Thursday, April 30, 2009

States of Mind

I love art or music that tells a story. Perhaps this is because I love writing and storytelling, so in my mind all forms of art tell a story, you just have to uncover it.

This week I went to MOMA and searched for my three favorite paintings: States of Mind by Umberto Boccioni. They were not on view and my week has been slightly out of whack ever since. I felt discombobulated, sort of like when you go to Alice's Tea Cup and they're out of your favorite tea. Sure, you can always try another, but it's never quite the same.

Anyway, back to Boccioni. The reason I love these paintings so much is the way the individual images evoke specific emotions while the sequence creates a narrative. I find it especially interesting the order in which the paintings are presented. First you have the emotion of saying farewell. Then you accompany those who are leaving on their voyage, but in the last painting you come back and see the image of the ones they left behind. I could drone on for hours about these paintings, but instead I'll stop and let the art just speak for itself.

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind I: The Farewells

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind II: Those Who Go

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind III: Those Who Stay

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Submission Frustrations

Back in February, I had set a goal for myself that I would submit one story per month, or send out a previously-submitted story to a slew of new magazines. This is all well and good. Except. In my search for magazines that might give my stories a good home, I discovered that there are very few magazines out there that cater to teens, and almost none of them literary.

The few magazines that exist are for young writers so you have to be under 18 or under 25 to submit. But what about all those great over-25 authors out there who write fantastic books for teens? If one of them wanted to submit a short story somewhere, they would have a hard time finding such a magazine.

This got me thinking... the world needs a literary magazine that caters only to teen literature. The short story form for teen readers is almost non-existent. The universe needs some venue to champion the work of short story writers who happen to write primarily for teens.

Something must be done.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Here Comes the Weird

Remember Clue? You know... "I choose Prof. Plum in the Library with the Lead Pipe?" What if we took this idea and made this into a writing game?

Choose a character, a situation and a prop at random. Write a piece in which all three figure prominently (i.e. no fair mentioning one in passing; they must all be central to the story).

Today's challenge:

Character = Monk or Nun
Situation = Visiting a Psychic
Prop = Pet Monkey

I've decided to make mine into a silly poem.

Sister Clara went to see
A psychic named Mariah
To find out why the convent thought
That she was a pariah.

The psychic looked down at her cards
And in her crystal ball,
And tried her best to figure out
The meaning of it all.

But in the end, Mariah's news
Landed like a boulder.
The problem is," she said, "the monkey
Sitting on your shoulder."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Writer's Tool Box

Here's a question for you:

Suppose you were going to put together a Writer's Tool Box--a box containing items that help spark your creativity or enrich your writing--what would you include? (5 objects - not counting notebook and pen... duh)

Here's my list:
  1. My word box (a little box full of slips of papers with words on them)
  2. My image file (a tin filled with images clipped from magazines) or stack of postcards
  3. Kaleidoscope
  4. Dice
  5. Rubber Ducky
Ask me on another day and my list might be different.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Introducing the Three Troublemakers

Today I was looking at old photos and I found some really hilarious ones of our kitties. So I thought, why not use today's blog to introduce said critters to the world? I know, I know... this is the equivalent of those annoying parents who carry around a zillion photos of their kids in their wallets and whip them out every chance they get. But these photos gave me a chuckle and made me smile, so I thought I'd share. Everyone needs a good smile now and again.

Somehow, Mel managed to squeeze inside a FreshDirect box that was still taped shut. Imagine my surprise when I went to open the box and found this pair of green glowing eyes looking right back at me.
This one is of Goldie, which is short for Princess Marigold but my husband can't bring himself to call her that. The tome that she's using for a pillow is my husband's Civil Procedure textbook. Clearly I'm not the only one that falls asleep at the sight of that book.
Here's a better one of Mel. Looks like someone wants to be a stowaway. They always start acting out when they see us bring out the suitcases.
And here's Lucy. This is not a particularly funny one--she's the most well-behaved of the three--but I didn't want to leave her out. She's a sweet, smart girl who has learned to sit, stay, beg for treats and "slap me five." The only thing that gets her into trouble is her stomach. When food's on the line, all bets are off.

So there you have it. Thank you for indulging my cat obsession and I promise in future posts I'll keep the kittiness to a minimum.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Goal: 4000 words

Actual output: 4500

Whew! Now just have to proofread and send it out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


This past week I've been stricken with writer's drought. The worst part is that I have a deadline coming up in less than twenty-four hours and I'm still about 3000 words from where I want to be. Earlier today I thought things were completely hopeless, but I finally found something to shake me out of the barren wasteland. I call it Inventory and it's a tool I developed by combining exercises from various different books or teachers. The purpose of this exercise is to help you pinpoint what topic(s) motivate you and what your writing is about at its very core. Since this exercise was so useful for me today, I thought I'd post it here.


Part A: Influences to Your Writing
  1. List 5 favorite movies.
  2. List 5 favorite books.
  3. What's your favorite book from your childhood?
  4. What's you're favorite fairytale?
  5. List 5 favorite characters (from books, movies, TV, etc.)
  6. Look at your answers for 1-5. What do they have in common?

Part B: Looking Within
  1. List 3 topics you think about a lot / are passionate about.
  2. List 3 topics you know a lot about.
  3. List 3 topics you wish you knew more about.
  4. Look at your answers for 7-9 and circle any topics that come up in your writing.
  5. Looking at your writing as a whole, what does it all have in common?

Part C: Staying Focused

Look over all your answers to Parts A&B* and try to sum them up in one word. Write this word on a post-it and put it where you'll see it often. This can help you stay focused on what's really at the core of your writing.
*Note: a variant on this one is to look at your current writing project and try to sum it up in one word.

Part D: Moving Ahead
  1. List 3 topics or ideas of things you would like to write about (or incorporate into your current writing).
  2. List 3 reasons why you're resisting writing on one or more of these topics.
  3. What's the first *small* step you can take towards breaking down this resistance? Do that step today.

Things to keep in mind:
  • You don't need to do all the parts every time, just the parts that are relevant to you in that moment.
  • You can do this exercise multiple times. You might find your answers are a little different each time. That's part of the fun.
  • Don't let yourself get bogged down answering these questions, just write what comes to mind first.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This Assignment is Going to Kill Me

For our final project in my literature class, we're supposed to write a short story using some form of the vernacular. Since I don't feel like I can accurately convey a vernacular that is not part of my own cultural background--and since I wouldn't feel comfortable doing so either--I'm pretty much stuck with only one vernacular: Portuengles.

I've been doing a bunch of research, mostly talking to Portuguese-speakers who speak English as their second language, and I have managed to come up with a series of guidelines as to how this vernacular works. For example:
  • Words ending in consonants, often have an -ee sound at the end (Ex. Orangee Juicee)
  • Words ending in a -d sound end up sounding more like a -gee sound (Ex. Metro Cargee)
  • Words ending in a -t sound end up sounding more like a -chee sound (Ex. Bestchee Buy)
And the list goes on and on. Yesterday I tried writing in this vernacular, just for practice. I worked for two hours on one stupid paragraph, and even then it still stinks worse than yesterday's socks.

So it all comes down to this. It's either me or this assignment. One of us will remain standing at the end of this confrontation and right now it's still up for debate as to who it will be. All I know is this isn't just an assignment anymore. It's a matter of survival.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Classical Twitter

I know very little about twitter but I still found this link hilarious. It seemed particularly relevant given the writing project I was working on last fall. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Let's Be Existential for Moment

Yesterday I had a chance to see a preview performance of Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, with Nathan Lane as Estragon, Bill Irwin as Vladimir, John Goodman as Pozzo and John Glover as Lucky. All in all, it was a great performance, albeit the execution was a bit on the literal side. For a contemporary revival of the minimalist classic, I had expected the production to take a few more liberties. But I'm quibbling about the miniscule. In total, the production was great and very true to the script. Perhaps the crowning moment was Lucky's famous "think," expertly performed by Glover.

But the issue of literal performance has stayed with me and has made me wonder: how much should plays or movies diverge from the original written text and still maintain the story's integrity? I felt that Godot might have taken more liberties, particularly in the direction of minimalism, given Becket's string of progressively more minimalist plays that came after Godot (Play and Rockabye come to mind.) It seemed that certain things like the costumes and set could have been even more simple, stark and bare than they were. I suppose, though, that this is the beauty of a Becket script in that each motion, each expression is carefully mapped out, leaving little room for such liberties. Even the most minimalist of his plays are still very detailed in the stage directions, allowing us the confidence of knowing that a script closely follows depicts Becket's original vision.

But what if that's not Becket's original intent at all? What if the subsequent plays challenge us to reinterpret the earlier ones and perhaps adapt them to a more minimal, stripped down vision? As a writer, this question is an important one because with every subsequent work we produce, we provide our readers with more context through which to view earlier works.

This brings up questions for me particularly as a writer who wants to write both for children and adults. If I have started my publishing career with short fiction targeting the literary market, what will happen when I move on to teen and pre-teen fiction? I suppose many writers also have this question relating to genres... if they start out in one genre, what will happen if they decide to switch?

I have no idea.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tings Dey Happen

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see "Tings Dey Happen," a solo show by Dan Hoyle. What an incredible performance. Not only did Hoyle capture the speech patterns of dozens of different characters, but he made each character distinct in their mannerisms and even tones of voice. So much so that when Hoyle came back onstage for the Q&A, I was surprised at how "American" his English was.

The play centers around Hoyle's experience as a Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria and gives a us a unique view of that culture and its people. What makes this show especially successful in presenting a view of Nigerian culture is that Hoyle places the audience in his shoes. What I mean is, the characters speak to the audience as if we were the Dan Hoyle, Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria. This allows the audience to experience the culture the way Hoyle himself experienced it, and has a far more powerful effect than if he had simply narrated the story as himself.

While some critics may frown on Hoyle's appropriating the voices of such a diverse group of characters so different from himself, I find that claim to be ridiculous. It's called acting, folks; that's the whole point. What is more, Hoyle treated his characters with respect and we can tell from his performance that he has a real affection both for the culture itself and for some of the individuals he met during his travels. If anything, it's some of the American characters who come off looking more like humorous caricatures than the African ones.

After the performance, we had a chance to sit in on a Q&A session with Hoyle, where he talked about developing the show and his experiences in Nigeria. That was probably my favorite part of the evening because we got a look at his creative process in putting together this performance.

All in all, it was a Wednesday evening well-spent.