take note of phrases you see in your reading. Write down weird thoughts as they come to you (or force yourself to HAVE weird thoughts.) Read a lot of news.
  3. Keep doing this, for the rest of your writing life.

Developing Story Ideas

Again, here's a handout I use in my fiction/prose narrative classes that I thought might be useful to others.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

Developing Story Ideas

Now that you’ve collected a lot of story ideas, what do you do with them?Well, no matter how much people want artists to be free thinkers, you are NOT absolutely free to write anything. Artists are more slave to their obsessions and their favorite ideas than anyone else. As you experiment more you’ll find that some of your ideas simply fall flat. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. Michelangelo (might have) said about his sculptures of angels that he went to the rock and simply removed everything that wasn’t an angel. This is what you need to do; write a lot of crap and then remove everything that isn’t an angel.

Prepare ideas to become stories: basically this means to contextualize your idea.  Ask yourself about the image you see, or the situation implied by the phrase or the moment you’ve observed, or the moment the question implies:

What is happening here?

  • is the backhoe animated? Does it think? Is it resting?
  • Does “blue, everywhere” mean literally that? That everything is blue?  Did someone go crazy and paint his whole house blue? 
  • Did the toddler learn that gesture from his dead father, the only legacy he has? Does his mother see this and finally realize that her husband is gone?
  • If I were tortured, would I betray my boyfriend? What if the mafia tortured me in a motel room and I gave him up?
  • What if the girl really isn’t the white rasta’s daughter? What if she doesn’t remember where she comes from? What if she helps him with his drug deals because she’s afraid of losing the only family she remembers?

Where would this happen? 

In what part of the world, or in what kind of place (suburb, sewer, penthouse, playground, forest, space station, etc.)?  On the street or on the sidewalk? In a Confucian society or a Judeo-Christian one? In the women’s room, or the men’s room? In a ghetto or a mansion? In an animistic world or a void?  In a single place or on the road?

When would this happen? 

In 1934 or 2025? In ancient, medieval, or modern times, or in the future? In the morning or evening?  When she was angry or when she was calm?  When society was at war or when society was at peace?  During an economic high or low? Before, during or after the cataclysm?

Why would this happen?  The moment that you’ve seen – the image, conversation, gesture, situation – what would cause that situation to be?

  • Did the rasta drug dealer kidnap her for ransom only to find that her parents had died in a car accident? Did his stone heart crack just a little? 
  • Did the young mother have a fight with her husband before he was murdered? Has she been in guilt and denial?
  • Does all heavy machinery have a soul? Are we simply being treated to the inside view of the life of a backhoe? 
  • Is the blue guy schizophrenic? Has he been hanging on by a thread until now?  Did the voices start speaking to him in the middle of a job interview? 
  • What if my boyfriend were a gambling addict who fell afoul of the mafia and ran away, leaving me to their tender mercies?

Select an idea and begin to write: This is the one part no one can tell you how to proceed in. This is where your subconscious takes over. Which idea catches at your attention?  Which commands you? Which do you wantto write? By this time, one of these ideas will have caught your imagination and you’ll be spinning it out without thinking. This is the best part. Enjoy it!

Story

Again, here's a handout I use in my fiction/prose narrative classes that I thought might be useful to others.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

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What is a Story?

What differentiates a story from a scene or a sketch or an excerpt; what makes a story a complete story:

Passage = movement from one stable set of circumstances to another; the experience of passage differentiates a western story from different kinds of narratives. In the course of the action, the protagonist experiences a change. This change is caused by the protagonist’s action to remove or circumvent the obstacle. The change may be described as either the protagonist succeeding at acquiring his/her desire or the protagonist failing to acquire his/her desire and giving up. The change may also be known as a Passage, a movement from one place to another. Passage usually involves implied or explicit personal transformation.

Neo discovers he is, and then becomes The One; Frodo overcomes great difficulties, is personally transformed, and succeeds in destroying the Ring

Story Arc

The “story arc” or overall structure of the story has also been known as “plot”. The traditional story arc is depicted below. Master it. Once you have done so, you can break these rules as often and in as many ways as you like. (Examples from Lord of the Rings and The Matrix films.)

Story Arc Graphic

Balance = a stable, unchanging set of circumstances

The protagonist begins the story in a state of equilibrium or balance. Things are stable, the protagonist is in stasis, i.e., not in motion or in action. Action in this case, is not the things that the protagonist does every day, without changing (go to work, brush teeth, go on date with boyfriend, etc.) The actions the protagonist takes to maintain his/her life as it is are not “action”.

Frodo living in the Shire; Neo searching for clues about the Matrix and not finding them.

Conflict = desire + obstacle

Conflict drives the story. Conflict is the desire of the protagonist blocked. The blocking of a strong desire causes the protagonist to act to remove or circumvent the obstacle. This action is the action of the story.

Frodo wants to remain in peace in the Shire but the black riders have invaded; Neo wants to find the nature of reality but he’s been searching for years and can’t find anything.

Incentive Moment = event that upsets balance, causing conflict and requiring action

The conflict may already exist in the situation but simply be in stasis like the rest of the circumstances (the Matrix exists, Neo is looking for it, Morpheus is looking for Neo), or the conflict may be introduced into the circumstances (the One Ring is found) In any case, something happens that upsets the balance, creates or increases conflict and sends the tension shooting up. This is called the Incentive Moment.

Morpheus contacts Neo; Gandalf tells Frodo about the Ring.

Action = action protagonist takes to restore balance or achieve desire

As a result of the balance being upset, conflict is created or increased to the point that the protagonist is moved, or moves him/herself, out of stasis into action. The action is what the protagonist does to restore balance or to achieve his/her desire.

Neo takes the blue pill/chooses to see the Matrix; Frodo decides to leave the Shire and take the Ring to safety.

Rising Action = series of events that increase tension and move protagonist through Passage

The Passage is expressed as a series of actions or attempts to achieve the desired goal. Each action results in an incident or event. Each action either succeeds or fails, but falls short of the ultimate goal. Each action raises the tension (feeling of conflict), the conflict, and the stakes a little more.

Neo learns kung fu and fights Morpheus, goes to see the Oracle, rescues Morpheus from the agents; Frodo goes to Rivendell and collects the Fellowship, goes through the mines of Moria, encounters Galadriel, escapes from Boromir, goes into Mordor, etc.

Climax = Breaking point of tension; moment of transformation

With the rising action, tension has been ratcheted up and up and up. At some point, it can’t go any higher and something has to break. The final incident or event that breaks the tension and forces a resolution to the conflict—for better or for worse—is the Climax. This is the moment of highest tension, conflict, action, movement. This moment is both inevitable, and surprising.

Neo becomes immune to bullets and dives into Agent Smith, destroying him; Frodo makes it to Mt. Doom, finds he can’t get rid of the Ring, and fights Gollum, hurling him, with the Ring, into the lava lake.

Falling Action = action that brings tension back down to a new state of balance

The resolution to the conflict will now create a new balance—things can never return to the way they were, but a new balance or stability will be in place. However, after getting everybody’s panties in a bunch at the Climax, you can’t just drop back into stasis. You have to bring people down slowly and connect the transformation that happens with the new balance. This is the Falling Action, which is, of course, much shorter than the Rising Action.

Neo goes back into the Matrix and does a voice over, setting us up for a sequel; Frodo goes to Rivendell to recover, then returns to the Shire but can’t settle in so he goes off to Elfland with the elves.

New Balance = not the shoes, the new stable set of circumstances after the Passage

You know the story is over when the tension is gone, the conflict is resolved. This results in a New Balance, or new set of stable circumstances, a new stasis for the xtrs. This can be hinted at, or shown.

Neo is now the leader of the resistance (hinted at); Sam is the inheritor of the peace of the Shire (shown in his returning to his family.) 

August 31, 2018

Narrator; POV; Voice

Again, here's a handout I use in my fiction/prose narrative classes that I thought might be useful to others.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

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Narrator; Point of View; Voice

Please note: not all people use these terms in this manner. Often "voice" is used to refer to what I'm calling "narrator." But these terms aren't used consistently.

  • Narrator: who tells the story, the immediate “voice” on the page, speaking to the reader
  • Point of View (POV): whose eyes we’re looking out of or whose brain we’re examining – this is not always the same character as the narrator
  • Voice: the “sound” of someone “speaking” on the page.  All writing is verbal language, all writing is a representation of speech (esp. alphabetical writing).  In fiction, a lot of imaginary people (including the Author) are speaking, and all of them have a voice.

Narrator:

  1. First person – the “I” narrator, who is necessarily a character in the story, or in the world of the story. Unless the I narrator is a god or telepathic, he/she is limited to his/her own perspective and can’t get into anyone else’s thoughts (except by imagining them). My mother always told me when I was growing up that patience is the greatest virtue.
  1. Second person – the “you” narrator. This sort of telling sounds more like a command – “you do this, you say that” – and the presumed narrator, the person telling the story, is never named or indicated.  This can be confused with direct address narrative, in which the first person narrator addresses the reader directly, or addresses another character who never appears or responds.  Direct address is actually first person. Your mother always told you when you were growing up that patience is the greatest virtue. (direct address) Let me just remind you, young lady, that it was your mother who always told you when you were growing up that patience is the greatest virtue.
  1. Third person – the “he/she/it” narrator. This is the most common in fiction and has a variety of subsets. The differences among these subsets are a matter of degree:
    • 3rdObjective – not terribly common. This is where the narrator cannot get into anyone’s head or perspective and just tells the story “objectively” seeing only what a camera could see. She walked into the room, looked around, grimaced, and found a seat. The man looked up at her and then back down.
    • 3rdLimited or “close third” – The narrator can only get into one character’s head and remains with that character’s perspective. She walked into the room, looked around grimacing at the shabbiness of it, and thought she might as well sit down and wait. She saw the man looking at her but decided to ignore him.
    • 3rdOmniscient – The narrator is god and can see and know and hear everything everyone thinks, says or does. She walked into the room, looked around grimacing at the shabbiness of it, and thought she might as well sit down and wait. He found her both attractive and repulsive, and wished she had sat closer to him. He looked away. In truth, the agency could have afforded a more stylish waiting room, but wanted to discourage camaraderie between such applicants.

Point of View (pov):

pov ≠ narrator. If you are using a third person omniscient narrator, you may choose to drop down into various characters’ heads at different points. Each time you enter a different head, you are changing pov, without changing narrators.

The pov belongs to the eyes you are looking out of, or the person whose senses or thoughts are being used at that time. You can change points of view in first person by changing the voice, the xtr who is speaking. In second person it’s more complicated. In close third you can switch whichever xtr you’re following, although this then slips into omniscience.

Voice (there are layers of voice):

ACTUAL PERSON: the real person who wrote a piece: this person’s voice is nowhere in writing, rather, this person’s writing is a representation of the person.

AUTHOR: the reader’s image of the person who wrote a piece, the by-line, the Author is no more real than, say, Madonna, or Marilyn Monroe. The Author is a fictional construct.

AUTHORIAL VOICE: the sound of the author’s voice on the page, over the course of several pieces; the author’s writerly personality: “this sounds like something Shakespeare/Woolf/Eggers would write”.

NARRATOR’S VOICE: sound of the voice of the particular narrator for this particular piece. If it is a 3rdperson narrator, it may be confused with the authorial voice.  Don’t be fooled. Each 3rdperson narrator is different, and specific to that piece.

CHARACTER’S VOICE: each important character whom we hear speak or think should have his/her own distinctive voice – the sound of them on the page, talking, thinking; if we’re dealing with a 1stperson narrator who is a character, then this can refer to the narrator’s voice as well

August 11, 2016

Characterization Handout

Again, here's a handout I use in my fiction/prose narrative classes that I thought might be useful to others.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

Characterization (“Xtr” = “Character”)

STEP ONE: FIND YOUR XTR’S SPINE

Essential building blocks: these are the things you should know about your character.

  1. Physical appearance as it affects personality and how other Xtrs respond to this Xtr.
  2. Cultural background, especially if this xtr lives in a world with more than one culture.
  3. Family background as it affects personality, limitations, etc.
  4. Upbringing and education as it affects personality, ability, how other Xtrs respond (“education” means a great deal more than school. It can mean training and areas of knowledge and expertise, etc.)
  5. What does this character do? This means job, vocation, calling, passion, as well as the role the xtr fills in his/her community.
  6. What are his/her strengths and how are they shown?
  7. Why does he/she have these particular strengths?
  8. What are his/her flaws and how are they manifested?
  9. Why does he/she have these particular flaws?
  10. What drives him/her? What does he/she want from life?
  11. What does this xtr fear? What are his/her “issues”?

A Xtr’s SPINE is his/her central, operating elements of personality. “Operating” means that they’re important to the story, they work in the story. For example, Neo (from The Matrix) may have had a shoe fetish, but it doesn’t operate in the story, so it’s not part of his spine. When you’re through figuring these things (above) out, you (and your reader) should have no trouble describing your character's SPINE in three or four items. 

e.g.:

  • Neo is a computer genius, he has intuition about the nature of reality, he is obsessive about discovering the truth, he is physically and morally courageous
  • Frodo (from Lord of the Rings) is a comfortable homebody, he loves the Shire with a passion, his only talents are courage and a strong moral compass

STEP TWO: FIND YOUR XTR’S MOTIVE FORCE

  1. A Character is a creature or object that reflects and acts. A Protagonist is a Character whose action drives the action of the whole story (there will be other characters in your story who act, but their action doesn’t drive the story. E.g.: The Oracle in The Matrix tells people important things but it’s Neo who makes the story happen.
  2. In step one you thought about what drove your Xtr, what s/he wanted from life. Which one or combination of these desires is strong enough for a Xtr. to act upon?
  3. Xtrs do not exist in a vacuum, they live in a world. Some of their desires will be fulfilled by their world, and some blocked. It is the blocked desire that, to be fulfilled, requires action. Which of your Xtr’s desires interacts with his/her world in such a way that requires action? This will be his/her MOTIVE FORCE.

MOTIVE FORCE = desire that requires action

e.g.:

  • Neo wants to learn the truth about reality but the matrix keeps reality away. This drives him to seek out Morpheus, take the blue pill and exit the world of the matrix.
  • Frodo wants a quiet life in the Shire. This is threatened by the black riders searching for the ring. His desire to preserve the Shire drives him to set out to destroy the ring.

STEP THREE: REVEAL YOUR XTR IN THE TEXT

You can’t just sit down and tell everything about your xtr and have that operate. Your reader has to know your xtr, but s/he also has to feel and see and intuit your xtr to become really engaged. You can’t give away your xtr, you must reveal your xtr. (i.e. you can’t make your reader passive, you have to entice them to dig a little.) There are several methods of revealing character. Keep an eye out for these as you read. Not all writers use all of these in every story, and often, they are manipulated in interesting ways.

Methods of revealing Xtr:

  1. Exposition: telling about your character

    Snorfle was a strong smark from the forests of Lagoo. His parents had died when he was small and he had raised himself. He was much respected. More than anything, he wanted to avenge his parents’ death.

  2. Description: describing your character physically or otherwise

    Snorfle had three small eyes in the back of his head and a lot of hair around his neck. The females especially loved his slime-green claws and the way they all curved so gracefully to the right. They also loved his beautiful manners over a fresh carcass and the intense way he pounded its skull to jelly.

  3. Action: what your character does in a large and small sense

    Upon learning the name of his parents’ murderer, Snorfle fell into a green funk for three weeks and refused all food – even girl-eyeballs, his favorite. He sat in a corner of his cave and didn’t move, except for whapping his tail against the floor. In the end, he decided to go on a quest to find the murderer and place sharp sticks in every available murderer orifice.

  4. Gestures and mannerisms: the very small actions that distinguish a character

    Snorfle had a habit of picking his snout, putting the results on his tail, and flicking them across the lake into the trees. Or: Snorfle read the notice, skritching his underscales as he read.

  5. Dialogue: a way of establishing voice as well as the character’s modes of interaction with others.

    “Too Small!” Snorfle shouted. “Snorfle don’t eat small humans!”

    “Calm down,” Weedy said. “We can still eat it.”

    “No! I am Snorfle! No small humans! If Snorfle eats small humans then Snorfle won’t have big humans to eat!”

    “I know,” Weedy said, sighing and releasing the human. “You’re a conservationist. You’ve told me. Many times.”

  6. Thoughts: a direct line into the character’s brain

    Snorfle tried to look like he was listening to Weedy, but he only wanted to squeeze her scaly yoohoos. They were so … juicy. She was female, why should he not squeeze them? Oh, yes, because she would hurt him. Better not. Better look like he was listening.

  7. Narrative voice: Only when the story is told by the character – a first person narrator.

    I am Snorfle. Hear my tale! I come from the forest. You do not. Listen to me or die!

December 19, 2015

Revision Processes

Again, I thought this might be useful to some folks, so I'm posting it here.

Many beginning writers don’t revise effectively because they don’t know how. Revision is half of writing however (and half the fun! No, really!) The first or rough draft of a piece is you tapping into your subconscious and allowing it to spill out onto the page with guidance, but without interference, from your conscious mind. Writing doesn’t end there, though.

Once your subconscious has had its first say, it’s time to get your conscious mind involved in manipulating the material at hand. Subsequent revisions are an interplay between your conscious understanding of the craft of fiction, and your subconscious and what it wants to say. The trick is not to let the one or the other have too much control, but to balance the two.

Put another way, revision is “re” “vision”, looking at your work again. Here are some ways to look:

  1. Put the piece away. Yes, don’t look at it for a while. At least two weeks. Don’t think about it. Then, come back with a fresh eye.
  2. Save Drafts!!!!: Give yourself the freedom to experiment with drafts by saving each draft into a different file. That way, if you experiment with something that is disastrous, you still have the previous draft to go back to.
  3. Writing towards the life. The first time you read a piece after taking a break, when it's feeling fresh to you again, mark the places where the story seems to go flat, and also mark the hotspots, the places where things seem to take off, or get exciting, or get your juices flowing. The flat places will need to be cut, or rewritten, or cut, or contracted, or cut, or reconceptualized, or cut. Did I mention that you can cut them? Look at what's left (the hotspots.) If the story isn't finished, or needs development still, then start writing again in the middle of a hotspot and let it take you where it will.
  4. Craft Analyses: Go through your story several times, each time concentrating on a different element of craft. (you don’t need to do all of these, just pick the ones you need the most help on. For example you can: 
      1. do a plot or narrative arc revision by analyzing how the piece establishes conflict, builds tension over a series of events, and then climaxes the tension and resolves the conflict. Or by analyzing how the piece doesn’t do this and why not and what it does instead. You might find that a subplot with a comic character draws reader attention too much away from the central conflict. You delete that subplot, folding the comic character back into the central action. Interestingly enough, that comic character suddenly adds a new and essential scene to the story that resolves other problems you didn’t know how to resolve.
      2. look at which events you chose to tell about and which you chose to dramatize in a scene and ask yourself if you really chose the most dramatic or important scenes to dramatize. You can also look at the structure of the piece here in terms of scene and summary and ask yourself if you’ve chosen the best order in which to place your incidents and flashbacks. (Most pacing issues will be with narrative arc or with scene structure.)
      3. do a characterization revision by looking over all the ways in which you develop character in this piece: description, voice in dialogue, action and gesture, thought. You might find that your antagonist’s character is described at the beginning but pretty much ignored throughout the rest of the piece. This results in her being flat and not at all frightening, which in turn detracts from the tension. You add scenes and gestures to muscle up her characterization and rewrite her dialogue to suggest subtly what her motivations might be.
      4. look at the world and find the things that you left out and fill these in the negative spaces around the scenes, especially sensual elements like smells and sounds, or cultural elements.
      5. look at narrator, p.o.v. and voice and ask yourself how the choices you’ve made affect the piece. You might want to try writing a new draft changing the narrator or changing the pov. It might work or it might not, but you might consider trying it.
      6. look at flow of language and rhythm and rewrite passages that are bumpy or uneven. Or maybe rearrange paragraphs so that the flow of ideas or events becomes more jagged and staccato.
      7. look at pacing and expand sections that are too short or contract sections that are too long; speed up or slow down sections. (Note: only expand short sections if you have more to say there. NEVER add padding. Usually pacing issues are issues of you not having developed the other craft aspects sufficiently—especially structure. So once you've done that, you won't have a pacing problem anymore.)
  5. Off-page: Figure out what you don’t know about your characters, situation, etc. (Why does Jenny distrust men? What was her relationship with her father? If Chris’ grandfather was a miner, did he die of silicosis? Does Chris remember this?) Go “off the page” of the actual story text and write (crappy) backstory, or (crappy) character sketches or (crappy) prologues or epilogues to the actual story or (crappy) scenes that happen “offstage” in your story. Give yourself permission to write crappily and to never look at what you’re writing again. Writing off-page is purely for content, purely to give you a way back in to your story, and to give you more insight into your characters and situation. Once you’ve done all the off-page stuff, go back into your story and rewrite it.
  6. Experiment: Go nuts. Rewrite the whole thing from the point of view of a Martian or a worm on the family compost heap or a fly on the wall. Try adding the word “red” to every sentence. Rewrite it in second person, past perfect, passive voice, questions only, all run-on sentences, with no adjectives, without the verb “to be”, translated into pig Latin. Imagine that every paragraph is a poem and rewrite accordingly, with line breaks. Knock yourself out, but save your previous draft.
  7. Elevator Cut: Sit down and try to write an “elevator speech” description of your story (this is what you are able to tell a stranger in an elevator before s/he gets off. This will be what you can say in about half a minute.) Then go through your story and cut out everything that doesn’t directly feed into your elevator summary. If you find later that you needed it after all, you can put it back in. Cut words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, passages. Cut, cut, cut! Then go back in and sew up the hole your cut left. Make sure that each sentence, each paragraph, transitions smoothly or well into the next.
  8. Complete rewrite: This should be your last draft. Print out the current draft of your story. Sitting with the print out in your lap, completely rewrite the story from beginning to end. Do not permit yourself to cut and paste from the last version. If you want to use a passage, retype it. Try to do this all in one sitting. Don’t allow the draft in your lap to dictate the story to you. By this time, the story should be pretty clear in your head (not on paper.) Only refer to it when you don’t know where you’re going next. This is to smooth out the prose of a later draft that has been through several revisions and might be looking a little like Frankenstein. This also gives your subconscious another crack at inserting details and images. Do this for a later draft.
  9. Editing: Go obsessively through your MS looking for clichés, words, phrases, and lines that aren’t quite. Correct them. Rinse, repeat. Don’t be fooled, though, this is not revision; this is editing. Don’t do this first, do it last. LAST!

November 27, 2015

Claire's Writing Workshop Guidelines

For some reason, I've been having this discussion a lot lately with folks who are teaching and/or participating in writing workshops. I've brought up my own rules for conducting workshops several times, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to someone if I posted these.

For those of you who need qualifications: I have an MFA in fiction writing from SF State, have published some short stories and a short collection of stories, and have run two nonprofit community writing programs. I've participated in about 17 workshops (in my BFA and MFA programs, in adult community writing workshops, and at Clarion West) as a student and conducted about 15 of them as an instructor: as a TA at SF State, as an artist in residence at a high school, and in adult community workshops. 

I developed these guidelines out of my experience being fruitlessly (and endlessly) workshopped as a student, and wanting better for my students. There are plenty of instructors out there who run a good workshop and do it differently from how I do it. But this is what works for me and -- based on apparent impact and student feedback -- for my students.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

So, without further ado:

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CLAIRE'S WORKSHOP GUIDELINES

 What it is:

Workshopping writing is a process of gathering a group of people to read and discuss a writer’s work. The workshop process is intended to give the writer assistance in completing their piece through:

  • An outside perspective; a reader’s perspective
  • Multiple points of view on their work
  • Dispassionate (though never objective!) analytical assistance

How it works in my class:

  1. Everyone will have one week to read the pieces that they will workshop
  2. While reading, the reader will make notes in the margins (or using “track changes”) about what they are experiencing as they read. Note: boredom, confusion, excitement, pleasure, questions raised by the text, etc.
  3. After reading, the reader will write up an analysis of the piece using the tools we learned in this class.
  4. The reader will bring both the marked up manuscript and the analysis to the workshop class and give them to the writer afterwards.
  5. During the workshop session for that piece, the readers will discuss with one another their analyses of the piece. The participants should feel free to disagree and debate with one another, using concrete examples from the piece.

What to talk about in workshop:

Your written critiques and our workshop sessions will address the issues outlined below. We will be using the craft elements in the lessons (characterization, world-building, conflict, story arc, POV/voice) to talk about the following:

  1. Where is the power, heat, fire, life in the piece coming from?  What makes it feel alive, rather than inert?
  2. What is this piece literally about? What's the story? What did you get and what didn't you get?
  3. What is the writer trying to do with this piece? Is it a meditation on a particular theme?  a raging good story? an experiment with forms? 
  4. What techniques and strategies is the writer using to get at her theme or purpose? Talk about the craft elements of the piece (structure, character, dialogue, action, voice, etc.) 
  5. What are the advantages to the writer's strategy, and how can the disadvantages be avoided? (Please note: this is not an opportunity for you to tell the writer how you would have written the piece or what you would prefer to read or to encourage the writer to change her strategy.  This is a place for you to discuss the disadvantages of the writer’s chosen strategy and help him find ways to turn these into advantages.) 

Rules:

Workshopping is a difficult and unnatural process. Effective workshopping is a skill that must be learned. The process outlined below may seem awkward or counterintuitive to you.  Please trust this process and try it out.

  • No evaluative statements: these are sentences using the phrases I liked, I didn’t like, … was good, … was working, wasn’t working, etc.  Instead, please
    • make observations.  These are sentences that simply state what is there.  So, instead of I liked how you used dialogue to reveal character say You used dialogue to reveal character.  This showed us the characters in speech and action, rather than telling us in exposition, which can be awkward.  Instead of Your sarcastic tone wasn’t working for me say, The tone of the piece was sarcastic.  This can be disadvantageous if it alienates a reader who takes the theme seriously, but if your intention is to distance the reader from the action, this can be an effective tool.
    • ask questions.  Rephrase a criticism into a question about why the thing you didn’t like had to be that way.  Instead of I didn’t like the stop-and-start rhythm of the piece ask Why did you choose to break up the flow of rhythm in the piece? Was this deliberate?
  • No orders: don’t tell the writer what to do in phrases like You should or I suggest that you or Why don’t you try.  You are not here to rewrite the piece for the writer.  Period. You are here to:
    • reflect what you received from your reading back at the writer so that they know what their readers are understanding and what they aren't understanding. So tell them what you got without evaluative framing.
    • reflect what you understand of writing craft back at the writer, so that the writers can distance themselves from their work enough to place their work in the context of the overall discipline. So do this for them: take what you know about the craft, and use it to analyze the work. Remind them of the effect certain tactics tend to have; the advantages and disadvantages.
  • THE WRITER WILL NOT SPEAK. PERIOD. The whole point of writing is to "speak" to an audience that is dislocated from you in space and time. This means you do not get to stand over your audience's shoulder and tell them what they missed. They get it from your writing, or not at all. Thus, in the workshop, writers do not speak. You can ask specific questions at the end, but no explanations!
  • All work will be treated as fiction: which means that even if you are actually writing about yourself in first person, using your own name, we will still treat that character as a character … because it is a character in a story and not actually you. We will also be using the Law of Fictional Plausibility (see world-building handout), which states that if something doesn't feel plausible told in a story, then it doesn't matter whether or not it actually happened in real life.

March 11, 2013

Check-In

I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:

  1. Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
  2. If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
  3. I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
  4. Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
  5. This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
  6. And finally, this is this week's happy.

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

February 22, 2013

There ARE Second Acts in American Blog Posts

It seems my "damned if you do, damned if you don't" post about white writers writing about POC has been Tumblred and hit some sort of critical mass. It even reached people I know who missed it the first time around. Someone even emailed me today for permission to use it in a presentation. (The same day I deleted a comment calling it "reverse racist." I don't allow that term to be used on my blog.)

So I went to the original Tumblr post and read through all the comments (I still don't get Tumblr. Why make it so difficult to see people's responses?) and I find I have a couple more things to say.

  1. This is a "shut up and deal with it" post. It's not a post telling you what or what not to do with your life. It's a post telling white writers who have been fortunate enough to complete a book, find a publisher, find an audience, and have a public discussion happen about their work to "shut up and deal with the negative criticism in the midst of your good fortune." Shut up and deal with it.
  2. Dude, you don't know any of these people who might be criticizing you. Why would you let my saying that a few nameless, faceless (literally, this is the internet) POC will criticize you stop you from doing anything?

...

Yeah, that's pretty much all I had to say. Beyond that, whoever doesn't get it, doesn't get it. Maybe someday they will.

Also, here's a good rephrasing.

And here's a moment of perspective.

And, if anyone was wondering, here's an ideal response from a white writer.

January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions IV

Stuff:

Also, I'm realizing that, for UF and mystery series, the usual conflict formula doesn't apply. For standalone novels, it's the protagonist's DESIRE + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT that drives the action. And in UF and mysteries that's still true at the most superficial level. The protag is the detective and desires to solve a mystery. That's the structural conflict. However there's not any development of this desire or the characterization or world around it.

The real, underlying motives and desires are those of the murderer/criminal, which the protag is trying to uncover. So that's why mysteries have to be series ... because the protag's underlying stuff can't be displayed over the course of just one book. You need a series arc to do it in. Hm. This is why mystery novels are more intricately plotted. Hmmmmm ...

January 12, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions III

OMG, so entirely this:

Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and gender relations from a primarily female point of view.

And then, this:

The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.

And this:

The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.

Which I don't really agree with. It would, if most UF didn't present female violence with the same lack of thoughtfulness with which action presents male violence. But it's not often reflected on, so it's often just transferring the violence over into hot wimmin bodies. Even Buffy did a lot of this.

But then, this:

The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.

Again, word, but only if it actually DID that, instead of knee-jerkingly imposing magic on the proceedings because that's what the ladeez wants.

January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions II

And there's this:

"There is simply something fascinating about vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse, the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the very essence of what it was to be human.

Those 'cheesy old monster movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old legends were really all about.

But maybe that isn't what you like about Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from limb in a heartbeat."

From here. Gotta remember this. But change "man" to "woman." This reviewer was right in saying that Underworld was structurally flawed because it was The Matrix told from Trinity's point of view. This is only ridiculous if you don't completely commit to telling The Matrix from Trinity's pov. If you do (and Underworld didn't, it's true) then you have something pretty damn cool, very urban fantasy-y, and dealing with WOMEN's issues and not men's, the way The Matrix did.

Anyway ...

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)

So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:

I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask, What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?

The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating, and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and get back to me.

So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict: these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many of these books only have one strong woman character, and many other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a strong woman, but not strong women.

I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:

  • Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
  • Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
  • Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
  • Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
  • Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
  • A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
  • Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.

January 01, 2013

New Year's Resolution

I'm not sure why exactly, but reading GGP's account of his two-months' struggle with a rather mysterious illness has just kicked me in the ass a bit. I'm going to make an actual resolution for 2013 ... maybe two.

  1. I'm going to write in this here blog every week. I've been too unmotivated -- lacking in energy -- to write. But I'm going to do it, even if I have nothing to write about. And I'll write short.
  2. Get on top of this stupid disease: go to the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome clinic in Palo Alto. I forget what it's called. But I'm going to go. And I'm going to do what they tell me. And I'm going to try every stupid California new age acupusher thing that crosses my path.

April 27, 2011

Rewriting "Hanna"

SPOILER ALERT. Don't read any of this until you've seen the movie!

I just saw Hanna and I'm both exhilarated and disappointed. The first three quarters of the film are wonderful: fresh and exciting and great filmmaking. Then the last quarter is shit.

The film takes a fairy tale situation and forces it into interaction with an elevated version of "reality." A beautifully filmed, highly selective version of the beauties of everyday life. A girl grows up in the forest, raised by her father, who is a hunter. She reaches a point in her growth where she has to go out into the world and claim her true identity. This is all stuff of fairy tales and myths: a child of mysterious birth who is supernaturally strong and powerful. In a fairy tale she'd be a secret princess, hidden from her father the evil king. In a myth, she'd be a demi-god, child of a god and a human, hidden from the human's evil king father, or something. Her quest is to discover her true identity and claim her power and status. So far, so good.

Along the way, on her quest, she receives help from various characters; in fairy tales they'd be kind humans and figures of power: a good witch, supernatural creatures who make bargains with her, etc. In the fairy tale, people who help her get left behind, never to be heard from again.

In the film, Hanna and her hunter/woodcutter father decide it's time for her to kill the evil king -- in this case, an evil CIA project director named Marissa Wiegler. She goes to the king's castle, kills a fake version of the king, and then escapes the castle into the "real world." Once there, the movie gets really great. The castle is an underground bunker in Morocco, and Hanna wanders through Morrocco and Spain, encountering a bunch of really surprising and beautiful set pieces, including women singing while they launder clothes in a river, and a group of Roma wearing Juicy Couture singing and dancing flamenco. She also hooks up with a quirky and wonderfully written family on vacation in their minibus, and sees what a good, albeit weird, family looks like. She gets her first kiss; not from the Spanish boys we expected, but rather from the English family's young daughter.

But then the fariy tale intrudes again. The evil king turns into a combination of evil witch and big bad wolf. Hanna careens through France and Germany and ends up confronting the baddies in Berlin. And this is where the movie turns to shit. Once she leaves the weird family, things get muddy. And, as my friend Jaime pointed out, once she starts using a computer to research her past, the movie completely falls apart.

This is because, once the English family gets left behind, she reenters the realm of fairy tale, but the filmmaker/s sort of lose their grip on the structure of the fairy tale. She discovers her true identity -- she's a genetically engineered supersoldier, of course. This shouldn't be a problem, because in a "modern" fairy tale, the demi-god/prince/ss would be a genetically engineered supersoldier. There's no such thing as gods or princesses or the supernatural in this story. And that's fine. BUT, the filmmakers -- or maybe just the writers -- let the genetically engineered supersoldier narrative take over the fairy tale, and those are two completely different (and not complementary) narrative structures. So the fairy tale goes to shit, as does the CIA supersoldier program story, because the latter wasn't how the story was set up.

The first half or more of the film is expansive, showing us how big and beautiful the real world is, and hinting at the stakes for this girl in trying to leave her fairy tale and enter reality. But the film narrows, in the latter part, to a simple confrontation between her and Marissa, and Marissa's defeat stops meaning anything broader for Hanna and for the audience members who identify with her as an everyman protagonist. Hanna, as would happen in a fairy tale, leaves all the people who have helped and nurtured her behind, but the baddies, as would happen in a spy tale, follow her and kill or hurt everyone who has helped her. Hanna never looks back, never even wonders what has happened to these people. This is made even more problematic by the revelation that she's been engineered to feel less fear, less pain, and less empathy. There's no redemption or expansion for her.

So I'm gonna try rewriting this to fix it and take this from a film that could have been great, to a film that would have been great. Wanna hear it? Here I go:

In the film Hanna doesn't return to see what happens to the people she left behind. In my version, she does. She turns around and goes back, one by one, to all the people who have helped her, thus retracing her steps back to the world of people and "reality."

We have three fairy tales being referenced here: The three little pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Once she leaves the English family, we're brought into these three, and reminded that she's on a quest through the scary forest of the CIA-ordered spy world. We also have three locations: her grandmother's house, a gingerbread house inhabited by a good gnome, and a fairy tale theme park, which was a really bad choice. But the three locations are important, because she's left four people, or sets of people, behind: the English family, the grandmother, the gnome/contact, and her father. The latter three, being part of the fairy tale world, die. But the English family's fate is left ambiguous. What she has to do is "bury" the dead, and save the family.

In the film she visits her grandmother's house -- where Marissa had invaded and killed her grandmother -- long before the climax, and the scene is completely thrown away. I'd rewrite this so that the grandmother's house is an actual house (the grandmother belongs to the fairy tale world) and not an apartment, and I'd show brief scenes of the grandmother in her house, getting the message from the hunter/father that Hanna is around and probably coming, reviewing the tapes from her daughter, cooking, cleaning, etc. But Hanna doesn't visit her house before the climax.

I'd also get rid of the climax in the playground. Marissa has sent three assassins after Hanna, and this could have been a smart choice: the three little pigs as bad guys going after the protagonist wolf, Hanna. Only ... the three little pigs is all about houses. They each have a house, and they run to each succeeding house until they find the one that will protect them. So the defeat of the evil three pigs has to involve a house, not an open air playground. There are two houses in this part of the movie: the grandmother's apartment and the gingerbread house the gnome/father's contact lives in. They should have put in a third one, maybe a CIA safe house, where Hanna traps the three pigs inside and kills them by blowing up the house. Or something, some inversion of the three pigs story.

In the process of this, her father gets killed, as he does in the film. In the film he distracts the pigs from her and she runs away and he kills the pigs and gets killed by Marissa. Bad choice. What should happen is that he distracts the pigs, she runs away, then he gets killed by the pigs. Hanna hears the gunshot that kills her father, but she doesn't go back in the film. In this one, the gunshot should be the turning point for her, the point where she makes the choice between being the killer/princess/demigod she was made to be, or the real person with a real family that the film keeps hinting she could be.

In my version, she stops, struggles with herself, and goes back to find her father. The pigs catch her there, and she traps them in the house and kills them, then makes some sort of burial/goodbye gesture to him. Then she returns to the gingerbread house where, in the film, the good gnome was tortured and killed for her sake. Marissa, in the guise of Hansel and Gretel's evil witch, should be waiting for her there. Hanna then traps Marissa in the oven; in this case, the only oven in the house is a waffle iron we see the gnome/contact using to make Hanna waffles. Maybe she burns Marissa with the waffle iron, or knocks her over the head with it. Then she makes some sort of settlement with the dead gnome/contact, and leaves without killing Marissa.

Next stop, grandmother's house. Of course, Marissa gets there before she does, and the grandmother is already dead. There, Hanna has a final confrontation with Marissa, kills her with an axe, as the big bad wolf must be killed, and finds her grandmother's body. Possibly, there's a final piece of the puzzle hidden in the grandmother's house, that Marissa tried to destroy by killing the grandmother, but Hanna finds it on the grandmother's body. She then "buries" the grandmother, symbolically.

I think when Hanna sneaks into her grandmother's house, she should hear the tail end of a phone conversation between Marissa and some agents who are holding the English family. In the film, these agents are the three pigs, but in my version there are other agents. Marissa tells them to get all the information they can out of the family and then dispose of them. After dealing with Marissa and the grandmother, Hanna has another struggle: her own personal issues have been dealt with, her demons killed, her questions answered, her family buried. Does she still have a responsibility?

And, of course, the answer is yes, because her quest here is to rejoin reality. So she races back to France to try to save the family, and does so, undramatically. My version of the film ends with them walking into a police station -- not a Hollywood police station, but a police station in a rural French town on a weekday, where nothing is going on and the police are doing whatever rural French police do to while away the time. Another lovely set piece.

And that's how Claire "C's" it.

March 23, 2011

Why You Still Need to be a Feminist

Here they are, in black and white (or red and blue, actually): the breakdown of male/female representation in the most elite publications in the country in 2010 from Vida. Here's the speculative fiction version from Strange Horizons, along with links to discussion of the above.

Spoiler alert: men review more books and get more books reviewed than women -- and by a factor of two to three, depending on the publication.

But then, there's a good reason why; more men are being published:

We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. ... Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.

I speculated that independents ... would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. ... Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? ... Dalkey Archive Press ... it would be nice if more than 10 percent of [their books] were by women. (In the 2011 edition of Dalkey’s much-lauded Best European Fiction series, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, 30 percent of the stories are by women.)

... these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year.

So now you know.

Of course, this plays out across all elite and desirable fields:

According to a fact sheet published last year by the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees, in 2008, women constituted 32.4 percent of all lawyers and 32.2 percent of physicians and surgeons. (We’re 68.8 percent of psychologists, 92 percent of nurses, and 50.4 percent of technical writers, the only type of writer included in the report.)

We've evened out in law school and med school ... but then we outnumber men in MFA creative writing programs, and look at the publication and review numbers. So there are actually several moments of concern.

And, of course, Jessa Crispin at Bookslut uncovers further isshoes:

After talking with editor after editor, a pattern started to emerge. "We don't get enough submissions by women." At each publication I talked to, women were submitting an average of 35% of manuscripts, poems, articles, and pitches.

Which, of course, leads us to (part of the reason) why:

There's something about the culture at some of these places listed at Vida that make me think I would never in a million years be accepted there, and after taking a sampling of some female writer friends, I'm not the only one. Take the Atlantic, for example. Their rates of publishing women were not as devastatingly horrible as, say, The New York Review of Books. (What the fuck, NYRB?) But the women they are perhaps best known for publishing are Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about how abortion is bad, sex is bad, staying at home with the kids is awesome, doing her husband's laundry gives her purpose. Also Sandra Tsing Loh, who writes about her infidelity, the breakup of her marriage, being a bad mother. There is absolutely nothing about The Atlantic that screams out to me: We are totally respectful of women and their various viewpoints, and we'd be interested in publishing the work of a single, globetrotting, pro-choice feminist who does not under any circumstance want to write about her relationships, her femininity, or her sex life.

Hm. That's starting to sound strangely familiar.

So here we are again, folks. And, as usual, my response to all of this is to want people to do something about it. Only this time, instead of giving advice to others, I'm doing something myself.

If women aren't submitting at all in the proportions in which they are actually writing (and I've made that contention myself before) then let's get women submitting their work. I'm working on a way and will have more to say about that later. But here's a beginning.

March 13, 2011

The Apocalypse Artist on Stretcher

ShieldsSeeSaw

Hello everyone! A collaboration I worked on has just been posted on Stretcher, the local San Francisco arts webzine.

The feature is called See|Saw, and features works by artists and writers responding to each other. I was supposed to look at artist Christine Shields' work and respond to it, but she and I decided to get a little more complicated than that. She showed me a couple of her paintings, then I wrote a story responding to them. Then she read an early draft of my story and made a painting responding to that. (That's, of course, the painting you see above.)

Here's the post.

It was a really fun project and I look forward to seeing future See|Saw projects!

March 09, 2011

Oh My God

Gwenda has a post pointing to Ursula Le Guin talking about cursing.

Le Guin is talking essentially about the devaluation of language that's happened because everybody says and writes "shit" and "fuck" a lot.

But I just wanna say that I wish people would take the "Lord's" name in vain the way god intended. I'm really tired of hearing "Oh my gosh," as if that's somehow better than "Oh my god." "Gosh" exists for one reason only, to soften the use of the word "god" as a swear word. Since it's unchristian to swear using the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god, somehow it's more christian to swear using soundalike stand-ins for the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god (and states of lack of salvation,) instead of swearing using the names of flowers or household implements or pets, or just, I dunno, not swearing at all.

If you're gonna swear, swear, goshdarnit. Geez. Golly. Dang.

December 31, 2010

E-existential Question of the Last Day of the Year

Why do I blog?

December 24, 2010

Reading Update: Beasties, Silly Aliens, and Boring Vampires

Scott Westerfeld Behemoth
Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four
Pete Hautman Sweetblood

I am totally loving Scott's Leviathan series, and can't wait for the next one to come out. Yay! Go read it!

I saw a trailer for I Am Number Four and had to go read the book. It's about -- in case you hadn't heard -- a kid from another planet, Lorien, which was attacked and destroyed by the Whatchamacallits (I'm too lazy to look it up.) The Whatchamacallits had their own planet, but used it all up, so they attacked Lorien to extract all their natural resources. They killed everyone except for 18 people: 9 kids and their keepers. The kids are "garde," people with superpowers. Somehow, the kids are going to repopulate the planet or something. And somehow, the Whatchamacallits want to kill them off. (I'm not sure why; it's never explained and makes no logical sense. I mean, if you're a user-upper species and you've used up your own planet to the extent that you need to go use up somebody else's, don't you want those people to go back and make their planet all shiny and new again, so that you can use it up again in a pinch? Anyhoo.

It's compulsive and fun and I'm looking forward to the next one, but ... well, it's kind of ... "contrived" is not the word I'm looking for to describe the wrong note in a science fiction/fantasy YA novel, is it? It felt deliberately constructed to appeal to teens, and the fact that a movie is coming out so soon after the book suggests that it was marketed more than conceived. I mean, it has all the elements that'll appeal to boy readers: a Mary Sue protag with superpowers, a hottie girlfriend, another hottie girl with superpowers, for boys who swing that way, a nerdy best friend who puts the Mary Sue before himself, a cool father figure, and a school bully who is easily tamed. What is missing is any real world-building integrity, any essentail logic in the premise or how it plays out. The bad guys are unremittingly, irrationally bad. And it makes no sense that beings from another planet are capable of breeding with humans, and in fact, look like us. This should have been a fantasy novel, not a -- nominal -- sci fi.

I'll keep reading, for a while, but I'm not going to talk about the, I'm sure, entirely contrived hype around the identity of the author.

Sweetblood sounded like a good read from the blurb. A diabetic girl has theories about vampirism and diabetes, and then meets a creepy guy who might be an actual vampire. Only SPOILER! he's not. He's just a creepy middle aged dude who lures teens to his house with parties and booze, and then hits on the girls. And she doesn't even meet him until halfway through the book. It's reasonably well-written, but it's boring. It's just about a diabetic girl who has trouble controling the diabetes and gets into a little bit of trouble. Then she straightens up and flies right.

It's rather typical thinking, actually: making the disease the bad guy in the story. It's never that simple in real life. Diabetes is a problem, always, especially when you're a teenager and learning how to manage it on your own. But it's never the only problem, and doesn't cause meltdowns like that in isolation. There's always other stuff going on that raises the stress levels and makes the disease harder to control.

Anyway.

November 24, 2010

Exploratory Phase of Writing

When I teach writing, I'm constantly trying to get my students comfortable with the concept of exploratory writing. This is a part of the generative phase of writing, where you're producing a body of text which will become the subject of the other half of writing: revision.

Exploratory writing is where all your plans have broken down or been fulfilled; you've written whatever parts of the story you intended to write and now have to move forward without plans. Or else, if you're an obsessive outliner, you've tried to fulfill your plans, but the sketchy story you had in your head doesn't work out so well when you try to make rounded characters perform it. Or you're writing an unplanned story entirely, inspired by some sort of trigger or idea, and you're letting it unspool organically. Whatever way, you're in unmapped territory, and you don't know where you're going in the immediate future, and you don't know what will, much less what should, happen now.

This is a moment where you have to just let yourself go. You can't start making new plans. You can do research to make you more comfortable with the situation, but there comes a moment when you have to break off the research and just write. And that writing has to be open and experimental, because, as we just noted, you don't know what has to happen.

What happens for me in this phase is that I wander all over the place. I see a shiny thing, and I hare off in that direction, talk about it for a while, examine it, then eventually lose interest or turn it into something else. I'll see another shiny thing, and run off after that, often in exactly the opposite direction, and do what I need to with that. I let my interest level determine my course. Often an idea will lead me to the logical next idea, but the logical next idea isn't as interesting as the original idea. When I get bored, I stop going in that direction and head off in another one.

The goal of all of this is to hit the fire lode, the vein of liquid heat that consumes your conscious mind and takes you off in the right direction, the direction that will make your story amazing for you to write and for your readers to read. You don't always hit the motherlode. Sometimes you only find, so to speak, placer nuggest of fire, and you have to build your story around small, bright moments, knowing that this is a "good" story, but not a "brilliant" one -- by your own standards, that is. ;)

You can see it in my story "Vacation," where the first part of the story is told in short episodes that explore the new world, and the protagonist's relationship to it. This is all exploratory, and originally included a lot more exploratory stuff: how the women in this new world recreate government, how the media changes, etc. But once I hit the scene on the basketball court where the young boy disappeared, I took off. I knew that this was the direction the story needed to go in, and when I went back and revised, I cut out all the exploratory stuff that didn't contribute either to this part of the world, or do development of the protagonist's capacity to do what she does. I left the first part deliberately sketchy and exploratory, because I felt it set up the somewhat choppy rhythm of the story -- which isn't plot and action-heavy, but rather centers around a moment of transformation which proceeds from mosaic emotional logic rather than a causal chain.

Do this enough and you can see the different phases of writing in another writer's work as well. When I started being able to see this more clearly in the work I was reading, it inspired me to want to hide my tracks better. ;)

I'm going on about this right now because I'm in an exploratory phase right now with da nobble. And I'm not comfortable with it. I've just started year nine of work on da nobble (holy shit!) and thought I had left generative work behind me and was just going to revision. But I've hit a very important chapter that just wasn't working. I've rewritten this chapter twice, and have to rewrite it again now. And I'm having to generate. The research I did got me through an important scene, but now I'm dealing with the aftermath of that scene and I have no idea what happens now. Argh!

Now I just have to let-go-let-it-flow. I hate that shit! It's much easier telling my students to do it than doing it myself. I think part of the problem is that I'm out of practice. But part of it is certainly that I resent having to go back into exploratory on a novel that I've been working on for 8 years and have two finished drafts of. I don't feel starry-eyed and excited and in that fresh phase. I feel jaded and worn out. Committed, but worn out, like eight years into a rocky but loving marriage.

Sigh.

November 15, 2010

I'm Reading This Friday!

Fire flyer full color lo-res

November 04, 2010

NaBloWriMo Fail

Argh! Already!

I owe two stories today, but threw a dinner party instead. Now I'm drunk and it's not gonna happen!

Tomorrow I'll try to catch up on two stories and Sat two more. Argh!

November 03, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Stratosphere

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

I tried four times and couldn't write anything. Argh! Now I'm gonna have to write two tomorrow!

November 02, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Please Join Us!

Dear Donor,

Sorry to address this letter in a form letter fashion, but I'm afraid I don't know how to mailmerge ... or to export a mailing list from our database ... or to get into the database in the first place. So I'm just going to photocopy the printed list from last year (thank God for my predecessor's mania for hardcopies) and cut and glue it onto the envelopes. I'm sure there's an easier way, but I don't know it. (If you know how to do any of these things, I sure could use a volunteer. I'm a program man myself, not an admin.)

I'm writing to ask you to make a donation to the Save Our Forests Alliance.

As you may know, it's been a hard year for the SOFA. We lost half our board of directors in an "attempted coup" and then the other half resigned when they discovered that their takeover was illegal and they'd have to invite the first half back for mediation. The first half declined to return to where they weren't wanted.

But their loss, right? After all, we're the premiere anti-deforestation organization in our part of the Midwest. Anyone who can't put the mission ahead of personal agendas doesn't need to be a part of that. But we know that you, dear Donor, are an intrinsic part of that.

The only downside to losing selfish board members was that our treasurer was in charge of our accounts, and s/he won't return my calls (I was advised by a lawyer not to name names or hint about genders on official documents,) and there's something strange going on with the bank misrecording our account activity so that our accounts are reading zero. But I haven't been confirmed as executive director by the board (because we no longer have one; that should all be fixed as soon as I get ahold of our advisory board members and get them to step onto the board on an interim basis, but as I said, I can't get into the database so I don't know who they are; if you're one of our advisors, could you please email me at nickt@sofa.org?) so I can't access our account records or demand an accounting from the bank. They keep referring me to our former treasurer.

Because our now-erstwhile E.D. had been fired previous to the board breakdown (the one thing they all could agree on was that the only effective leader in the organization had to go) the remaining managers couldn't access the accounts, and the staff couldn't be paid. No one wanted to listen to my explanation that it would all be sorted out eventually, when our lawsuit came up in court and we were able to get a judge to order our bank records to be released. So we lost our entire staff. No one was willing to work on spec or (God forbid!) volunteer for a few weeks. I understand; we're in a recession. But the forests can't save themselves, can they?

We at SOFA know that you know they can't. Which is why we need your help today. We're asking our most loyal donors to make a gift of $500, $100, $50, or whatever you can afford, to help us continue our valuable work.

We have the infrastructure, and the programs in place. All we need is some interim funding to get our operations going again. We still have that giant spool of nickel-plated chain, shiny and new and waiting to bind our volunteers to the trees in front of the capitol building. We still have our office (for another month, until the eviction goes through) and it's not to late to pay up our back rent and stay here! We could even start programming again, if our volunteer coordinator would only send me the spreadsheet of volunteer contacts. I know I shouldn't have slept with her when I knew I was getting back together with my girlfriend, but the girlfriend didn't work out after all, and anyway, I don't think our forests should be punished for my mistake, do you?

Please help. We can't do this vital work without you.

I'd enclose a remittance envelope, but I don't know where they are. I've put our address at the bottom of the letter however (I would have used letterhead, but I don't know where that is, either) to make things a little easier on you. I'm writing you because I know that you, like me, still have the passion for our forests, and can still see the forests without getting lost in the trees of doubters and haters and less-than-committed people.

Together, we can make this country great again. Please give today.

Our best wishes for the holiday season.

Sincerely,

Nick Tanner

Interim Executive Director

p.s.: Don't forget to ask your employer to match your donation! You could double or triple your donation that way! Please give today!

 

This is my second NaBloWriMo instant fiction post: short short stories I'm writing every day throughout November, mostly inspired by online videos and images. Stay tuned for another one tomorrow.

November 01, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Later, At Forty

She looked at him with disgust, but when she spoke, her tone was even.

"Is there any way I can convince you that the boyish grin is counter-productive?"

It was a question, but phrased as a statement. One of her teenaged students had asked her recently -- not entirely sarcastically -- if there were any upsides to growing old("-er" she had added silently) and losing one's highs and lows. Since then she had been ticking them off, somewhat desperately, in her head. Here was another one: the skill of modulating her tone of voice to suggest a richness of meanings -- double, triple, and quadruple meanings -- without even much having to try.

With this one sentence, she had conveyed her contempt, but also amusement, affection, longtime shared knowledge, weariness, and, finally, an openness (nonetheless) to whatever his boyish grin was trying to sell. She conveyed her preference that he learn how to just state his desire without trying to win her over. She could see the messages all received. Maybe it was her skill. But maybe they just knew each other too well at this point.

And maybe it was impossible for him to change. Maybe he was far too old a dog.

"It's just a date," he said. "Boyish grins shouldn't impact your decision."

"Aren't we past dating? Shouldn't we be watching videos at home with our hands on our paunches?"

"Why do you care what people think?" She wasn't sure if this was one of the advantages or disadvantages of growing old(er) with someone: that you can skip whole explanatory chunks of an argument.

"I care what people think because what they think could get me fired. I'm not supposed to be dating my students."

"I'm not your student."

"If any of my students see me with you, they'll try to flirt with me to get an A."

"Are you giving me an A?"

Definitely a disadvantage. She had enjoyed this sort of comment (with accompanying raffish grin) when she was a girl. Then she had tolerated it. Now she found the whole thing abhorrent. Did his emotional development get frozen along with his body? She wondered that more and more. The next time they moved, she'd have to make him her son.

"Please?" His begging was disgusting, but also genuinely pathetic. She relented, more out of habit than anything else.

"We can go see a movie," she said. He jumped up and down with annoying irony. "But I get to choose which one. ... And don't try to hold my hand this time. Promise?"

"Promise," he said immediately, and with the same date-night inflection that meant he wouldn't keep that promise. Ugh. She felt smothered by the teen-boy attentions in public. It wasn't just what other people thought. It was also what she thought. He looked like a baby to her now. It just wasn't sexy anymore.

Nowadays, silver foxes turned her head. It was like some old-guy pheromone switch had gotten pulled in her libido. She couldn't help it. When she went to conferences these days, she nearly got whiplash from all the cross-angle ogling. She'd cheated on him several times with the tenured, and then had to shower three or four times to try to get the smell off. She still wasn't sure it had worked. Did he know? Did he put up with it the same way she put up with him? Why didn't he just leave? Wouldn't she prefer it?

She didn't have any answers.

This is the first of my instant fiction posts for NaBloWriMo. I'm going to write a short short story every day throughout November, inspired by a video or image I see online. I make no promises about quality.

October 26, 2010

Na No Wri Mo Pledge

Every year I try to do something alternative for NaNo and every year I fail. Part of the reason is that I'm still writing on the same nobble, so I can't do the actual NaNo project. But part is just laziness and unpreparedness.

This year I'm just going to pledge early and try to psyche myself up. I haven't written any short stories in a long time -- I think da nobble has dried me up somewhat -- so I'm hoping this will shake some things loose.

My pledge this year is to write a piece of instant fiction every day during November. "Instant Fiction" is my name for the piece I write on the spot, and post on the spot, inspired by an image or video I've found on the internet. I tried writing some instant fictions in July of '09 and they weren't very good, but it was kind of a fun process. So this year, in November, I'm going to write one every day.

I noticed, when writing "Abducted by Aliens!" which is mostly a collection of 40 100-word episodes, that as I got into it, I found it easier and easier to draft an episode and have it land close to 100 words the first time (the first several episodes were much longer and had to be edited down.) So I'm hoping that I'll settle into a particular length or shape as the month goes on and will sort of invent my own form -- for the month anyway.

That's all.

July 25, 2010

Encyclopedia Project Vol. 2 Out Soon!

Hey hey hey!

So I submitted stuff to the Encyclopedia Project ... yeeeeeaaaars ago now, and stuff was accepted, and then other stuff happened, and as it turns out, stuff got published in my leetle chapbook first.

But now Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia Project is finally coming out!

The project is a very cool thing. It's an "encyclopedia" of narrative organized in narratives. The editors asked a buncha writers to select entries for each volume (1 is A-E, 2 is F-K) and collected these pieces (mostly stories and experiements) into encyclopedia volumes. Volume 1 came out about four years ago or so. And now Volume 2 is finally ready!

The book includes entries from such luminaries as Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Chip Delaney, and Aunt Jemima (?). But there's also stuff from a bunch of really cool lesser-knowns. I'm super excited to be part of this and hope you'll spread the word.

Also, if you order now (the book will be out in October) you can get it for $25. That's a discount. Not sure how much it will be regularly, but probably at least $30. It's a serious, hardcover, encyclopedia. You can also get Volume 1 for $25, or both for $37.50. Do it!

June 28, 2010

Nobble Reading Thursday!

Hey all, I'm breaking out da nobble for a first ever reading this Thursday. For those of you in the Bay Area, it'll be at a private home in Oakland, so please follow the directions below to get the address.

Hope to see bunches of you there!

DEBUTANTES: A FIRST LOOK AT WORKS IN PROGRESS

with Sita Bhaumik, Samantha Chanse, & Claire Light

WHEN: July 1; doors 6:30 pm; presentation 7-9 pm

WHERE: a very lovely home in Oakland. RSVP at SFDEBUTANTES (at) gmail (dot) com

HOW MUCH: $5 suggested; proceeds go to KSW
(the broke and the forgetful not turned away)

WHAT: Three Kearny Street Workshop artists will present works in progress in fiction, theater/performance, and visual art. It is a complete coincidence that they are all female and mixed race. Tea, wine, punch, cookies, and finger sandwiches will be served. Someone will spike the punch. All proceeds from the event benefit Kearny Street Workshop's programs educating, supporting, and presenting multidisciplinary arts. Attendees are encouraged to bring seat cushions and wear flowered hats.

WHO:

SITA KURATOMI BHAUMIK is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She is an MFA/MA candidate at California College of the Arts and likes to exhibit at galleries that appreciate good food. She is the art features editor for Hyphen magazine, a community advisor for Kearny Street Workshop, and currently teaches at Rayko Photo Center. You can reach her at www.sitabhaumik.com

SAMANTHA CHANSE is a writer&performer, educator, and arts organizer whose work has been presented with Kearny Street Workshop/Locus, The Marsh, the NY International Fringe Festival, Bowery Poetry Club, Asian American Writers Workshop, Asian American Theater Company, PlayGround in residence at Berkeley Rep, Intersection, Bindlestiff, and others. She received an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission, an Artist In Motion residency from Footloose/Shotwell, and an Emerging Artists Residency from Tofte Lake Center. She served as KSW's artistic director & as a Locus co-director, co-founded salon series Laundry Party, and is pursuing a MFA in playwriting at Columbia University in NYC as part of her bicoastal lifestyle. Her solo play, LYDIA'S FUNERAL VIDEO, will be published by Kaya Press in 2011. For more information please visit www.samanthachanse.com.

CLAIRE LIGHT used to be KSW's program manager and is now on the board. She has an MFA from San Francisco State, a little collection of short stories called SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT from Aqueduct Press, and a Bay Area-based freelance practice in nonprofit hackery. At this event she will be debuting her novel-in-progress, CHINAMAN TREETOPS, an intensely literary masterpiece about a Chinese feng shui master on Mars.

April 28, 2010

Reading & Writing Update

So I'm working on a new story and I think a good way to get me to work more on it is to say that I'll read an excerpt from it at my reading on Friday. Yeah. That's it.

Also, I'm on a Robin McKinley binge. Just read:

Sunshine
Chalice
Spindle's End

Weird, reading three books at once, and in the same year as I read another book, all by the same author. You get to see the repetition of themes and structures, like her concern with elements and how magic draws from them (something I love too.) Or her interest in male/female partnerships between people whose personalities attract, but who have a built-in physical repulsion. (In one story this is a vampire/human thing and in another this is an elemental priest/human thing. It seems like a kind of metaphor for women being simultaneously attracted and repulsed by men, who are somehow inherently physically alien and physically dangerous, yet who provide a kind of complementary weight and access.)

She also seems to have a liking for the balanced male/female pairings. There's a lot of romance wish-fulfillment here, but at least it's a wish for equality.

She does have a tendency to let the plot fall apart at the end. Final confrontations are not her forte. Spindle's End and Sunshine especially have very messy climaxes. The one in Spindle's End went on forever and wandered back and forth and didn't declare clearly when it was over until it was, really, over. The one in Sunshine was just really unclear how it happened, and therefore not entirely plausible within its own world-rules. The climax in Chalice worked reasonably well, but -- and here's the problem will all three books, I think -- the part leading up to the climax was a lot of casting around for filler so that the pacing didn't go off right before the climax. This was especially bad in Sunshine. Frustrating.

I'm thinking back to Dragon Haven now and remembering that its climax was actually rather good: came slightly unexpectedly, and was a bit weird, yet satisfying. Fit in its world.

I've ordered two more from Paperback Swap and will have six McKinley books under my belt, at least, before the year is out. Bad climaxes notwithstanding, exactly what I want to read right now.

April 26, 2010

Reading This Friday!

Hey Bay Area Friends!

I'm doing a reading this Friday with NY novelist Ed Lin, whose second mystery novel SNAKES CAN'T RUN is coming out.

Info:

Friday April 30, 7:00 pm

Eastwind Books of Berkeley
Ed Lin reading with Claire Light and Joel B. Tan
2066 University Ave.
Berkeley, Calif.

(510) 548-2350

Hope to see some of you there!

March 08, 2010

Reading Update

Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Outside Beauty  is interesting to compare with Hiromi Goto's The Kappa Child, since both are about Japanese American (or Canadian) families of four sisters, who are trying to survive difficult parents. But they are almost the opposite story. I mentioned before that The Kappa Child approaches the world from a pov of disgust. Something I explain to my students is a part of world-building or setting: the narrator's attitude towards the world. It infuses the world and determines what is and isn't possible in it. The daughters, beaten down by their abusive father, their ineffectual mother, and their alienation from familiarity, accept the disgusting things of the world with blankness and a dull lack of surprise. It makes the book difficult to read, because there's no hope in this point of view. The action of the book is for the girls to try to find hope, or some sort of motivation to live, in a world that is full of "no" and disgust.

Outside Beauty, on the other hand, approaches the world from the point of view of delight. The four girls, daughters of a beautiful JA mother, each from a different father, are raised with the flighty, manipulative, superficial, commitmentphobic mother's view of the world as an endless adventure. The action of the book is for the girls to understand what happens when the thin veneer of delight and adventure gets broken and the real world intrudes. The girls, taught to revere beauty and the joy that comes with it, don't respect most of the fathers, who present them with conventionality, irresponsible passion, and eccentric geekiness. The only father they like is the good-looking one. Of course, it turns out that the strangest father, the eccentric, geeky, foreign nonentity, is the best father of them all, the one who ends up taking responsibility for them.

The book ends up being a little too light. Things are resolved too easily. I think that's a problem with too much YA: the desire to introduce realistic conflict, but not to scare young readers by making the conflict too difficult to resolve. And The Kappa Child does show the danger of that: its unrelenting disgust can disgust the reader to the extent of driving her away (as it did to me.)

Georgette Heyer: I tend to read three of her books in a row when I get on Heyer bender and it seems I'm starting a new one now. Love her! Although this one seems like it was unusually poorly edited.

February 16, 2010

Why Aren't Women and POC Submitting Their Work?

ETA 5/6/13: I'm re-reading this now because of a discussion I'm having with someone, and I'm realizing that some of the criticisms below in comments are more accurate than I could see at the time I wrote it. I wrote this post with the explicit intention of "validating" the perception that women/poc submissions "aren't as good" as white submissions as a rhetorical device. My intention was to validate that perception to draw the reader in, and then smack them over the head with the fact that too many terrific women/poc writers simply aren't submitting for the following reasons (etc.)

I'm realizing now that this was not a super-effective tactic. And I have to admit that I didn't think it through clearly. When I conceived of this piece, I had recently been fired from a paid gig at an online magazine that was all white (except for me) and mostly male. Although I got some legit-sounding excuses for being fired, I didn't think it was a coincidence that I was fired right after I intensified my campaign to diversify the artists and writers being covered in the magazine. These things are hard to prove, though. The editor in question had told me that: a) they didn't get enough submissions from writers-oc and b) the ones they got weren't good enough. I had also been trying to diversify another (paid) online magazine that some friends were involved with and that I read but didn't contribute to. They told me the same thing: not enough submissions, not good enough. The way the editors I knew said this reminded me of how editors in this online fight had been saying that they don't get enough woc subs, and I noticed (or thought I noticed) that there was an unspoken implication that the subs they did get weren't good enough.

The other thing was that I thought it might well be true that the editors I had talked to weren't getting good submissions from woc because the good woc weren't submitting to them. I had had that experience as an editor of a poc magazine -- one of not getting enough good submissions even though I was seeing terrific writers in the community all the time. That was something that no one would say in public, and I was struck with the idea of writing a piece that did say it, and then turned it around on its ear. And then I simply wrote it, without thinking of how off-putting or ultimately inaccurate that would be. Bait-and-switch is fundamentally dishonest, and even if my intention was always honesty, honest dishonesty is ... uh ... problematic? I should have been more straightforward, is what I'm saying.

Also, a writer below took me to task for saying that most women or poc "fail" to make the leap to mainstream mags. My intention was always to use the word "fail" to mean "didn't do," and my critic contended that my use of "fail" expressed actual failure in the not doing. I.e.: it sounded like I was criticizing women/poc for not making that leap, and calling them failures. Because this was never my intention, I dismissed the criticism at the time. In re-reading, I'm realizing that she was completely right. This is exactly how that sentence, and its contextualizing language, reads. I should have worded that much more carefully. My critic, understandably, didn't believe me when I wrote back that an accusation of "failure" wasn't my intention with that wording. All I can say about that is that when I wrote this post, I had just recently made a completely conscious decision to publish my first book with a diversity-focused feminist small press, and deliberately did not submit it anywhere else. I did NOT consider this "not doing" a "failure."

Now, on to the original post:

***

I'm about to post something more on the general topic area of literary diversity, but I realized that I've never actually written a more foundational post that I've been meaning to write for a couple of years now.

Basically, this is about the totally valid and justified complaints of white editors that writers of color and women aren't submitting enough work to them. This is absolutely true (as far as it goes.) If you teach (as I do) writing in community orgs, 90-99% of your students will be women and poc. If you've studied creative writing in universities, even or especially at the MFA level (as I have), you'll know that about 60-75% of students are women. But start reading slush for a major publisher or journal and you'll notice a sudden, steep drop in the percentages of women, and an even steeper drop in the percentages of poc submitting work. And look at what is actually published and you'll see the drop is even steeper: mostly men, mostly white.

ETA: Some of Those who read slush know will tell you (although it's not cool to talk about in these terms ETA: as evidenced by the heated comments below. Please note, this is my experience and that of many folks I've talked to or read stuff from, not a universal experience.) that the submissions from women and poc are often disproportionately sucky, which is sometimes why even the proportions of women and poc who submit aren't reflected in the proportions of women and poc actually published. (Sometimes. There's usually also a factor of white male editors not quite getting the culture or language of marginalized writers, so they don't fully appreciate the nuances of the work. But that's another discussion.) So when a white male editor says, "We only had one woman and one poc in the anthology because we were going for the best work," that could be true, or true-ish.

(ETA: with reference to comments below, let me just put in here that your percentages may vary. We're still working with more women (and a larger percentage of poc) attending writing classes, but more men and white writers actually submitting work. How radical your discrepancy is, like I said, varies, but the discrepancy exists.)

And yet, I know from teaching and learning in community and academic settings that there are metric tons of good poc and women writers out there, just waiting to be plucked from the vine.

What gives?

For someone like me, and many of you, who are in on every step in the long, slow process of literary accomplishment (looks like this: community writing classes, MFA courses, community readings, ethnic magazines, indy publishers, mainstream lit magazines, major publishers -- I am or have been involved in all of these except the last two) it's very easy to see that there's a huge chasm at one step in this process. And that chasm comes between writers developing their craft in the bosom of their communities, and writers taking a leap away from their local identity communities into the ether of the mainstream -- basically at the point where writers have to take a deep breath and submit their work to mainstream editors who don't know them and aren't familiar with the communities they come from.

Here's the problem:

MOST WOMEN AND POC WRITERS FAIL TO MAKE THAT LEAP.

Yeah, that's right: most of them. You know all the "ethnic" and women midlist writers at majors who will get dropped soon and move to indies because they get no attention? For every one of those, there are at least three who never bothered with the majors but stayed in indie and community publishing, and ten who never made the leap to publishers at all. Yes, it's true. It's not that most women and poc writers fail to become good enough to make that leap. It's that, of those that reach a point where they CAN make the leap, most either don't recognize that they've reached that point, or, for other reasons they never manage to make the leap.

I have a friend near my age who was taking community writing classes with me, started an MFA the year after I did, and has been writing just as long. When this friend finally got a story published, it was in an ethnic mag. Last time I checked, my friend still hadn't submitted any work to mainstream journals.

Why not? What are those reasons? Enlightened editors want to know. Well, I have some ideas, although I can't speak for all women/poc writers who don't make the leap (please feel free to add ideas in the comments.) These reasons are in order of frequency (in my opinion):

  • Many women/poc writers don't hang out in mainstream literary circles locally or online so they don't know what to expect or what's expected of them in this scene. They don't understand how to "break in" to mainstream markets, so they stick to the literary scene they know how to work.
  • They don't know about your publishing house/journal (see directly above).
  • They know about your publishing house or journal but don't think you take work from women/"ethnic" writers. (This impression usually comes from the actual dearth of women/poc writers in your mag or on your list.)
  • They know you'll technically read work from women/ethnic writers, but don't believe their work will be taken seriously or given a fair reading.
  • They know you'll read their work with an earnest intention of fair play, but don't believe you're equipped to understand it.
  • Those who do submit work often don't submit their best work, because they fear their best work will be considered "too ethnic" or "chicklit," so they submit more standard "literary" work that their hearts weren't really in.
  • They don't think that anyone like them READS your books or your magazine, and they want to reach their own audience.
  • They have a political agenda around their work and have decided that that agenda is best served by keeping their work within their communities.
  • ETA: Ide Cyan and Minal Hajratwala added another good point in the comments. As Minal put it: "A serious economic/class differential that means that many women of color who write are barely able to eke out the hours to write, let alone any extra hours to venture into a whole new & unwelcoming literary 'scene,' to network, attend conferences/ workshops, research publications, submit work, blog or read blogs, deal with rejection (in the face of a host of other societal rejections)... Some of the students in my community-based classes are writing mainly because it helps them survive, and the idea of publication is not a priority."

Most of those good writers who don't submit do it for the first two reasons. I know, it's hard for editors and publishers to remember a time when they didn't know the rules and the landscape. Many editors and publishers grew up in culturally savvy families or communities, so they don't even know how they learned the rules and the landscape. But the folks who aren't submitting either don't know the rules, or don't think they're considered important enough to engage the rules. They either don't have a map to the landscape, or simply think that it's a closed, privately-owned parcel of land. And far too often they're right.

And most of them aren't necessarily even aware that they think this way. I can't tell you how many writers I've encouraged to submit their work who had never done it before because it simply never occurred to them. They never signed up for a writers list-serv. They don't read lit blogs that post opportunities on them. They don't know about Writers Market or the Poets & Writers database. They don't know that you can (and sort of have to) look the various markets up and note down their guidelines and simply submit work according to the guidelines. (There's a big component in here of internalized racism, where the writer has been absorbing messages of her inferiority for her entire life, and is unwilling to risk being rejected on that basis, but that's another blog post.)

I have a good friend who has been writing for decades. My friend has a towering reputation in local and extended identity communities, is invited to read around 10 times a year in a variety of venues, has had work published in a number of anthologies, has edited an identity-based anthology published by an indy publisher, and has also been the editor of a literary journal. This friend had an offer of a book on the table from an indy before the economy went to shit and the publisher had to taper off publications for a while. This friend has never made an unsolicited submission. So when the indy publisher had to rescind the book offer, my friend didn't know what to do. When I suggested we get proactive and prepare a package of work to send out as an unsolicited submission, my friend was both surprised and relieved. And this is someone with a lot of publication and literary experience. This is someone even the most boneheaded white male publisher would be delighted to get a submission from.

So, the point of all of this is that editors have to go out and find good writers of color and women writers just like they have to go out and find good white male writers. The obvious first place to start is independent magazines and publishers, but editors will need to go deeper than that. (I won't go into it again here.) And the big issue is not just knowing where to look, but knowing how to approach.

A number of small gestures can make a huge difference. Make the whole experience as painless and welcoming as possible. For example:

  • Make sure your submission guidelines are easy to find on your website. Don't hide them. Add language to your guidelines that specifically welcomes women and writers of color. Something like "We are especially interested in innovative work by women, writers of color, and writers from historically marginalized groups. We love to discover new writers!" Don't beat around the bush. Be plain.
  • When you go through your back issues/backlist for the big names to list on your website, be sure to put the names of women writers and poc front and center. A publisher/magazine that has a lot of recognizable "minority" names on its website is basically putting out the welcome mat for "minority" writers. This is a subtle language you must learn to speak.
  • When you send a call for submissions out on a list-serv or send it to a website for a "minority" group, be sure to personalize it and express your strong desire to get submissions. Sign it with your name. Say something like, "I really want to encourage you all to submit work. Our submissions pile isn't nearly as diverse as it needs to be, and as a result, our publications aren't as diverse as they need to be. You can help change that. Please take a chance on us and send us your best work!"
  • Write up a brief primer (maybe a paragraph) on how to make an effective submission (including maybe a little something about what to put, and what not to put, in a cover letter.) Include this in your call for submissions. Make your expectations plain, and don't give anyone any excuses not to submit.
  • Be sure to ask them to tell you in their cover letter where they heard about your magazine or publishing house, so you can track where the submissions are coming from; and ask them to include a brief bio that talks about their origins, so you can get a sense of where your writers are coming from. Encourage them to talk to you about who they are and what their process is, so you can understand it all better.
  • If you're rejecting a promising submission from someone who's obviously a writer of color or who says they're coming from a poc website or list-serv, be sure you personalize the rejection with at least some minimal feedback, and an encouragement to submit again. Yes, I know you don't have time, but it's part of an editor's job to cultivate promising writers, and if you want a healthy field of diverse writers in ten years, you have to plant now. This is assuming that you actually DO send rejection letters out. Many journals don't reject in a timely or consistent manner, and there's nothing more off-putting to someone who already thinks they're not going to get a fair shot, than being utterly ignored. Basically, acknowledgment is key, even when you're rejecting.

That's all fairly easy, surface stuff. But if editors and publishers really want to become more diverse and reflective of 21st Century reality, they're going to have to change the way their organizations approach the work itself. Changes like:

  • Having some non-white, non-WASPy names on your masthead or staff list. Yes, we do read these. Yes, we are turned off when we don't see any names like ours. Yes, I'm much more likely to send a story to a market with an editor of color or a woman editor first (although there are so few of these that I've learned not be picky.) And if a market's guidelines don't say anything about multiculturalism, but do say stuff about "no genre" and "high quality" (both euphemisms for New Yorker-style Carverism,) all the masthead names sound white, and all the author names on the website are or sound white, I'm probably not going to bother to submit to you at all.
  • Having a diverse editorial board or a diverse set of guest editors. Aside from the above issue, they'll make an effort to reach out to their communities if they understand that that's their job (no, you can't just tokenize an editor and watch her go. If your mag isn't diverse, she'll often just assume you only want white male writers and do her job that way.)
  • If you're successful in all this, your volume of submissions should increase. Go to ethnic and gender studies departments at your local universities and pick up an extra, slush-reading intern there. Put the intern's name on the masthead. Let your intern know that their expertise in ethnic/gender studies is needed and they should point out any boneheadedness in editorial decisions if they see it.
  • Having an editorial mission statement and a strategic or business plan whose language fundamentally reflects a deep commitment to diversity.
  • Being advocated for in the community by a diverse set of respected writers. (Yes, when one of us has been published by a market, we DO immediately go out and tell our peeps to submit there. When one of our respected leaders tells us this stuff, we particularly prick up our ears. And when an editor buttonholes one of us and says "How do I get [your folks] to submit to [my magazine/house]?" without sticking their feet in their mouths, we do go straight to Facebook and post a link.)
  • Having a "usual round" of in-person visits to open mics, reading series, classrooms, etc that are in diverse communities, so you're "touching" minority writers all the time.
  • When you request work from big name writers, hit up women writers and poc as often as you can. This is not to fill out your minority quota with big names, but rather to use the big names to entice emerging marginalized writers to submit to you.
  • Be constantly reading marginalized writers. Duh.
  • This is whole 'nother blog post, but start actively (and savvily) marketing your books/magazines to marginalized communities. It's a cycle: if they're reading it, they'll want to submit to it. If they're being published in it, they'll want to read it. Rinse, repeat.
Yeah, as I've said before, it's a lot of work. And you do have to change the way you do that work in the first place. But if you want actual diversity and not just lip service and real frustration, this is where you start.

February 15, 2010

My First Review!

Squeeeeeeeeeee!!!

January 27, 2010

Reading and Interview

Hey all, quick self-promo here:

This Saturday afternoon I'll be doing a reading at the Oakland Library as part of the kickoff for the Oakland Word project, a series of free writing classes at the library. (I'll be one of the instructors.)

Here's the website with info on the program. And here's the event info:

Saturday, January 30, 2010; 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Oakland Public Library (Main) Auditorium
125 14th St
With words and music by:

  • Award-winning novelist DANIEL ALARCÓN, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight
  • Poet and writer TENNESSEE REED, author of Spell Albuquerque: Memoir of a "Difficult" Student and multiple poetry collections
  • Our exceptional Oakland Word instructors, LINDA GONZÁLEZ, CLAIRE LIGHT, CARRIE LEILAM LOVE and BISOLA MARIGNAY
  • Beats provided by DJ MAX CHAMP
Also, Bryan Thao Worra just posted an interview he did with me on Asian American Press, which you can read here.

January 20, 2010

Squeal!

I'm on Amazon! Look! I even have a sales rank 'n' everything! (663,210 ... strangely that means nothing to me.)

January 17, 2010

Show Of Hands

Which of youse writers actually wad up paper and toss it away as you write? How many of you actually write a few lines on a piece of paper, sigh, tear it out of your notebook, wad it up, and toss it on the floor?

Anyone? Anyone?

January 09, 2010

Today's Photo

Bachcel

Barb has a call for submissions up, for pieces about Paul Celan. 

Made me think of the time in Berlin that Angelika called me at five in the morning because she'd stayed up all night reading, and just found out that Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, jeweils my and her favorite poets, had had an affair.

There they are, the two to the left, sigh, to the other left, i.e. to the right.

December 29, 2009

Reading Update

Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic quartet:

Sandry's Book

Tris' Book

Daja's Book

Briar's Book

This is the one Tamora Pierce series I could never really get into, probably because it's staunchly middle grade instead of YA. The characters start out around 10 years old and don't really get older; the books are in chronological order, but take place over the course of only one year. I read it this time because my cousins kids are finally reaching tweenage, and I thought this might be a good Christmas gift. It's fun, and right in the Pierce vein, if younger than her other, more YA books, in which kids start out at 11 or so and grow up in the course of the books.

Tamora Pierce's The Circle Opens quartet

Magic Steps

Street Magic

Cold Fire

Shatterglass

So then I had to go on and read this one. These books again take place all in the same year, and don't connect to each other. In this one, each of the four kids is separated from the others and they have simultaneous adventures abroad. They're all fourteen here, so it's more along the YA continuum. I liked this one much better than the Circle of Magic series, possibly because it's less domestic, but also because it has more moral ambiguity in it -- that is, whatever moral ambiguity a Tamora Pierce series can have.

Tamora Pierce The Will of the Empress

Apparently a stand alone, featuring the four characters from the previous two series at age 18. It's fun, as all Pierce's books are, but not strong. Part of the problem is an analogy for rape that forms one of the major plot points and points of moral ambiguity in the book. This is the practice of kidnapping women and holding them until they sign a marriage contract: forced marriage. It's presented as horrible when we first encounter it in a runaway abused wife. But thereafter, it's presented as an opportunity for the character Sandry -- a young noble with enormous wealth, and therefore a very attractive potential bride -- to kick ass. It's a fun plot point for a romantic-ish novel. The moment you start to enjoy a rape scene, even if it's because the proposed victim is kicking ass, you've lost your moral footing.

Paul Beatty Slumberland

An African American DJ, who has created the perfect beat, goes off to Berlin to find a free jazz genius who disappeared into Eastern Europe during the cold war. DJ Darky ends up staying in Berlin through the fall of the wall and much of the nineties (which is when I was there.) Loaned to me by Sunyoung, who thought that the Slumberland bar depicted in the book was fictional. It's not. In fact, most of the hard stuff in this book is nonfiction: the bars and clubs, the Afrodeutsch Bundestreffen, the institutions in general; they all exist/ed. It's just that the book is a satire, so everything is portrayed with an edge of surreality, as so many satires seem to find necessary.

This surreal edge -- which I've found in everything I've read by T. C. Boyle and is why I loathe his writing -- prevents the narrative from putting emotional emphasis into anything. It prevents the characters from growing or changing ... or even from feeling real. It gives a sense of unreality even to factual things, like the Slumberland bar, which has a beach theme and a floor covered in about a foot of white sand. Yes, really; I've been there. In real life it's a delightful piece of whimsy, but in the book, it's a throwaway bit of melting clock, not to be believed anymore than the love interest's much-detailed farting sounds when she's asleep.  I hate this kind of satire; it's smug and superior and just makes fun of everything with an evenness that denies both passion and depression.

And all of the characterization in this book tends to come through characterizing statements rather than through scene, description, and dialogue, or even outright exposition. By characterizing statements, I mean past habitual action: "She would go to the store every day, playing Ozzie Osbourne on the car stereo. I hated it and would always tell her so, and she'd ignore me." This is not characterization. This kind of description of past habitual action implies that a character simply stayed the same throughout. The only reason to use it is to round up a character's base personality so that you can then show how the character changes throughout the action of the book. Because a character -- and a person -- responds differently to similar situations over time. Using past habitual action in place of a hard study of character and its changes is a cop-out.

However, the book is so well-written that I have to forgive it somewhat. Although the language is unrelenting and that's ultimately boring, Beatty is so good at it, and it's so fresh and funny in itself, that I kept coming back to it and enjoying it all over again. No, I'm not going to try to describe it or define it. It's Paul Beatty language from the first person pov of a character named DJ Darky. Figure it out yourself.

Ultimately, I think no novel, whether satirical or dramatic, is served by an unvarying, unswerving tone or language. It's variation that gives texture, and increase or decrease in depth and velocity that creates tension and meaning -- in both life and literature. I was disappointed in this book, but can't quite say that it isn't worth a read.

December 13, 2009

My Chapbook Is Out! Yay!

Conv-series-26-cover  (Although someone pointed out that, because it's perfect bound, it's not technically a chapbook.)

Yay! My little book, called Slightly Behind and to the Left: Four Stories and Three Drabbles, and is available NOW at Aqueduct Press' website! (Click on the "orders" button and scroll down.)

Right now, for the holidays, the book, usually $12, is $9, so get it now! Also, the book is part of a series called "Conversation Pieces," which you can subscribe to at $80 for 10 consecutive subscriptions (and you can choose which title to start with.) I've read a handful of these titles and they're all worth it, so you might consider a subscription, or make it a gift for the feminist or progressive geek in your life.

OMG, I'm so excited!

November 21, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

Just wrote a post and then lost it. Annoying. Spent the day making pace charts after Scott Westerfeld's recommendations. Very helpful.

November 19, 2009

Writing Update

My NaNoFiMo is back! I did an entire mailbag (mailbag 6) today (that's, like, four short chapters to you.) But tomorrow, when I do the next mailbag, I'm going to get into some serious cutting out of things. And some serious rewriting of things. I think the hardest rewriting of things will start in mailbag 8 or 9. (Can't remember.) So I'll have a little space to run up to it.

Also, because I got stalled, my Mo is going until Dec 11th. I don't know why I chose that. Random, I guess.

November 10, 2009

Reports of Child Sex Abuse by Women Rising

This post on Broadsheet alerted me to a new study in the UK that shows reporting of child sex abuse has risen sharply, and with it the reports of women -- mostly mothers -- being the abusers.

Sex abuse claims directed at men still far outnumber those aimed at women. A 2007 United States Department of Justice report noted that females are responsible for less than 10% of sex crimes and less than 1% of all forcible rape arrests.  They also have a different modus operandi than male offenders -- including a higher likelihood of committing their crimes in caregiving situations and in concert with a male partner. But the uniqueness of female perpetrators can make it harder for victims, particularly boys, to come forward. The DOJ report noted “sexist beliefs that depict males as controlling all sexual encounters and females as passive and submissive recipients… Misperceptions exist about the ‘ability’ of women to sexually victimize males.” And the jokey cliche of a boy seduced an older woman muddles the seriousness of the crime.

This makes me prick up my ears because of that story I wrote a few years back (currently titled "Vacation") in which all the men disappear from the world and some women end up becoming sexually predatory with young boys. The story was inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, in which a 30-something, white (blonde) schoolteacher and mother of four had an affair with her 13-year-old, Laotian student, and went to prison for seven years after she got pregnant with their second child, against a court order not to see him again. I wrote the story after reading that Letourneau had been released from prison and had immediately married her former student, who was at that point 22 years old.

The story isn't based on the Letourneau case, but is rather an attempt to explore in a more general way the kind of predatoriness that would cause a perfect Barbie-mom to go after a young boy who was in her care for much of the day (Letourneau was actually a grade school teacher, and the boy had been in her class when he was 11 and 12.) In this story I turned the tables, and actually had a rape?/not rape? scene in an alleyway. But the articles above seem to indicate that woman/boy sex abuse doesn't fit the stranger-danger stereotype any better than man/child abuse usually does (most of that happens within family or friendship circles.)

This gives me a lot to think about, like how my story works best where the public attitude is that women don't generally sexually abuse children. But this article has started to change my view of that. My tables-turning isn't quite so powerful in a world where a lot of women DO molest children. So I'm very disturbed by this on two levels. I might have to write another story, a different one, to get at whatever it is comes out of this.

By the way, I'm bound and determined to finish proofing the chapbook tonight, now that that grant is done. I hope the book, with "Vacation" in it, will be out in December.

November 07, 2009

NaNoFailMo

Argh! My NaNoFiMo has fallen apart already!

I'm currently working on a monster grant proposal that's due Monday. And I'm still working on proofing the galley for my chapbook. I don't know why it's taking me so long, but it is. Those take precedence over other stuff. So, once again, NaNoFailMo.

I'm hoping I can get going on da nobble again on Wednesday. Sigh.

November 02, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

I just realized today that the sixth mailbag is where I start hitting my really hefty revisions (as opposed to edits.) What a way to start the month! I was busy running hither and thither today, so I wimped out and just did one letter. Sigh. Tomorrow. Nothing planned for tomorrow. Just a work day. Work Day!

I'm Reading On Nov 12!

Yep, another reading. Fall is a busy time. Since I'm counting down to my chapbook publication, I'll probably be reading something from the chapbook. Here 'tis:

Kimberly DaSilva & Guests*

Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street, San Francisco
November 12th / 7:00 p.m.
 
 
Local author Kimberly DaSilva will read from her current manuscript:  The Same Tide For Us Both, a ghost story about a demon, a mother, and the end of the world.
 
Kimberly’s work has been described as “impressive” by Kirkus and “elegant” by The Advocate.  She has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, an American Library Association Stonewall Book Award, as received an ‘also noted’ in Ebony Magazine.
 
Guest readers include a myriad of local writers of color and queer writers.  Come hear:  Claire Light / Natalia Vigil / Jaime Cortez / Carole Simmons / LeConte Dill / Elissa Perry / Kenji Liu / Adam Smyer / Mel Hilario / Mahru Elahi / and Rona Fernandez   all in one place!
 
Discussion between the audience and the writers will follow the readings.
 
*This reading is a product of the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Grant program.

October 31, 2009

NaNoFiMo

I almost missed the beginning of NaNoWriMo, as I do every year, but I caught it in time, thanks to Justine's blog.

I've never succeeded at a NaNoWriMo-type project, but a few years ago, when I tried to write a No in a Mo (not exactly the Mo of November) I did get more than half of it written.

So I'm going to try (again) to use NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to Get Stuff Done. As in, Get My Novel Done. So this year's November is my National Novel Finishing Month, or NaNoFiMo.

Actually, I'm not going to finish finish Da Nobble; that's not even in my plan. I just want to finish the third draft. Once that's done revision should get easier. Here's how it's going to work:

  • Da Nobble is epistolary (written in letters) and is organized by mailbags. Each correspondant contributes one letter to each mailbag, of which there are 15. There are five correspondants, which gives us a grand total of 75 letters. I'm currently in the middle of the fifth mailbag.
  • Of course, some of the letters are short and some are long; some of the letters require hefty rewriting and some do not.
  • I intend to complete planned revisions on 3 letters per day--that is, three letters that require revisions--until I hit the difficult ones. The difficult ones are the ones that don't just need revision, but the actual incident described in the letters needs to be thrown out and rethought. For each one of these, I will simply work three hours per day on them until they're done.
  • I'll check in daily here.
That is all. Wish me luck!

October 23, 2009

Octavia Butler Panel Podcast

Okay, so I did a piss-poor job of advertising my LitQuake Octavia Butler panel appearance here, so I'm trying to make up for it now.

The Agony Column podcast came to the panel, which was part of the SF in SF series hosted by Terry Bisson, and recorded both the panel discussion, and separate interviews with each of the panelists: awesome black-lesbian-vampire-novelist Jewelle Gomez, awesome Latina-chicklit-vampire-novelist Marta Acosta, and non-vampire-novelisting me (but wouldn't it be cool if I had written Asian vampires and was able to complete a trifecta?)

The reading and panel was a tribute to Octavia Butler and a fundraiser for the Butler Scholarship, which is administered by the Carl Brandon Society (which I'm on the Steering Committee of.)

The podcasts have been posted now and here they is:

Yee haw!

August 19, 2009

Publication News!

Amid the moany-groany there's some good news:

The awesome Timmi Duchamp, editor of Aqueduct Press, has accepted a short MS of mine for publication in her Conversation Pieces chapbook series! Yay!

The book will be called Slightly Behind and to the Left, and will contain four stories: "Pigs in Space," "Pinball Effect" (which will be published as the "gravity" entry here,) "Abducted by Aliens!", and "Vacation." There are also three drabbles (100 word stories) in it, all written for FarThing, although she only took two (beeotch!)

It'll be out most likely by the end of the year, although that's not yet locked down. Open the champagne!

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