Saturday, April 29, 2006

Back to the writing

We didn't get into trick writing exercises during my workshop days at City College, but one assignment I do remember. We had to go to the encyclopedia, find an entry, and riff something fictional off of it. I did a comical but ultimately ludicrous piece involving the Goncourt brothers. (I don't want to get into further detail.) But it was fun writing something that didn't really matter...people got colorful.

Meanwhile, Update: If you want an incisive if depressing investigation into Kaavya Viswanathan's sleazy "book developer," 17th Street Productions, read here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Why I Blog, Part I

The posts are flying at the moment, aren't they? So the short answer is: because I have time. Next week, however, I have a Job Interview for a proofreading position. This would mean 40 hours a week of fixing some kind of imperfect corporatespeak, but for good pay. I promise, I won't go off on a spelling rant here. Or stop posting. Eh, I've just gotten started.

Speaking of promises, I meant to add that within this blog I will never upload pics of small children, or talk about my cat. I won't get into politics. I'll merely strive to take some books and experiences and interesting topics and whatnot and recreate them so they're all sparkly on the page.

Get a Grip

The book club meeting was fun. Inconsequential discussion of the book itself, but good company and a nice easy jaunt into Worcester. On arriving back home, I checked my planner and realized that I had carelessly double-booked the reading group with a meeting/class/gathering taking place that same night in a private conference room at the Holiday Inn in Brookline. As delightful as the evening had turned out, I was kicking myself for missing out on the phenomenon that is Fetish Diva Midori.

I've taken one other class with her recently, a kind of Dom(mes) for Dummies called How to Top. Midori is an educator, a 5'2" Japanese/American world-traveling ex-dominatrix who conducts seminars on different aspects of kink and sexuality. She's sophisticated and witty, her schtik is hysterical, she's a professional, and you never once feel like a dirty pervert as you sit within a group of people learning about erotic humiliation or getting in touch with your inner domme. She's also something of an expert on Japanese rope bondage, and offered a recent weekend intensive here in Boston that instantaneously sold out.

So last night's demo, the one I missed, was on Predicament Bondage. I was going to spill all about it here, and now will have to conjecture instead...From what I heard, she shows how to tie someone up in such a way that however the victim twists or turns, he will bring on himself Excruciating Sensation A or B. Or C. And down the line. My previous class with Midori had not involved any graphic demonstrations, so last night would have given me a further nudge into my tentative, voyeuristic exploration of kink. Then again, knowing that an image of a squirming naked man bound by ropes is likely to stick in my head for a long while, I also feel like I bought myself a little time...Anyway, Midori is certain to be passing this way again in the next few months with her bag of tricks. Book one of her classes (says Nancy, the budding domme); she's teaching a lot of psychological power play stuff I'm sure you can take out of its immediate kinky context and apply in the larger world of business, family, relationships, etc....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hum a few bars and I'll fake it...

Tonight I go to my monthly book club. I haven't read the book, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Been busy, plus it just doesn't seem like the kind of book I would be into--I get an Oprah-ish vibe from it. But the other women are interesting, and we do meet at fun restaurants. It doesn't matter that much anyway; the book discussion always devolves into random conversations.

I found the club off of Craigslist, and it's amazing that the group has held together this far (about four sessions and counting). I don't know about other parts of the country, but Craigslist in Boston consists largely of people looking to meet others and participate in all sorts of activities...and then don't. It seems to be all in their head--this desire for a vibrant social life with a bunch of cool new acquaintances--with very weak follow-through. Lots of well-laid plans that fizzle out, cyber conversations that go nowhere. It's hard getting around the passive mindset. So I'm rooting for this book club to defy the odds and hang in there.

What I'm (Re) Reading Now--A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O' Toole. Brilliantly structured comic novel; I'd like to talk more about it later.

Enjoy the weather--especially sun-deprived New Englanders!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Just Write Anything

Julia Cameron in her writing guide, The Artist's Way, spends a lot of time examining how and why we avoid engagement in creating art or music, writing, fulfilling a creative dream. I'm not interested in getting into that here. She does have a series of helpful exercises for forcing the (wannabe) artist to actually roll up the shirtsleeves and get something accomplished. One of the cornerstone exercises she advocates is the Morning Pages. Every morning you wake up, roll out of bed (or keep the notebook next to your bed for handy access) and begin filling up three lined notebook pages. That's three sides. It can be, and usually is, complete drivel. If you're really stuck, you can write This sucks and I don't know what to write, etc. I haven't sunken to that level yet, but often I'm describing the disheveled state of my room, the inane list of errands I have to run today or some maudlin adolescent-girl type of diary entry. And my handwriting is illegible.

None of that's supposed to matter. The point is, you're actually filling up a page, and that's significant enough. On some subconscious level, you're showing yourself that you're not going to be intimidated by a blank piece of paper.

Now, you're supposed to do this every day. Every. Day. Then again, we're supposed to be banging out our bona fide literary efforts on a daily basis. This one you can accomplish even Before Coffee, and it's allowed, even encouraged, to be a random stream of verbal garbage. And there's something to be said for filling up a notebook. It's a start.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Not everyone gets writer's block.

(And yesterday's post--still figuring out how to create a link. Bear with me.)

Not meaning to be catty, and I wasn't intending to be touching so soon on issues like plagiarism, but the Boston Globe's timely story on Kaavya Viswanathan is worth a note.

A few months back I had read in the Globe about this 17-year-old Harvard student who had just inked a $500,000, two-book deal. Now, as it's risen to the number 32 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, Kaavya Viswanathan's first novel is going under the microscope. Purportedly many sentences and passages were strikingly similar to ones from a 2001 novel.

From the Globe:

On page 213 of McCafferty's book: He was invading my personal space, as I had learned in Psych. class, and I instinctively sunk back into the seat. That just made him move in closer. I was practically one with the leather at this point, and unless I hopped into the backseat, there was nowhere else for me to go.

On page 175 of Viswanathan's book: He was definitely invading my personal space, as I had learned in Human Evolution class last summer, and I instinctively backed up till my legs hit the chair I had been sitting in. That just made him move in closer, until the grommets in the leather embossed the backs of my knees, and he finally tilted the book toward me.

And so on...

Let them sort it out, but it 's possible that this is less an issue of plagiarism than that some novels are being phoned in on less-than-deep topics by writers who tap into some wavelength where these thoughts, expressions and descriptions are lazy, shorthand, standard rather than deeply considered and etched out? Now here's where I'm being catty.

I do remember reading some PR about Kaavya Viswanathan in the Globe a few months back, and the schadenfreude I'm feeling now stems not only from her lucrative book deal, her youth, her investment bank future and her well-rounded life of Harvard, clubbing and pedicures. But yeah, I'm being catty and snippy about that. However, more than that, it's the way she describes banging the book out in 50-page spurts every two weeks or so, between studying for exams and doing whatever else a busy Harvard student does. And she plans not on becoming a full-time writer but, more likely, an investment banker: writing is something she just "does." Damn overachiever!

I have to admit I haven't read the book, and don't plan to. But knowing many writers, I will be thinking about how they approach their craft as this blog unfolds. And for many of us, it is a long haul to get to a finished novel, or even a publishable short story. My friends, colleagues and mentors have also worked hard at their style, to reach an end result of glimmering prose, sharp dialogue and characters that stand out.

Then again, does it have to take three, five, even ten or fifteen years to write the thing? We'll get into that as well.

Another interesting factoid unearthed in the Viswanathan flap is that she had help from a "book packager," 17th Street Productions. An article on cracking the juvenile book market describes the typical process as follows:

For 17th Street Productions, once you sign the contract, the editor sends you a two-to-three page outline that relates the plot of the story and which characters are involved. The writer then creates a more in-depth chapter outline and returns it to the editor, who may require some changes, after which the writer completes the first draft. The first draft is edited for corrections and changes, and returned to the writer, who makes the required changes and sends it back to the editor.
I read that Viswanathan had originally conceived a "darker" storyline, but that 17th Street had convinced her to lighten up, and worked with her to develop the novel as it ended up.

What does that mean for my short story collection, your novel? Do you stand a chance in this industry without an obvious marketing angle working in your favor? And, by the way, how's the writing coming along?

So you want to be a WRITER?

(My first post from original yahoo blog!)

I got my M.A. in fiction ten years ago, at City College in New York. Have had about some short stories published--I will get into that fun process in the near future. Have had a looooong dry spell since. No wait--I've spent hours and months researching and writing the first 30 pages of a novel. It's a really good chapter too. Since then, my wheels have been spinning as I ran to occupy myself with everything else but the basic undeniable reality of having to sit down and write for at least an hour or two every day. So not much turnout recently, eh? I want to change all that. Since I waste way too much time on the Internet anyway, I figure I may as well be contemplating, dissecting and engaging in a dialogue on different approaches to getting the creative juices flowing.

Brave New Blog

I started a blog on Yahoo two days ago, then decided I like blogger a lot better, so I'm moving my previous posts over here. The only update from my post that follows, "Not everyone gets writer's block," is that author Kaavya Viswanathan is now promising to rewrite the sections of her first novel that bear striking similarities to another 2001 novel she claims to have "internalized" as a young reader. As I had mentioned, one of the weird things about this story is the concept of book development--kind of like a team of people working to conceptualize a book's plot, character development, etc. It is not the same thing as editing, which takes place much later in the process, leaving the author in much more control of the original concept. It sounds very Hollywood. It disturbs me. But it payed off very well for the author in this case. She's getting some flak at the moment, but still has that book deal, movie rights optioned, etc. The publishing world has changed and I'm still rather old-school...