Thursday, August 30, 2007

Genre Schmenre

Two or three years ago I bought Scott an iPod for Christmas and a year or two later I got my own. What a great concept! I could I buy all the new music I liked, and if I remembered a really cool song or album from high school, from a musical, from anywhere, I could go out to the iTunes Store and find it.

The music section of iTunes has no fewer than 42 – I’ll spell it out – forty-two genres of music listed. But it gets better. The alternative genre lists college rock, goth rock, grunge, indie rock, new wave and punk as sub-genres. Hmm. Rock lists adult alternative, American trad rock (what the heck is trad?), arena rock, blues-rock, British invasion, death metal/black metal, glam rock, hair rock, hard rock, heavy metal, jam bands, prog-rock/art rock, psychedelic, rock & roll, singer/songwriter, southern rock, surf and Tex-Mex. I give up. Is this really necessary?

Did this form of music marketing emerge at the same time that the ridiculous number of literary genres did in the publishing world? The main genres have been well established for some time now: fiction & literature, horror, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, westerns and poetry. Then there are graphic novels, Christian fiction, erotica, gay & lesbian, historical, African American fiction, cultural fiction, nautical & maritime fiction, young adult fiction, paranormal fiction, chick-lit, hen-lit, visionary & metaphysical fiction – the list goes on.

On the Barnes and Noble website under Women’s Fiction alone, the following categories are listed: between friends, chick lit, classics, families, for better, for worse, glitz & glamour, memoirs, letters, biographies, mothers & mothering, romantic relationships, self realization, sense of place, unquiet minds, wonders and horrors of childhood, women around the world, women of a certain age, women vs. society’s expectations and working mothers.

Are they serious?

Who does this benefit?

I’m not even going to think about the anxiety this induces when I consider it from the perspective of a writer. For now, I'm going to focus on how this affects me as a reader. It means that since I think I like primarily non-genre books (which is absolutely untrue as I’ve got dozens of books that contradict this assumption), I ignore 95% of the fiction sections in a bookstore that contain all of these other labels. It means that there are hundreds of books I suspect I’d really like that I won’t see. It means I’m missing out on fiction from other cultures, stories that might have gay or lesbian characters, fiction that may have some romantic or historical context, or that may have some elements of fantasy because I’m assuming it’s not marketed toward me and, what? I’m not supposed to read it? If I miss it when it’s on the new release shelf, I’ll probably never see it again unless it’s recommended to me by someone who knows my taste and I go looking for it.

In my view, this subdivision and over categorization has reinforced snobbery and reverse snobbery about what we think we like and what we think we don’t like and it’s kept us from being exposed to a lot of work we’d like. I’ll admit it. I prejudge work based on where it’s shelved and I know that’s sometimes unfair.

Obviously, reviewers do the same -- but that's an entirely different rant.

A couple of years ago, a friend told me about a book called Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson that sounded like a fantastic historical fiction read. I searched high and low in Borders and I was finally directed to the science fiction section. Huh? I’ve still never figured that out.

I’ve read a few sci-fi books that I loved, but I’ve got a built in assumption that it’s just not my thing because I remember a lot of pulpy stuff I used to find left behind by my fellow shift workers when I was in the Air Force. I may lose some friends here by saying this, but I turn my nose up at romance novels. There, I said it, God help me. When I think of romance fiction, I picture a book cover with Fabio date raping some woman with the front of her dress ripped off. Apparently there’s a huge market for that stuff, but it’s not my thing. I know that all books labeled as romance are not “bodice rippers”, but who has the time to sort through all that? I admit it. I have developed preconceived notions about some genres based on stereotypes that are probably untrue.

I don’t believe the label “literary fiction” has grown the audience for works in that category at all and I question what it even means anymore. I think people who say they don’t like it think that it’s difficult and pretentious, but books considered to be literary fiction don’t seem to have a whole lot in common to me. Are Li of Pi and Everything is Illuminated considered literary fiction? I liked both of them a lot, but I can’t see how they have anything in common with Faulkner or Hemingway. What about Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union? Chabon is at the top of my list of favorite writers, but these books could both easily be categorized in a number of genres.

I think it’s simply the label that induces reverse snobbery in readers who prefer genre fiction. The labels have created an atmosphere where the assumption is that genre is looked down on. The labels have done this to us. And why would that not be true? Does labeling ever do anything but promote divisiveness in people, in popular culture?

Really – beyond making books easier to shelve for the bookseller, is there anything positive for either the readers or the authors that comes from this practice? Have all of these genres and sub-genres in literature made you more or less open to exploring books in "other" sections? Have you passed over books because of the genre that you later found you liked?

This Poem Got Me

Sometimes a poem hits me so strongly, I'm speechless. If you have a son or have ever known a this poem by Chris Ransick.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Show, but How Much?

It’s an ongoing joke in my family that in the figurative paintings that Scott has done where he’s used me as his model, my face is always turned away from the viewer. At the point that it becomes a painting, it is no longer me or the model in the photograph; it becomes something new. People sometimes ask him why his figures are posed in that way. It’s really very simple. A painting that reveals a model’s face doesn’t have nearly the mystery and doesn’t leave nearly as much to the viewer’s imagination. Time and again I’ve been at art shows or read email queries about paintings Scott has done and a viewer has remarked that he has to have the painting because it is the essence of his wife or girlfriend. A figure posed with her face

turned away can be anyone.

The same holds true for Scott’s landscapes. He rarely titles them after the actual places he’s painted. Frequently, people are certain that these are places they know – they are someplace that’s familiar. Most of the time, people who are sure they know where the painting is are completely wrong, but he’s learned not to dissuade them from whatever they see. The painting is what the viewer thinks it is.

In fiction, we delight in reading about places we know, but I think we may be even more caught up in a story when the place is fictional, but very familiar.

One of the writers interviewed in the movie Stone Reader noted that reading is not a passive activity. A book needs a reader's imagination to really bring it to life.

I was thinking about a resistance on my part to write detailed descriptions of characters faces and physical characteristics – I like to focus on a few things that provide enough information to let the reader assume what he will. One or two pieces of information about place also suit me as a reader, but not description so specific that I can’t participate in building the story too. Tell me about a ceramic poodle and a petrified dish of ribbon candy in an old lady’s parlor and I can imagine the rest. Tell me about gangly teenage girl who constantly pushes her limp, shapeless hair behind her ears and I get the picture. Show me an old man leaning over his cane with milky blue eyes staring out from beneath caterpillar eyebrows and I’m with you.

Movie adaptations fall prey to viewer disappointment many times because the screenwriter and/or director stray too far from strong imagery we’ve been given by an author. I absolutely loved The Shipping News and the movie adaptation was quite good, but with one distracting flaw: Kevin Spacey was far too attractive. Annie Proulx’s Quoyle was clearly a pitifully unattractive man.

The study of fiction and the development of my own style over the last several months have given me a much greater sense of confidence about the type of fiction I’m striving to write and clear confirmation that there are many people who share my taste and many who do not.

How much description do you like to be given when you read a book? Would you prefer to read very detailed descriptions that provide very specific images of characters and place, or do you prefer to have most of it left to your imagination? What authors are you drawn to when it comes to their ability to “show” you their story?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Nice is That?

Good friend Kristen at From Here to There and Back has nominated me for a Nice Matters Award, and it couldn't have come from a nicer person. What's next? Why, I nominate seven others. I can think of lots more. As a matter of fact, I include everyone who has ever taken the time to stop here and visit. I feel a little bad leaving very nice bloggers, Reality at Eastern Reality and Charles Gramlich at Razored Zen off this list, but I suspect they'll be relieved not to be asked to pass on this very pink image!

Larramie at Seize a Daisy

Olufunke at iyan and egusi soup
Patti at the Patti-O
Carleen Brice, The Pajama Gardener
Shauna Roberts at For Love of Words
Therese Fowler at Making it Up
The Writers Group

This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded please pass it on to 7 others who you feel are deserving of this award.

Enjoy! This is such a nice one to pass along...

Monday, August 27, 2007

On Subtlety

My workshop ended an hour and a half ago and I’m still processing the critique session I sat through tonight. It wasn’t my excerpt being critiqued, it was someone else’s. It was an odd experience because I had to turn an excerpt in to the group tonight and as the critique got underway, I could literally feel heat in my face and my own gnawing anxiety in anticipation of how my work will be received.

The work we discussed tonight was good and I give my fellow writer huge kudos for going first. It really was very good. It had a great first sentence, great hook, lots of tension, excellent description, and a good balance of scene and narrative summary. The voice was strong – there were one or two minor things related to timeline that were a little confusing, but I think they were the result of some revisions that haven’t been completely edited and polished.

I assume people see the same things I see, but they don’t. Overall, the reaction was very good, but some questions and discussion came up that baffled me. One person wasn’t sure where the initial scene took place – it said so right on the page. There was a paragraph where there was a lot of confusion as to whether the character was being sincere or sarcastic – it was crystal clear to me what the intent was, but even when I pointed out a sentence that made the intent obvious, not everyone was so sure.

It was sort of like watching a movie with someone else who becomes confused about the action because they didn’t pick up on an earlier detail. The information is all there, but the viewer has to be paying attention.

The next time we meet, I’ll be listening to everyone discussing my work. It’s a draft of a first chapter so it needs a lot more work, and I’m aware of a number of specific problems it has. It needs to move more quickly, needs more tension, conflict and stakes. There are other aspects I’m pretty happy with, but now I’m not so sure the parts I was confident about are going to come across. That’s OK – I need to know these things.

To be clear, I’m taking this workshop to work on craft and technique, so I’m not deluded into thinking I’ve got something that’s anywhere near finished, or even good (yet), but I am trying to incorporate some techniques, primarily descriptive and related to place and to the character’s gestures and facial expressions, that will evoke a mood, attitude, or sometimes foreshadow things in order to avoid spelling everything out in narrative summary or dialogue. It works well for skilled writers and for me; it will take a lot of practice.

How much subtlety do you try to use in your work, and how much do you feel needs to be spelled out? Have you written scenes that you felt provided clear information, but been given feedback that indicated people were confused and you weren’t being as obvious as you thought you were?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My Biggest Inspiration

I was given an incredible gift a couple of weeks ago. Scott handed me a box, wrapped beautifully in colorful paper. It wasn’t my birthday or any special occasion, but Scott has always been impulsive about gifts, which is one of the things I love about him. I had no idea what might be inside.

Anyone with dreams and pursuits in the arts, and I know that’s pretty much everyone who ever reads or comments here knows that it comes with such a mixed bag of feelings: hope, despair, optimism, pessimism, loneliness, isolation, small victories, major self-doubt and for many years, I didn’t jump into my dream of writing fully. There were lots of reasons.

Since I’ve committed to this path, the biggest single strength I have outside of myself is Scott and the support that he gives me. Writing is so intensely personal and private that I don't share it with very many people; wouldn't be sharing it with a critique group now if Scott had not encouraged me to go to a retreat and sign up for a workshop. Since he’s an artist and has been for many years, there is no emotion I’ve felt that he’s not familiar with. I never realized how important having someone to support my dreams and my work would be to me, but it is.

This was what was in the box and it hangs on the wall in front of my desk. If I were to someday win the Pulitzer, it wouldn't mean more than this does. His love and support allow me to follow my dream in a way I've never been able to consider in previous chapters of my life and after so many years of false starts and blind alleys, I'm so grateful to have found someone who is following his dream and wants to see me follow mine. The way he's led his life is an inspiration to me and his encouragement means everything.

How important is the support of your spouse, lover, friends, and/or relatives to your journey?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ultimate Writer Fantasies

What is your ultimate writer’s fantasy? We all have them. There are the realistic fantasies, tied to what truly is possible and then there are the fantasies that don’t have to be constrained by the laws of physics or any kind of statistical probability. The ladies at Jungle Red posed a similar question this week.

After successfully banishing my episode of self doubt for the time being, I’ll share my wild author fantasies first and then the more realistic, real one. Then you share yours – now is not the time to be shy. Think BIG.

1. Part One requires the US Government enacts a computer security public law that requires all federal agencies to buy and implement the product I sell in my day job. This results in a commission large enough to permit me to leave said day job and write full time without worrying about income – hip hip hooray! (There is an alternate version of this that involves winning the lottery).

2. I put my nose to the grindstone and finish my novel. My search for an agent is a bit arduous, but then I get a call from an agent who thinks my book is the best thing s/he’s ever read and can’t wait to take it on, can’t stop talking about how excited s/he is. The agent gets me a good deal (not too good – I couldn’t take the pressure) and I’m delighted to find that the book will be categorized simply as “Fiction” and it will come out in hardcover. It might even be published by L.J. Kenney in order to allow me some sexual anonymity. It gets some decent reviews, maybe even by a lit blogger or two and then…

3. Fantasy kicks into overdrive -- Some big name author falls in love with it and mentions it as his/her current favorite book in an interview. I’m suddenly getting emails and personalized notes from Michael Chabon, Philip Roth, Annie Proulx, Ernest Hebert (my favorite writer), and Nick Hornsby telling me how much they just LOVE this book. I am flush with validation! Emails and letters pour in from readers who just love the book. The Oprah people call, but I’m camera shy and so unphotogenic that Scott, the love of my life almost didn’t want to date me after meeting me at an online dating site so I tell them how flattered I am, but decline. My publisher, my agent and all of my relatives think I’m insane – insane! But I then become known as the reclusive debut novelist who refused Oprah and without going through the humiliation of a TV appearance where people could pick me apart, I’ve managed to become bigger than ever! Who is she? Why won’t she talk to the press? My aloofness drives the media mad and after the novel is optioned for a wildly successful movie, Scott and I spend our time, he painting and I writing in our homes in Northern California, Aspen and an undisclosed location on the east cost.

4. Fantasy is fueled into hyperspace – Truman Capote comes back from the dead, calls me and insists Scott and I jet over to Paris with him for a fabulous soiree. Dead painters and writers are resurrected, so we’re hanging out with Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir, Monet, Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt – oh, and we’re transported back to the 1920s and everybody smokes again and drinks absinthe, but none of the health hazards exist anymore so it’s OK. It’s just a fabulous time!

5. The real one? I keep at it for the next couple of years and finally have a finished manuscript I’m proud of. I find an agent who wants to represent it and it sells to one of the big New York publishers, big enough so that it gets decent distribution and stands a chance of being read by a few people. It gets its day in the sun and people say more good things about it than bad and enough people buy it that it stays in print for at least (what’s realistic?) a year? In the true fantasy, I’m in a bookstore near where my book is shelved and someone points to the book and tells another shopper, “That was a great book”. In the true fantasy, I walk into the Denver library and my book is displayed among the new releases. I go into my local bookstore and they’ve got it displayed with the staff picks. In the true fantasy, I don’t have illusions that I’ll be able to quit my day job, but if something close to fantasy #5 were to happen, I would be ecstatic.

It could happen!

What are your wild and not so wild book publishing fantasies?

Nuts or Normal?

Before I share my existential angst for the day, I need to categorically state: I am not fishing for reassurance or sympathy. If I get that in response to this post it will be confirmation that I’m unable to express ideas through the use the written language and I will go out into the back yard in my purple pajamas, dig a deep hole and pull the dirt in on top of myself.

It’s a niggling, hollow, anxious feeling of self doubt I’m having today. Just when the rhythm of writing, the study of craft, the balance of creativity and process seemed to be coming together, a chasm of uncertainty opened up beneath my feet.

Does this happen? Is this normal? Do “real” writers ever get part way through a draft and suddenly wonder if it’s all a big pile of crap?

I wonder if it’s like that phenomenon that used to happen back in the seventies, when experimentation with mind altering substances was a great way to spend a Saturday night. We’d stay up all hours of the night, chain smoking Marlboros, getting all excited about our radical new ideas and philosophies and by morning, the genius had all left the room and we found ourselves wondering what the hell we could have been thinking?

Is it because I turned in the first excerpt to my workshop instructor last night for critique and all the way home I couldn’t help but pick my own work apart? That before even getting the feedback, I know some of the problems already?

Is it that I’m thinking maybe this whole time, without getting any authoritative feedback on what I’m doing, I’ve been living in that shadow world of 1977 in that ratty apartment in a New England mill town, incense burning, pupils dilated until the irises are disappeared, cross legged on the floor with two or three other psilocybin deluded nutcases under the spell of imaginary promise?

Or is it just the opposite?

Would it be more deluded to press on with confidence, never experiencing moments of gripping self doubt? Typing and editing away without a doubt in the world that the end result will be a fine read? Or that maybe it will be good and published and people might like it? Do we need to build up the illusion of confidence in order to keep doing what we do, knowing that we can't stop, but that the reality is the vast majority of us will fail?

I know this will pass, probably by the end of the day, but it was a surprise that it hit so hard and so unexpectedly.

Do you ever have moments of intense self doubt? When? Why? What triggers it?

Post Script: In case you doubt the veracity of my comment about jumping into a hole wearing purple pajamas, go here to see my first online photo debut. I am a contest winner and will receive a signed copy of Carleen Brice's new novel , Orange Mint and Honey which will be released by Ballantine in February -- same time as Therese Fowler's US debut for Souvenir. Carleen has also written three non-fiction books and the one I think I need most right now, Age ain't Nothing but a Number is on it's way to my house right now. Carleen is the original Pajama Gardener! It is a testament to serendipity that although Carleen and I both live in the Metro Denver area and Carleen has been a long time member of my new home away from home, Lighthouse Writers Workshop that we met through Olufunke at her delightful blog about writing, iyan and egusi soup.

To The Lighthouse

There is an all day discussion at Writers Revealed today on Virginia Woolf's, To the Lighthouse here with Bethanne Patrick, Contributing Editor at Publishers Weekly, where she blogs as The Book Maven

If you've read it, loved it, hated it, never read it, pop over and join the conversation on this classic.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Method to the Madness

John Baker, a UK writer has posted some interesting pieces on the writing processes of different working authors. Once again, it’s nice to know that all writers have their own particular methods and habits. Check out this one from Jenny Davidson, and this one from Sandra Scoppettone.

Jenny Davidson describes a process that's very close to the one I've followed so far with my new WIP.

How much of the draft do you write before you go back and start editing?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Latin School Picks

For the first couple of months of the seventh grade, I attended Girls’ Latin School, which has since been renamed Boston Latin Academy. The founding of the school in 1877 was the result of citizen and parent participation and the intention to establish college preparatory training for girls. A plan to admit girls to Public Latin School was formed by the Massachusetts Society for the University Education of Women and Henry Durant, president of Wellesley College. In 1972, (the year before I began seventh grade), the School Committee recognized a state law that ended sex discrimination in the two Latin Schools. Soon after, boys were accepted into the school and the name was changed to Boston Latin Academy.

Shortly after I began Latin School, a series of events occurred that resulted in my moving to a suburb of Boston and changing schools, but I always look back at Girls’ Latin School at that time as a shining example of what a public school education can be, despite the fact that the time I attended was when bussing began in Boston and the buses were stoned every day for the first week or so.

I was thinking about the school, about the rigorous liberal arts curriculum that did, of course include Latin, French, Art and Music and wondering what the school would be like today. Now, as it was when I briefly attended, admission is based on an admissions test and students are accepted either in the seventh or the ninth grade.

I did find some great information on their website that relates to the question I posted last week about works that might endure and be taught in schools. There is a summer reading list for each grade, seventh through twelfth with fairly lengthy selections listed and I thought it probably indicative of those works that will probably endure. I was impressed that the list includes many multi-cultural works, as well as quite a few genre selections. Links to all of the reading lists can be found here.

The following is the summer reading list for 2007 for students entering grade twelve. Returning students are required to read five books. This is the list for that grade:

Required Reading: 1984, by George Orwell


Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

*Going After Cacciato, Tim O’Brian

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brian

Perfect Soldiers (9/11 hijackers), Terry McDermott

A Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah

*Terrorist, John Updike


The Natural (baseball), Bernard Malamud

Eleven Seconds (hockey), Travis Roy

Friday Night Lights (football), H.G. Bissinger

The Teammates (baseball), David Halbertstam

Moneyball (baseball), Michael Lewis


Paula, Isabel Allende

Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston

October Sky, Homer Hickman

Gifted Hands (YA), Dr. Ben Carson

Under and Alone, William Queen

Young Adult

In Country, Bobbie Ann Mason

Ceremony, Leslie Silko

Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides


Kite Runner (Afghanistan), Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

Women of Silk (China), Gail Tsukiyama

The Samurai’s Garden, Gail Tsukiyama

Albuquerque, Rudolfo Anaya

*The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

*Life of Pi, Yann Martel

The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desani

By the Light of My Father’s Smile, Alice Walker

*The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

Monkey Bridge, Lan Cao

Caramelo, Sandra Cisneros

*The Man in My Basement, Walter Mosley

Snow in August, Peter Hamill


*The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon

Dance Hall of the Dead, Tony Hillerman

The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, Lilian Jackson Braun

Bad Business, Robert Parker

Q is For Quarry, Sue Grafton

The Intelligencer, Leslie Silbert

The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl


*Empire Falls, Richard Russo

All Souls, Michael MacDonald

Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins

Eternal Hostility, Frederick Clarkson

Inside the Wire, Erick Saar

Presidential Courage, Michael Beschloss


*A Brief History of Time (non-fiction: science), Stephen Hawking

The Immense Journey (non-fiction: science), Loren Eiseley

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

The categories and parenthetical notes are all taken from the web site and there is a huge list of other selections for each of the other grades. I'm guessing the categories refer to the themes, and not publishers' categories. I was surprised, but impressed with the number of new books included. There are some of the older classics scattered throughout as well, but some of the authors that are conspicuously absent include Joyce, Faulkner, Melville, Hawthorne and Austen.

I've asterisked the books I've read and I own a number of others listed that I haven't gotten to yet. Of those that I have read, I did enjoy them so Boston Latin Academy's book list may be my new source for recommended reads!

It will be interesting to see how many of these books do stand the test of time.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Arts and the Common Vernacular

I’m sure that if I thought about it for a few minutes I could make a meaningful connection between a chicken pot pie and intergalactic space travel. I make connections between seemingly unrelated things all the time, and I haven’t yet decided if it’s a blessing or a curse.

Last night I read a poem on Chris Ransick’s WordGarden and although I think of myself as someone who is completely ignorant about most poetry, I’m finding that it’s not entirely true. There are elements of poems and literature that have worked their way into our culture and maybe even into the collective unconscious. The poem sounded familiar and I felt I knew it. And then I ran across a line in the poem:

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

-- Andrew Marvell

“To His Coy Mistress”

A Fine and Private Place is also the title of a Peter S. Beagle novel that I read a dozen times when I was in high school. I loved it.

This morning I pulled a very old paperback copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass off my bookshelf – I bought it used in England in the early 80’s and it’s my favorite kind of used book – it’s inscribed -- Marjorie Burnham – from Donna, Christmas 1964. I wonder endlessly about books I find with inscriptions. Did Marjorie die? Did she and Donna have a falling out? Doesn’t Marjorie care about books given as gifts? But I digress – I turned to a random page in the book and the poem was “I Sing the Body Electric”.

The term “Body Electric” has been used in everything from story titles, movie titles, TV shows, and advertising and is the name used by dozens of companies of all kinds.

The third piece of my three legged connection is Hamlet. I have an odd and some might find, strange thing with Shakespeare. I like to rent or buy DVDs of Shakespeare’s plays and then watch them with the subtitles on. Sometimes I have to watch scenes over and over again until I completely understand what’s being said or what’s happening. My latest acquisition is Hamlet – the Kenneth Branaugh production that includes the entire play – no scenes missing. Of course just about every work of Shakespeare is filled with expressions that have become part of the common vernacular. There’s a great list of them here.

The funny thing is that expressions and terms derived from literature and films typically become so ingrained in our speech that more often than not, we forget where they came from.

I was trying to think of some other commonly used expressions of more recent derivation. Catch 22 would be one. I am fairly certain the term did not exist until Joseph Heller dreamed it up.

What expressions can you think of that were not part of the English language before they were invented in poetry, fiction, song or film?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Need a Little Help From My Friends

Several months ago, I registered for a conference and one of the sessions I signed up to audit is with a prominent literary agent. The actual registrants are allowed to submit pages to the agent and during the workshop; she will provide feedback to the writers. According to the package I received in the mail today, the writers may even be asked (or allowed – it’s not too clear) to read from their work.

Although I don’t have a finished manuscript and therefore, won’t be submitting pages, I thought it would be an interesting experience to see how the other writers fare and to observe candid feedback from an agent, up close and personal.

What wasn’t clear when I registered for this session was that the attendees (including those of us just auditing), would be provided the same excerpts that the agent will receive and we’d be asked to critique them.

I got my package today and there are eight synopses with ten page excerpts each. While I feel fairly comfortable offering critique and noting things that I think the writers have done well as well as noting things that could be stronger, I have one excerpt that has me a little stumped.

These are all people I don’t know – that’s actually helpful. I have the feeling that one of the submissions may have been written by an adolescent. There are problems. There are significant problems, up to and including very poor grammar and many, many misspelled words. I’m not sure what to do with this. To make note of every mistake feels cruel, but this person has paid to attend this conference and paid an additional fee for this critique from a New York agent. I’m inclined to make some general notes and mention grammar and spelling as an issue to work on, instead of marking up the manuscript completely.




Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Light is Changing

The light is changing, do you see it? The temperatures are still warm, but it’s getting cooler little by little. The first of the yellow mums have started to bloom in my yard. It’s that “back to school” feeling that has sent many of us back to some kind of work routine that signals the end of lazy summer days.

Monday night I started an eight week novel writing workshop and the timing is perfect. The week long retreat got me started on the right foot and lately when I sit down the write, I’ve managed that magical balance where I can turn off my editor and let it flow, knowing that every few chapters I can go back and make edits, and tweak and fiddle. There are ten of us in the workshop and over the course of the eight, two hour sessions we’ll alternate discussions on craft, books and shaping the novel with critiquing. We’ll have the opportunity to get two 10-12 page excerpts critiqued by our instructor and we’ll submit one excerpt to the group for critique.

I’m a pretty disciplined person anyway, but there are few things that get me to buckle down, focus and produce like a deadline, and now I have one every week for a while.

Scott was mildly amused when he walked into the kitchen yesterday and found me with my laptop, chunks of manuscript with my red inked edits all over them, a dictionary, thesaurus, E.B. White’s Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style spread out all over the island counter. It’s an odd feeling to try to ready pieces of a partial first draft for review and critique. I wonder what the expectation will be as to the state of completeness of this stuff. I’m 11,536 words and 53 double spaced, 12 pt., Courier New pages into a first draft – to be exact -- so I vacillate around about how much I should tinker and add, how much I should clean up, how much I should focus on these three submissions alone and how much, if anything, I should be doing to add to the story over these next eight weeks. Some of the students are farther along in their stories than I am, but just as many are not as far along. I guess what we submit for critique and those nine submissions I get to critique will be in a variety of states.

It will be interesting and I’m looking forward to it. This will be the very first time I have the chance to be involved in a critique group and I’m incredibly grateful that it is structured and the instructor will be providing her critiques too.

This very specific incentive made me wonder about how other writers motivate themselves and set goals. The processes people follow seem to be as varied as each person. Do you make yourself sit down for a set period of time? Set a word count goal for the day, or the week? Set goals for revising a number of pages? If you have a full time job, other than writing, when do you manage to get most of your writing done? Is writing easier/harder in the fall and winter, than in the spring and summer? How about goals for your work? Do you have a goal set for when you want to finish your project and look for an agent (if you don’t already have one)? Is it a very specific “by the end of 2007” or is it something vague, like before my 40th, 50th, 60th birthday? What keeps you going?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Your Nominations Please

As a follow on to my last post, I’m looking for your ideas about what books written from about 1975 and on you think will stand the test of time and eventually be viewed as classics. There are no constraints or criteria for your nominations. You can list as many books as you like and they can be written by authors from anywhere in the world in any genre, but to be realistic, they probably have to be books that were/are somewhat widely read. You don’t have to provide reasons, but please do if you have ideas about why you believe your choices will continue to be read. If you're having a hard time coming up with ideas, you may be inspired if you look at award winning books here. Thanks to Kristen at From Here to There and Back for suggesting this.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Reading With Training Wheels

I read To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf last week and it wasn’t until I watched Stone Reader earlier this week that something clicked. Critics and scholars discussing Dow Mossman’s book, The Stones of Summer commented that it was difficult to read, that they had to try it more than once to get through it, but that it was brilliant. That got me thinking about a discussion we had here some months back about whether we read some books because we like them or because we just want to like them.

At the time that I posted about our reasons for reading the classics, I don’t think I could articulate the reason I want to read them now. By reading great works that have shaped our culture we open ourselves up to a heightened experience.

There are books that most people agree are very difficult, almost painful to read. I’ve confessed here that I tried several William Faulkner novels before I was able to read and ultimately enjoy As I Lay Dying. James Joyce and William Gaddis are still sitting on the shelf, waiting.

Before last week, I’d never tried reading Woolf and I was a little worried. I sat down with the book and a highlighter and the expectation that it might be rough going. I knew that there wouldn’t be a word or a sentence that was not intended and I read slowly, paying particular attention to the objects, the individual characters and the dialogue. I read many sections a number of times as I went along.

I got it. I loved it. Of course there are things I’m sure I didn’t pick up on, but an understanding of the literary technique that makes this book special came through to me.

It makes me a little wistful to think that there are probably people like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner and William Gaddis – pick your icon, writing what could be this generation’s great literary works, but I doubt they’d have much chance of publishing it today. We're in too much of a hurry to get the action.

Reading books like these is a different kind of reading. It’s like the slow food movement. It can’t be done while I’m distracted and I can’t pick the book up five minutes here and ten there. It requires time set aside to focus.

For me, developing an appreciation for great literature is like learning about wine. It takes time and a little bit of money to develop a palate for good wine, but once you do, you can recognize what a miracle an exceptional wine truly is. Better yet, it makes discovering a good $10 or $15 bottle of wine that much more fun. Understanding the terminology, learning about the wine growing regions and the varietals grown around the world is a little bit of work, but anyone can do it and when undertaken as a hobby or learning experience, it can be a lot of fun. Learning about wine isn’t something everyone is interested in, but it doesn’t change the fact that bad wine, good wine and fine wine exists.

Developing an appreciation and even a love for great literature is similar. I’m referring to the books that are generally considered a part of the Western Canon; those works of artistic merit that have been most influential in shaping western culture. Up through the 1960s, there wasn’t a huge amount of disagreement about what works should be considered part of this list that goes back to the ancient Greeks. There has always been some disagreement of course, but not an enormous amount. Since then, there has been a great deal of controversy. My point is that there are works that did help to define our culture and what would be considered “high culture”. These books are held in esteem, not because the literary or academic world is exclusionary or elitist. It’s because they are better than other books. They have stood the test of time and continue to be studied and read long after they’re written.

Reading these books is not for everyone, but I delight in saying that despite my fears, it can be done, even by someone outside of a classroom – like me. To the Lighthouse was the first classic I read as a writer that I was able to study and enjoy at the same time. I think these types of books truly require study and some dedicated time. I don’t think any of the classics written up to the early twentieth century was ever meant to be read in the way we read other books. Many of us read before sleep when we’re tired and our concentration is at a low. I can do that with most books I read purely for pleasure, but not these.

So I wondered, when I finished To the Lighthouse, which I read immediately after Aristotle’s Poetics (also with highlighter in hand), how do these works impact me as a writer? When I intersperse reading these works with books like The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, what am I gaining from this? Certainly, studying the classics, hearing the voices and recognizing the literary technique and the uniqueness of what each author has done is feeding me and helping me to grow and improve. It makes me aspire to write as well as I can in my own voice and with the awareness that I’m living in 2007 and like it or not, there are market realities I have to keep somewhere in the back of my mind if I do ever have hopes of publication.

The happiness I felt after reading this one particular book is in knowing that reading, understanding and enjoying the classics isn’t something that’s closed to me because I didn’t study literature in college. These books are accessible to me. For the same reasons that I learned about wine and about fine art, I want to read great works of literature. I’m not rich and I have very little formal education in the humanities, but what is fine and what is beautiful belongs to everyone, including me.

Do you read the classics or have a desire to read any that you haven’t? Do you believe our children should be taught the classics in school? How about art and classical music? Do you believe there are any great novelists writing today that are destined to become part of the Western Canon? If you don’t think there are any, why do you think that is?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Stone Reader

If you love books and you have not seen Stone Reader, you will want to find it and rent, borrow or buy it. I saw a brief scene from this documentary while at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop retreat and was intrigued, so I bought the DVD.

Stone Reader was screened initially at Sundance in January of 2002. The Special Limited Edition DVD I bought has a total of three disks; two of them are additional features that include footage and interviews from after the film’s release.

Mark Moskowitz, the film maker read a New York Times Book Review on a novel called The Stones of Summer, by Dow Mossman in 1972. He bought the book and never got to read it until over 20 years later. He thought the book was incredible and like so many of us do, tried to find other books by the same author. There was nothing. He then tried to find out something about the author and found nothing. He couldn’t believe that someone could have written such an incredible piece of literature and nothing more so he decided to find Dow Mossman. In the process, he sought to buy every copy of Stones of Summer that he could find and he tried to find other people – anybody – who had read this book.

Moskowitz takes us on a journey, beginning with the story of his own love of books, and the profound turning point that he found in his journey into adulthood when he discovered and read Catch 22.

He criss-crosses the country to interview the New York Times Book Reviewer who wrote the piece that led him to Mossman in the first place. He talks with former classmates at Iowa, a professor and many people within the publishing industry.

The story is a profoundly sobering picture of a gifted writer, obsessed with creating a truly great book at a very young age and it illustrates the capriciousness of the publishing world and how a novel that all unanimously agreed was a fine 20th century work, could go out of print and the author fall into obscurity.

Mossman spent six years obsessively writing his book and shortly after it's publication, he spent time in an Iowa mental institution, suffering from what was then called a nervous breakdown.

I don't want to reveal too many more details about the story, but I will reveal that there is the book is now back in print.

The film is very well made and even without the incredible story of Mark Moskowitz’s search for Dow Mossman, provides incredible insights into the Iowa Workshop, the critics and the publishing industry. Moskowitz has also started a Lost Books Club to help preserve, introduce, and pass on to future generations, America's literary and cultural heritage, by making hard-to-find, unavailable, out-of-print, or otherwise forgotten works available to the public.

I recommend this to all writers and to all those who have a love affair with books. If you've seen it, I'd love to hear your thoughts and impressions.

Mark Moskowitz has a poignant, beautiful scene in the movie where he recounts his experience transitioning into the adult reading world. What memories do you have about that transition from reading children's books to adult titles? Do you remember the first book you read that made you feel like you wanted to know the writer?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tapping the Unconscious

There is often a fixation on word count, craft and the mechanics of writing for those attempting the longer forms of fiction. I can get completely wrapped up in these aspects, and they’re very important. But the real motivation to write comes from our creative natures, our desire to tell a story in a way that only we can and by the liberating joy that we find during those times when we are writing almost automatically and letting the words flow from a place we can’t access when we think too hard about it.

There were two sessions at the recent retreat I attended that were led by Denver’s Poet Laureate, Chris Ransick that I did not attend and wish I had. Chris Ransick, MA, MA won a Colorado Book Award for poetry in 2003 for his first book, Never Summer. His collection of short stories, A Return to Emptiness, won the 2005 Colorado Author’s League Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2005 Colorado Book Award in Fiction. His most recent book, Lost Songs & Last Chances, was published in 2006. Chris holds masters degrees in English/Creative Writing and Journalism.

Chris led the book discussion on The Wild Braid, by Stanley Kunitz, and I got a glimpse of what I was missing out on in his workshops.

Stanley Kunitz received the 1995 National Book Award in Poetry for Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected. Five years later, The Collected Poems, combining both early and later work, was published. Kunitz received nearly every honor bestowed upon a poet in this country, including the Pulitzer and Bollingen Prizes, a National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton in 1993, and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 1998. He served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (and again when the post was called US Poet Laureate). He was State Poet of New York and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Stanley Kunitz died on May 14, 2006 at the age of one hundred.

Throughout his life Stanley Kunitz created poetry and tended gardens. The Wild Braid is the distillation of conversations that took place between 2002 and 2004. His essays and poems explore personal recollections, the creative process, and the harmony of the life cycle.

Anyone with a deep connection with nature, with gardening and with the written word cannot help but be deeply touched by this book. Chris Ransick is such a person. He has been gardening all of his life and opened our discussion with a short essay on his experiences with the organic vegetable garden he has lovingly nurtured at his Denver home for over fifteen years. Chris has a weblog I visit every day called WordGarden that brings together his reflections on gardening and the writing life.

Much of what we discussed about The Wild Braid and about writing in general was the connection we have between nature, the subconscious and the creative process of writing. Chris finds a deep connection between working his hands in the soil, nurturing the plants, weeding, feeding and harvesting the bounty of his garden and the creative process. I thought about how many of my writing friends have mentioned gardening. Most of the writers I know tend gardens. I in my own humble way, have limited experience with the modest perennial garden planted in front of my house that I was delighted to see really did come back this spring and with the brilliant annuals I planted this summer that I tend to closely, deadheading them, examining them for signs of insect infestation, monitoring them for signs of over or under watering. There is a distinct connection between working in a garden and freeing the unconscious to access thoughts and ideas that don’t occur to us when we’re focused and concentrating.

Chris asked us about physical activities that stimulate the creative process for all of us. Walking alone is certainly a common way to unleash the unconscious and it works for me and certainly I’ve read about other writers who walk regularly as part of a writing routine. I mentioned painting – not paintings, but interior walls – I’ve done a lot of it over the course of many moves and find that I enjoy the quiet and the repetitive motion. Physical activity provides more oxygen to the brain and this stimulates our thought process. Those physical activities that have us moving, but require little direct focus stimulate all kinds of ideas, especially when we’re out in nature. Henry David Thoreau wrote an entire fifty page essay called Walking.

Poetry scares me, although it intrigues me at the same time. I’ve never studied it and have read some, always feeling as though I’m not seeing it all, but there is a very direct correlation between a poem and the poet’s unconscious creative energy. As I read more if it, I can feel that primal, creative element at work. In working on, studying and discussing writing as it relates to the novel, we’re often pulled quite a distance from that unconscious, creative energy; that process that surely was the reason all of us who are driven to put pen to paper began to do so in the first place. We’re often so practical about the construction that I wonder if we aren’t revising out some of the original, unconscious creative work that drove us to write in the first place.

I’ve been reading Lost Songs & Last Chances and the poems draw me in and show me the elements left of a story, when every piece not needed is stripped out and what’s left is the pearl that evokes the visceral, “I get it” response. I don’t know if that’s what poetry is supposed to do, but that’s what it does for me.

Reading poetry makes me think that maybe each novel has a poem hidden inside it; that there is a dense reduction each story simmers down to that leaves the reader with the rush of images and sensations that came from within the writer and that was the fertilization and conception of our story.

Do you consciously place yourself in surroundings that open you up to ideas, creativity and inspiration? Where do you find it? How do you summon it? Does poetry inform your fiction writing?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Free Writing

Since I’d never taking a writing course or workshop until recently, I’d never been under the gun to put pen to paper for five or ten or fifteen minutes and write in response to a specific prompt. We did quite a few of these writing exercises at Grand Lake and each time, the goal was very specific and it was very often to write in a way that I might not typically do. I was surprised at some of the results.

An odd sensation, almost a feeling of being possessed would come over me in response to a free writing prompt. It was very different from sitting in front of my laptop at home, consciously deciding what to write next.

There is something to writing in a workshop environment that reminded me of the spinning classes I used to go to. A cyclist friend asked me why in the world anyone would need to go to a class to ride a stationary bicycle. Anyone who’s gone to one of these grueling classes will tell you that few people would ever maintain the insane riding pace for a fifty minute session if not surrounded by a roomful of people. The only thing that ever kept me on that bike was peer pressure and the desire not to be the person who slinked off to the locker room before the class was done.

The writing exercises triggered an automatic kind of writing where the inner editor was not present. The urgency I felt was to complete the initial idea before the time was over. I imagine it’s possible to replicate that sensation alone with some practice.

One of the many prompts was to create an establishing opener for a scene by using only the physical setting with no dialogue or internal narrative – all show and no tell. The goal was to lead the reader into a very specific moment within a story world.

I’m not sure where my establishing opener came from. It’s not Chekhov, but here’s the unedited version of what I came up with:

The girl slid down from the high brass bed, plastic pads from her footed pajamas scraping the plywood flooring. She ran to the kitchen, dragged a vinyl seated chair to the counter, climbed onto it and reached for the cereal box. Tumbling moons, stars and four leafed clovers rang out into the bowl and echoed throughout the room. She sidestepped old-fashioned glasses, half full with brown liquid and bobbing cigarette butts, carefully swiped an overflowing ashtray and several more glasses to one side of the Danish modern coffee table and crouched to her knees in front of breakfast. The glasses emitted a sharp smell that pushed at her face and nostrils each time she lowered her head to take a bite. A fur coat lay in a heap on the floor behind the sofa. She stepped across the room to the turntable perched on planks above grey cinder blocks. The colorful album covers lay scattered on the floor and a large stack of records revolved around and around, the faint pop coming through the speakers each time they made a full revolution. Carefully, she lifted the arm and guided the stylus to the outer edge of the record on top. Her eyes widened and she snatched at the black knob and turned all the way to the left. Slowly, she reversed the knob’s direction until weak strains of music came through the speakers. She lay belly down on the floor in front of one speaker on the thin carpet, the perfume of spilled drinks and overturned ashtrays at nose level, her ear pressed to the speaker.

This isn’t something I can use for my current work in progress, and I'd revise it quite a bit if I did want to use it, but I really enjoyed the exercise and this whole scene just seemed to pop into my head from out of nowhere. By focusing on establishing this scene and not using any more description than what an outside observer could see, not describing the thoughts of the girl or narrating, it forced me to think of as many meaningful details as I could to convey something about this person and her environment. It also illustrated for me how frequently we tend to write in back story or provide exposition that we might be able to more effectively convey with more show and less tell.

Do you consciously review your work to see how much telling you are doing versus showing? Do you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or anecdotes about the benefits of timed free writing exercises? If you are familiar with the psychology of how free writing seems to unleash something different than what our more disciplined writing routines do, please share your thoughts!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Chapter One and Beyond With Jenny Vacchiano

Every workshop and discussion I attended at the Grand Lake Writers Getaway with Lighthouse Writers Workshop a couple of weeks back was outstanding, but the workshops called Chapter One and Beyond and Sweating the Small Stuff provided me the most immediately useful practical information of all of them.

The workshops were both led by Jenny Vacchiano, MFA. Jennifer’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such publications as 5280, Redbook, StoryQuarterly, Cimarron Review and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She was 3rd runner-up for the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in the novel-in-progress category. Jenny was awarded a 2006 Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute Fellowship for work in the same novel. She earned a BA in English from Grinnell College and an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College.

It’s no secret that a novel’s first chapter or prologue is critical. How well the first pages are written will determine whether or not our readers want to continue reading.

We talked about what makes a lead character compelling, establishing the setting or story world and establishing voice, which is directly related to the point of view we choose. We talked about story questions that should be established at the start, how much we should reveal and how much we should leave open ended. We also talked about the importance of laying out what the character wants and who or what is standing in her way. Finally, we discussed the kinds of things that can slow the start of the story down: too much back story, too much character or setting description and starting the story at the wrong point in time – often we’re tempted to start the story far earlier than we need to.

Jenny provided us with a number of questions to ask after every chapter. I found these questions to be perhaps the most useful tool I now have to remain organized and focused on where I’m going.

Some of the questions to ask after each chapter are: What actually happens in the chapter? What question or questions have I left the reader with that are compelling enough to keep her reading? What might happen next? Even if you already think you know what will happen next, this question can open up possibilities for other actions that may be even better. Are there secondary characters, images, objects or symbols that appear in the chapter that might resurface later to develop or reinforce your theme(s)? Have I addressed specific plot points? Developed subplots? Created sufficient tension?

If I stand back to look at the big picture of how I’ve plotted my story, refer to the inciting incident that got the character moving in the first place (whether it’s part of the story or not), take a look at the major conflicts and crises that will eventually lead to the climax of the story and the eventual resolution, evaluating each scene and chapter individually, within the context of the story arc is invaluable. It helps to ensure that each is serving a purpose inherent in the overall structure.

In Sweating the Small Stuff, Jenny challenged us to take ourselves out of the writing process and put ourselves into the editor’s role and scrutinize each scene and chapter, asking the kinds of questions an agent or editor would

To facilitate evaluating each individual scene in a chapter, we did an exercise where we took a printed chapter and literally cut the pages up to delineate individual scenes. We taped the pages that belonged in each scene together and then laid them out on the floor. In some cases, people found they had short scenes that were unnecessary. In others, people found that changing the order of the scenes worked better than what they’d originally envisioned. The same can hold true with the chapters themselves.

Do we present questions that are plot driven and character driven? What are the stakes associated with the questions we pose? When we provide answers to questions, do we introduce new ones? Is our lead character making decisions and/or significant non-decisions? How many of these are decisions there is no turning back from? What are the consequences of the character’s decisions? Do decisions lead to a spiraling sequence of events? Finally, as we get to the story’s resolution, what has changed? How is our character different than he was at the start, or how is her world changed?

By breaking a draft down into manageable pieces and analyzing each on its own merit and making notes after each, I found it was much easier to objectively gauge how well the story was working. When we exchanged chapters with another writer and we each analyzed the work of the other, using the same criteria, everyone was able to see things through the other person’s eyes that they hadn’t been able to see themselves.

Two things that Jenny said that also stuck with me:

Revision is not tinkering or editing
Try retyping your draft when you revise, instead of opening up an old draft

What advice on craft have you been given, or can you offer that you've found especially helpful?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Great Interview With Therese Fowler, Author of Souvenir

Women on Writing has a great interview with Therese Fowler, the author of Souvenir. Therese answers twenty questions that provide invaluable insight and advice to the aspiring novelist. I may have to print the interview and hang it next to my Kurt Vonnegut tips. Check it out!

Twenty Questions

In a workshop I recently attended, we did an exercise I wanted to share. Quite simply, it was to list twenty questions we’d like to answer about a character. As all of the exercises were, this was done quickly, the better to tap in to the subconscious. These were my twenty:

  1. What are her religious beliefs? Does she believe in God? Belong to a particular church or religion?
  2. What does she believe happens after we die?
  3. Does she believe that passion can be sustained in a long term relationship?
  4. What is her favorite flavor of ice cream?
  5. Does she read, and if so, who is her favorite author? What are her favorite books?
  6. What does she think of TV? If she watches, what shows does she watch?
  7. Does she like to cook? Is she any good at it?
  8. What are her most personal thoughts about her children?
  9. Does she have close friendships, and if so, with whom?
  10. What kind of relationship does she have with her mother?
  11. How does she feel about money? About wealth?
  12. How important are material things to her?
  13. Does she think back on any of her former lovers with longing or regret?
  14. Does she have any annoying habits or idiosyncrasies?
  15. Is she a good driver, or a poor driver?
  16. Does she have any phobias?
  17. Is she exceptionally talented or skilled at something?
  18. Is she unusually challenged in any area?
  19. What is her decorating style?
  20. What kind of clothing does she wear?
What kinds of things do you think would be particularly interesting to know about one of your characters?

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf