Friday, June 29, 2012

Razor's Edge for 6/29/12

Today's Razor's Edge prompt is a character sketch.

Read her dexcription and then choose one of the photos below as the setting for her story.

Write for 10 minutes.

NAME: Freedom Malloy
AGE: early twenties
HAIR: Chestnut, for now; cut just below her shoulders
ENJOYS (partial list): reptiles, all things blue, tango dancing, her vintage institution green scooter, reading, being in high places
DISLIKES (parital list): fizzy water, all things pastel, miniatures, imitation foods, the smell of the overflowing sewer after a hard rain
TATOOS: dragonfly

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Radical Writing Advice: Dialogue

I'm sure someone told you at some point in your life to "stop staring; it's not polite." At least if you were raised in the USA. I can't speak for all cultures and ethnicities, of course, but I do know that in American society, it is considered rude to stare at another person.

photo from iprefercake
Looking at someone can be used with intent, however.

For example, at the restaurant, when your coffee cup is empty and nearly dry and the wait staff have passed your table by three times with the coffee pot? It's time to stare. Not meanly, but with intent. Look at them like you mean it and like if that person doesn't come fill your cup soon you are going to turn into a raving caffeine starved loud mouth, ahem, upset customer. Try to catch the staff's eye gaze. They'll get it. Or if there's this person you're interested in meeting, in possibly getting to know better, over time, maybe? Staring might be a little over the top, but you do want to look in that person's direction, friendly-like, let them know that you know they look interesting and you just might float each other's boats if they're willing to give you a try.

And the same thing goes for overheard conversations. Again, in America, we're told from when we're young to not be listening in on other people's conversations, that it isn't our business and we shouldn't go sticking our nose - or our ears - in it.

However, eavesdropping on conversations is exactly what we as writers should do.

I've heard some people say to use the television or radio (does anyone actually just listen to the radio anymore, unless they're driving or stuck without their MP3 player/iPod/nano-with-every-song-ever-recorded library?). Which is okay. If you want your characters to sound like the characters on the program, rather than a real live person on the street or in the cafe or at the mall.

Personally, I like my characters to breath and walk and sound like who they are. If I use other writers' ideas of how the bowling alley shoe clerk talks in my writing, then my dialogue risks sounding like a B-movie spinoff. And that DIY spinoff character of what will someday be a cult film is okay if that's what you're looking for in your piece.

If I don't want my protagonists to all sound like other people's characters, I need to listen to characters. The characters all around me. Because I also don't want all of my characters to sound like me.

Eavesdrop. That thing you've been told you're not supposed to do. But we do it anyway and, many of us at least, have some guilt about it. As writers, this is our field. Our research. Our beta testing ground.

No, scratch that. It's probably best to not try to introduce anything into the conversation or try to influence what is happening. Unless you're writing a story about someone who jumps into other people's conversations or someone whose plans are repeatedly interrupted by interlopers. Then you might test out interruption reactions, but I don't recommend it. Find another way; if you want to try it, anyway, drop me a note and let me know how that worked out for you.

The goal is to listen. I've found it useful to listen more than I talk; at least most of the time. And, I know, that is not an original statement or idea. But it's true. I usually learn so much more by just listening - whether that is in overheard conversations or in one-on-one conversations. If I talk and talk and talk, then the other person says less and I get to listen to myself all the time. Isn't it better to listen to the person I'm with at least half the time? I listen to my chatter enough, thank you.

photo from the Essential Japan Guide
Use your discretion, of course, when listening to conversations. Although, if there is an intimate disagreement happening at the two seats right next to you at the kaiten sushi bar, you can't help but hear it. What are their voices doing? What are the words they use? Do their voices change as the conversation heats up or cools down or as agreement is reached?  Do they start to "punch" their words and enunciate more clearly? Or do they trail off and mumble?

Make mental notes and physical notes if you can. If you're a tech geek or an experienced user of your mobile device, send yourself notes via text or email. At the notetaking stage, don't worry about the exact wording of how you'd describe it in a story. Make it shorthand or make it a sketch or whatever will help you remember the sound, the words, the feeling you have as you listen.

How do you know that couple in Starbucks just met and are considering starting to date? What is it you hear which gives you clues? What are the words and what goes beyond the words? Are there any movements that go with the words? Perhaps which contradict the words?

Restaurants and cafes are obvious places to go.

But you might also try a courthouse. Most trials are open to the public and anyone can sit in - at least in most places I know of. If you want to try this one, I suggest double-checking in your area if the laws are the same. Here, most trials are open and it will be posted (or doors locked, with guards standing by) if they aren't.

Go to the laundromat, even if you have a perfectly good washer and dryer set at home.

Try going to a restaurant and a food cart! I'm not sure how much food carts have taken off in other places, but here? We have lots of food carts. Big "cart villages" as someone recently said, and tiny groups of food carts shoved into little vacant spaces between buildings. These carts are bigger than the hot dog and hot nut and pretzel carts in NYC; these are small travel trailers or other similar sized vehicles parked, with food for sale. Look at the diners in both places, listen to the conversations. What is the same? What is different?

Go to the gym or the local community rec center. I've caught some great conversation snippets in the pool, at a popular senior center visit time, with someone holding forth on topics - in the pool, in the hot tub. My only problem with the pool is that I can only use what I can hold in my brain until I can get to a notetaking system of some kind. Somewhere I have a waterproof paper and pen; I should look for those. See if there is a difference in conversation between the pool users and the cardio machine users and the strengthening equipment. And how are the dead-lift users different than the runners or the walkers?

Go. Listen. Watch as you can to pick up accompanying gestures, a tilt of the head, eyebrow raises, widening or narrowing of eyes, and so on. And make notes. Use this to help you build dialogue for your characters which reads as real - because it is.

Stick your ears in someone else's conversation. Politely. Discretely. (And with a little common sense; you know, sometimes "it just ain't right.") But do it. The authenticity of your characters' dialogue will benefit.

Although I will add that you probably don't want to stare while you're listening. It's not polite and it can be a conversation stopper.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Theater and Writing

Two days ago I made a commitment to be a regular contributor to a theatrical blog for next season. I'm excited about this agreement and am looking forward to the opportunity. I will be writing educational, informational pieces about theatrical interpreting (into American Sign Language, for those who don't know) - both general and specific.

I will share more once the details are worked out. But at this point I do know I will be writing one or two pieces per month.

There is some other good news on the theatrical front - but, again, I will wait to say anything more until after a few things are worked out.


Saturday night I went to the final performance of "The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy" at Pentacle Theatre in Salem. The entire cast did a great job - we laughed and nodded in an "in the know" kind of way. Directors Cherie and Jeff pulled the cast together, the blocking worked well, and the minimalist stage allowed for the variations in scene locations with ease.

The three interpreters for the show were great. I know they put a lot of time into translation and preparation and rehearsal, as well as committing to be there for every performance. And their dedication showed: congratulations to Justin, Myk, and Darcie. Nice job!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Razor's Edge for 6/22/12

Today's prompt is a video: Regina Spektor's "All the Rowboats." It's a music video - but my challenge to you is to turn your speakers off before you watch it. Watch the video all the way through and then write for 10 minutes.

What are you (or your character) about to fall into? Are you (or your character) running to something or running away? Or do you (or your character) feel trapped where you are?

Where are you?

Start with this:   All around me I could see ....

After you've written, go back and watch the video again, this time with sound. Did something different come to you with her music? Or does it deepen what you've already written?

Write for another 5 - 10 minutes. Add on to what you already put down, or start something new. Start with this:   And then I knew ... .


Monday, June 18, 2012

Radical Writing Advice

I have stacks and shelves and magazines and files and, now, e-documents (books, articles, links, bookmarks, blogs, quotes) of advice for writers. I've been to some writers' conferences and writing workshops and have been (still am) in writing groups. My first Associate's degree was Liberal Studies with a focus in Journalism/English. My second two-year degree was in Sign Language Interpreting - so it doesn't really relate to writing; well, maybe it does if you look at it as a communications and linguistic degree. Then I went for a BS (I love that!) degree in Liberal Studies, with emphasis in Writing and Theater. I've written for newsletters, edited newsletters, had some poetry published, a few short stories and essays, and some flash fiction - including an ultimate short fiction of only 50 words. I also have a creative nonfiction/memoir in revision and a novel in revision.

My point is, I have many resources, education, and experience in writing. In what it takes to be a writer.

So I can say with confidence that I do have advice for other writers.

Right now, if you only listen to me about one thing, listen to this:

Find what works for You.

That's it.

I have read articles and listened to successful authors tell me that I must write daily and blog frequently in order to be successful. I've been told that writing is a solitary act and one must have expansive time alone in order to write. I've been told that a real author's books are picked up by agents who convince publishers to print them. I've been told that setting aside specific writing time is the way to go and daily writing becomes dry and habitual, uninspired. I recently have been reading that frequent blogging is not a good idea; it overwhelms or saturates your audience : slow day, pace it, spread it out. I've read or heard that writing in community is the most beneficial; keeps the words alive.

Finish the book before you pitch. Only finish the first few chapters before you pitch, don't waste your time. Contact an agent with a proposal, then write the article. Only send queries on what you know. Query about things you're interested in but don't necessarily know a lot about, but can research.

Write what you know. Don't reveal too much about yourself. Be honest. Don't lie. Make it up if you have to. Tell the truth. Fictionalize to make it engaging.

I am not saying there isn't good advice out there. There is. And there is a lot of it. What I am saying is that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there.

If you want to get published by one of the Big Six (or however many are left now), then look into what they require. Who has the connections to get you into their doors. And do it.

If you want to write memoir: read a few. See who you like. And by "like" I don't mean just to click "like" in Google+ or on Facebook or whatever social networking tools/sites you use. I mean to check out some styles of writing, content in their stories, read their articles or blogs. Read what they do and read others who read or follow them. Where do they publish? Who works with them? Read what those authors say about writing memoir.

If you are more into small presses, read some. Find an independent bookstore or a local coffee shop with zines and related material. What is there? Who publishes it? Where are they? Read them. Read about them.

If you want to do freelance writing, poke around in different publications you're interested in writing for or which you read regularly or support. Who is writing for them? What do they have to say about publication as a freelance writer? Where are their blogs or books of syndicated articles?

Find what you like. Read it. Read about it. Read about who writes it. Read the writing of those who write it or publish it or represent it.

I believe that this is how you will be a successful writer. You are your best tool. If you need to polish up your grammar, do it. If you need to enlarge your vocabulary, register for a class or find language partners and work together. If you want to write a mystery about the desert but you live where it's cloudy + rainy + green 350 days of the year, take a couple weeks off or 5 days and take a trip; experience the dry the heat the golden landscape. If you want to be indie published, find the zines and the books and read them, find the authors, look at the variety of publications. If you like to write rants and raves and vent your opinion, find bloggers with similar styles; subscribe to them; read them; contact them.

If you try to mimic someone who is not like you, it may fail. It will probably be hard. Part of you may rebel and you won't enjoy it and you may quit.

Don't quit. Look at your options. Have a sit-down meeting with yourself to see what is in your heart. Do that. Follow your heart. You writer's heart.

Trust your writer's heart.

If you're the next Stephen King, then read what he has to say about writing. I am not the next Stephen King, but I do recommend his book, "On Writing." It is one of my all-time favorite books on writing.

If your writing style is like Ariel Gore, the ultimate hip mama rebel writer, then read her book "How to be a Famous Writer Before You're Dead." Again, I recommend reading it anyway, for pretty much anyone. Definitely recommend to the indie-leaning writer. And you can check out her Literary Kitchen class offerings: online and in person.

More spiritual or zen-like? Try Natalie Goldberg or Dosho Port. Definitely listen to "Zen Howl," which is only available on CD and is by both Natalie Goldberg and Dosho Port. For general spiritual writing in the Buddhist direction, read some Pema Chodron. Or read that just to help calm and give perspective on life.

Speaking of Zen, I recently read Dinty Moore's new book, "The Mindful Writer." Great nuggets of useful information, insight in there.

A poet? Try Judith Barrington, who also has a book on writing memoir.

Spoken word? Look up Queen Juliana, Juliana Luecking. She's in New York and has some great videos up on YouTube and Vimeo and some pieces on CD.

Looking for some editing and publication preparation information? I recommend Jessica Page Morrell. She has some great books and a blog. And she presents workshops.

Bonnie Hearn Hill (who has a great YA series, StarCrossed, as well as numerous mysteries worth reading) has books on a number of writing issues and recently co-authored a book on e-publishing, which can be found for the Kindle or cloud reading on Amazon.

I could give you a long list. But why? Look around at who you like. Who speaks to you as a reader. Read them. Read what they say about writing. Read what others say about them. Read editors, agents. Find their blogs. Find small presses blogs and websites. Take a class on letterpress (IPRC if you're local has some great classes and an certificate program with a fast approaching deadline) or publishing software.

Look around.

Find what you like.

Look inward.

Find what you like.

And do it.

Again, one simple rule:
Find what works for You.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Razor's Edge for 6/15/12

Today's prompt is taken from an article I just read in the July/August issue of Writer's Digest: "The Reluctant Risk-Taker's Guide to Filling the Creative Well." The author, Elizabeth Sims, writes that, "Great writing begins with an appetite for life." She then goes on to offer ways to challenge yourself - as a writer, as a person in the world.

Her first suggestion is to "Know thyself." Do this exercise... And then I encourage you to read the rest of her article. It's inspirational and a welcome change from the list of how-to-be-a-writer rules - a chance to open up and look for opportunity. Allow yourself to fall into this exercise.

I'm going to shorten the times of this writing. Sims asks the writer to spend an hour on two questions. In the tradition of Razor's Edge, I'm going to shorten it to 10 minutes for each question. But feel free to spend an hour on them if you are so inspired!

First: List your fears. What do they feel like? These may be anything from a spider on your windowsill to losing your job to speaking in front of people. Big or small, list your fears and the accompanying feelings.

Second: on a new page, Write about your wild side. What does she look like? Sims suggests looking to your childhood self if you're unsure of your wild side. Then Sims says to think about your wild side and see "Is it happy, or is it listless and neglected? Listen to it. What is it asking for?"

Now: look at the two lists. Which makes you feel better?

Sims says: "Remember: Fears are only thoughts, but the world is thrillingly real."

...and read the rest of her article as soon as you can, especially if you believe as she does that "Taking the safe path won't always cut it."...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On the Water

Mouth of the Columbia, Ridgefield, WA
photo by Dot. 

On the Water
            by Dot


Dip paddle
Float with the tide and let the wind
and current
Guide you inward to
your soul to the water to

To the place where Poetry and Words
live to the place where
is born and grows.

Dip paddle.



"Imitation is the best form of flattery."  -- Charles Caleb Colton

Dip paddle.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On the Road

Back Mt Tabor Stairs.  photo by Dot.
 Sometimes the higher road is very steep.

I'm trying to walk that path right now.

I have a post written; ready to go. I haven't decided if it's the higher road. No, that's not it either - it's not the higher road but I haven't decided if it stoops to the inciting incident. No names are used but. Well. Some will know.

That is not the higher road. Right?

Must I always remain silent and just take it? Or is this another test of letting go?

Must the higher road always be silent?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jupiter Transit

From astrologer and author Hazel Dixon-Cooper (click on her name to read the rest of her June astrology notes).

June 11, Jupiter spins out of Taurus and into Gemini, where it stays until June 2013. This deepens the message that the universe wants us to get out in the world to explore new ideas, meet new people, and broaden our minds. Jupiter is full of luck and fun. It’s also the planet of excess. Gemini relationships and plans can have a short shelf life. While Jupiter’s in Gemini, it will be easier to assume that every idea you hatch and every person you meet is perfect.

Although this transit is going to be mostly upbeat and intellectually stimulating, it’s wise to think before you dive into anything.

new class with Inga Muscio

Ariel Gore's Literary Kitchen is offering another class with Inga Muscio starting in July and you can sign up here : Ariel Gore's website

New Summer Class With Inga Muscio
Inga Muscio–author of Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil, and Rose: Love in Violent Times–returns to The Literary Kitchen for another exclusive online class.
July 21st – September 9th
A Study in Decerebralization
Stop Thinking, Start Writing
With Inga Muscio

Thinking is nice. I think we can all agree that thinking is an important part of writing. To write from your heart, however, a lot of the thinking business has to be set aside. How to achieve this when everything we have learned about writing involves thinking? This thinking business also eventually gives you false expectations that you and your writing can probably never live up to.

For everyone who can churn out reportage, no problemo, but struggles with just letting go and belting out some genius from your heart and soul, for everyone with a mean-spirited bitch of an inner editor, for everyone with a so many truckloads of memories that you constantly set aside until they gridlock the byways of your heart, our Study in Decerebralization if for you.

This class will involve a significant number of highly creative writing assignments, but there will also be a big focus on having delirious fun writing and on learning to view your “non-writing” time as a vital part of your creative process.


Most of the writing assignments will require pen and paper. Some of them you will have to mail in to Inga, with no editing allowed.

Class size is strictly limited, so please sign up early

$275 for the 8-week online class

An $80 deposit saves your spot. Balance due just before the class starts.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Razor's Edge 6/8/12

Today's prompt is silent. Wordless. It is the video below.

Today's prompt is visual.

Watch. Let yourself be drawn into it. Write for 8 minutes when the video is done. Or start if something comes to you before that.

Watch. Let it in, let the story flow.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Returning and Reflexion

I'm home now. The drive was smooth - partly because I expected the rush hour traffic I met since I left about 4:30pm, partly because I had an iced soy latte beside me, and partly because I'd just had several days of completely unscheduled time. Alone - well, not really alone, I was sitting three feline friends. But the three cats and I got along immediately and fell into a nice sleep, wake, eat, rest, brush, play, eat rhythm.  The porch had beautifully arranged potted plants - cactus and grassy greens and flowering bunches - and chairs for sitting, watching the cottonwood snow, brushing the cats.

So hitting rush hour Seattle traffic was expected and it didn't phase me. Honestly, it wasn't any worse than what I hit at least a couple times a week on the outbound Sunset (I've temporarily forgotten the new name - but Highway 26 westbound, whatever name you call it). Except the Sunset is only 4 lanes at its widest point and Seattle's I-5 South is 7. But the backup and resulting 10-20 mph is the same.

So the just over three-hour drive was over four hours. With a brief stop for gas when the "low" light came on (I thought I could make it back to Portland for a fill-up and a car wash simultaneously - but, no) and a 20 minute stop for a quick authentic chicken enchilada plate at a Mexican cafe.

A lot of time to think. Reflect on the time and what I did and didn't accomplish. And realize that whatever I did or didn't do was just what I needed to do right now.

I did write. But not as much as I thought I would. And "as much as I thought I would" was just a little bit unrealistic (insert sarcastic up lilt in my voice). I did get last week's assignment done and this week's quick write and I've read some of the other writers' stories to prepare for giving feedback. And this week's assignment is knocking around in my head, though nothing on the page yet.

I did read. I really got into "I'm Looking Through You - Growing up Haunted: A Memoir," although I had to stop two nights and put it off until daylight, as I was afraid it might give me bad dreams. It's a memoir and it's not scary, per se; definitley on horror genre or anything like that. But those two nights the ghost and divining was a little too intense for my brain at bedtime. I read a lot of the book. I didn't crack the Stephen King which I got waylaid on a couple of weeks ago and haven't gotten back into it yet. Not because it isn't good - I really enjoy it, really. But it needs longer periods of time than I've had and I was into "...Haunted." My thoughts that I would finish both books in what amounted to 3 full days and 2 partial days was unrealistic.

And I rested. No alarms. No appointments. No place I had to be except there and to feed, water, and scoop poop for the cats, water the plants. That was what I needed most and that was what I got most - down time.

On the drive home and now as I get ready for bed, I feel more creative. I feel there is space for contemplating my writing and editing and space to move in my words and to arrange them into stories.

Time. Rest. I think these are a couple of my most important writer tools.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Time Lifts the Veil

I haven't finished my writing assignment for this week, yet. But I know I will. And I have all day tomorrow to do it.

I've had three days off work; three days in a row. And three to go.

Today I slept until my charges woke me up, demanding to be fed. Which I did. Then we all went back to sleep.

I woke up a couple hours later and was hungry myself. So I got up, had oatmeal with flax, half a banana, some blueberries. Read. Read in bed with the furry kids and went back to sleep.

We all went back to sleep. Cat time - nap during the day. It was lovely. Woke up a couple or so hours later with the cats still fast asleep. I got up and showered.

I went to my favorite sushi restaurant and ate my favorite sushi food: Spinach Gomae. Afterwards I went for an hour walk, with a turnaround stop for an iced Matcha Soy Latte.

Today I feel creative. I feel the writing flow returned. And while I haven't finished the story, I know I will. And I know I will write more and the words haven't abandoned me. And I haven't abandoned them.

The foggy veil which made writing seem near impossible is gone. Like making space for this trip to be possible, I have to remember to make time for writing to happen.

Space and time equals creativity.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Razor's Edge 6/1/12

Picture and word prompts for today.

Think about desire and travel. Thing widely about "travel" - it may be a trip across the ocean or across town to a neighborhood you haven't yet visited, or in a dream; whatever comes to you in this writing.

Prompt #1:

As I looked at the bracelet I could only wear when I was off work ...

Prompt #2:

I could hear the water slapping the rocky beach, along with the sound of ...