In what ways are writers garbage pickers?

When I arrived at the gym yesterday, I parked the car next to the Big 5 Sporting Goods store’s huge garbage containers, located in my gym’s parking area. I felt embarrassed for the man I saw lurking behind the bins. He wore a baseball cap and tried to appear invisible as he rummaged through the trash. The image of him prowling there stayed with me, and I couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for writers. Continue reading “In what ways are writers garbage pickers?”

How are writers shape shifters? Read on!

plant-426672_1920During a visit to Calgary, Canada, the city where I grew up, I had conducted a workshop at the event “When Words Collide.” It was entitled “The Origins of Fiction: A Personal Odyssey.” Preparing for the occasion had me thinking about narrative seeds, especially mine. What starts me on these explorations of others’ lives? Continue reading “How are writers shape shifters? Read on!”

In what ways are writers like the homeless?

human-2651413_1920Pre-pandemic, at a time when I was still looking for an agent and hadn’t yet published four novels and two poetry books, I attended an author/agent symposium, an event sponsored by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The location was gracious—the officer’s club at Fort Mason in San Francisco, a building with windows along one side, overlooking the bay. The view takes in Alcatraz and parts of Aquatic Park, the waves sweeping along the shore, swimmers tackling them without wet suits.

Continue reading “In what ways are writers like the homeless?”

What goes into creating characters

When I was 13, I began keeping a diary. But since I feared someone might read it, I invented a coded language to record whatever I needed to write about at that time. I don’t know what happened to the diary. But I like to think that whoever found it thought s/he had stumbled on a relic from a spaceship or another country because of the unfamiliar words. Continue reading “What goes into creating characters”

Are All Writers Artists?

absorbed-2409314_1280Anyone can be a writer in the sense of putting sentences together that form longer narratives. But not all of these writers are artists. That’s the distinction I make between the work some people are publishing whether the book is self-published or travels the traditional route via a publisher, small or large. Continue reading “Are All Writers Artists?”

Writers as Chameleons!

The other night I dreamt that I had at least seven different selves that I circulated among. I wasn’t surprised. My roles in the outer world shift regularly from writer to teacher to mother to wife to social director to cook. But I also realize that writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction calls on very different aspects of myself. Continue reading “Writers as Chameleons!”

Trusting Ourselves as Writers

“I write to make sense of my life.” John Cheever

I’ve been reading Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life, and it’s been extremely illuminating in many ways. John Cheever, considered one of the best 20th Century short story writers, struggled at times, as most writers do, to trust his impulses in creating short stories and novels. Many of his works first appeared in the New Yorker, and for much of that time, William Maxwell, long-time editor at that magazine, was both his good friend and editor. This relationship eventually became a problem for them both.
Continue reading “Trusting Ourselves as Writers”

Does Art Strip the Writer/Artist Bare?

mosaic-200864_1920Working on my soon-to-be-released novel Freefall: A DivineComedy has made me see how art strips the artist bare, leaving him/her fully exposed. This dynamic is true for literary as well as visual artists, perhaps even more so. Writers mine all parts of their psyches in order to explore characters, emotions, themes, thoughts, desires, impulses, and so much more. In the process, they expose themselves, revealing the ways in which these aspects of self originate in the writer herself. Continue reading “Does Art Strip the Writer/Artist Bare?”

Writers Or Magicians?

emoticon-1421124_1280Fiction writers have been called many things, but magician seems to me the best description.  They dip into the black hat of their imagination and produce an endless variety of characters, situations, images, genres, events, and styles.  The effect on readers is nothing less than magical, the reader also becoming a magician, assisting in making visible what wasn’t there before. Continue reading “Writers Or Magicians?”

“Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” —Henry James

zucchini-1605792_1920Many writers try to live up to Henry James’ advice: “Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” We writers need to approach our internal and external realities in a mindful way, taking in as much as we can so that when we write description, create dialogue, and develop characters, we have plenty of material to work with. But being mindful also means we are more alert to our surroundings and, hopefully, more alive in each moment. Continue reading ““Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” —Henry James”

Are Writers Shapeshifters?

plant-426672_1920During a visit to Calgary, Canada, the city where I grew up, I conducted a workshop at the event “When Words Collide.” It was entitled “The Origins of Fiction: A Personal Odyssey.” Preparing for the occasion had me thinking about narrative seeds, especially mine. What starts me on these explorations of others’ lives? Continue reading “Are Writers Shapeshifters?”

Are Writers Garbage Pickers?

white-male-2064827_1920When I arrived at the gym yesterday, I parked the car next to the Big 5 Sporting Goods store’s huge garbage containers, located in my gym’s parking area. I felt embarrassed for the man I saw lurking behind the bins. He wore a baseball cap and tried to appear invisible as he rummaged through the trash. The image of him prowling there stayed with me, and I couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for writers.

Continue reading “Are Writers Garbage Pickers?”

Are All Internet Sites Created Equal?

Okay, it’s confession time. I’m a snob, an elitist, and worse. I believe that my many years as a university teacher of rhetoric, and my equal amount of time as a writer of several novels, poetry, essays, and more, qualify me as a specialist in those areas. In addition, my broad and deep background in the liberal arts has taught me what constitutes good and bad writing/thinking. I don’t claim to be the final arbiter of taste, but I do believe we can learn to recognize when fiction (or any other kind of writing) doesn’t measure up.

cat-copyA parallel: If we love food and have eaten at better restaurants, it doesn’t take long to recognize the difference between high-level cuisine and what is mediocre. Similarly, for those of us that love wine, a more costly bottle usually tastes better than two-buck chuck. Isn’t this how we develop more discriminating palates? And shouldn’t this refinement apply to literature and other arts? Or has widespread popular education, prevalent communications systems, and what is often called ‘mass society’ totally eroded these differences?

I believe it did for me. Early this year, I joined an on-line group that billed itself as a writers’ book club. Its mission is to profile, promote, and propel indie authors, an undertaking I applauded at the time since my novels have—and will be—published by smaller presses. I paid my membership fee, willing to take a risk and also hoping that this association would help me find more readers for my work. A constant learner, I also thought I might pick up something new from my fellow writers.

But once I became a member, I discovered that most other subscribers had self-published. Their work lacked the depth and quality I was hoping to find. I don’t want to get into a discussion here of the pros and cons of self-publishing, though I think it’s a viable option in some cases, especially if the writers are professional and seek expert editing before they release their books. Yet in this case, there clearly was a difference between the self-published writers (for the most part) and those who had work released through traditional presses.

Unfortunately, one of the organization’s requirements is for each member to purchase, read, and give an ‘honest’ review of another member’s book for a total of four a year. In general, the books I purchase are mainly literary, and I had difficulty finding any in that category among my fellow writers there. Though I had agreed to this membership rule, I found it difficult to do because there was so little of quality to choose from. I also felt exploited by the requirement. While so far I’ve read and reviewed three books for the group, I haven’t had the favor returned.

Realizing I made a mistake to involve myself in this pledging enterprise, I’ve finally decided to quit, but my experience with it has forced me to be more discriminating. In the future I’ll remember that, yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus, and yes, Lily, not all Internet sites are created equal.

The Internet offers many opportunities for authors to network and market themselves. But I need to chuck my egalitarian instincts and not get involved in situations that consume my time without any payback. A valuable lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language’s Mystery And Its Relationship to Writers

5d9cf373-e31c-400e-9fe0-1655625ab9b2My husband and I got into a discussion of poetry and our different approaches to it. His training is in new criticism. Mine embraces more contemporary work, though I’m eclectic and like many different styles, including John Ashbery’s method of disjointed narrative. My husband recognizes I’m onto something that Melville was alluding to in Moby Dick—the gap between language and what it tries to depict…how language organizes and creates our way of seeing.

After this conversation, we looked at some poems I had written recently, and he was reading them differently than previously. This time he was able to grasp what I was doing. We talked of how our training can shut us down, put blinders on us. He said, “Joseph Brodsky believes language has a life outside of us and uses the writer.”

I agree. I think there’s truth to the statement “in the beginning was the word.” Language is absolutely mysterious in its relationship to humans and the things it touches.

I also see a relationship between impressionism, some kinds of abstract paintings, and the poetry I write. It tends to mainly suggest something. Give only enough information/detail to set the readers’ imaginations working. I don’t want everything spelled out. I want mystery in my poems (and my prose)—new worlds.

I’m reminded of this quote: “Mark Rothko, painting his stripes in Greece, was asked: ‘Why don’t you paint our temples.’ He replied: ‘Everything I paint is a temple.’” I’d like to think that everything I write is one.

There seems some evidence for the idea that we are changed by the things we create—actually shaped by them. Ralph Ellison shares it. He says the novels we write create us as much as we create them. How mysterious language is and its relationship to writers.