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February 4, 2010

No. not the kind Mom and Dad accused you of (rightfully) when they asked you who put the cat in the dryer..

I mean people who get up and read stories aloud.

I was telling a co-worker about my evening downtown listening to Boyle and he asked me if I’d be interested in going to a storytelling event at a coffee shop in Des Plaines on Sunday, and if so, he’d forward the e-mail to me with the details.

I said “Sure! I’d be interested!” and the wheels began to turn.

Not only can I use this as yet another tool to kickstart my heart, but I also began to think – maybe this is something I could get involved in myself, as a way to get myself out there.

From what I understand, these people read stories written by others. I could do that – and also read some of my own.

I think it’s worth looking into.

Any of you have any experience with it?

Share 🙂


Ideas on the fly

February 3, 2010

Also known as: what do you do when an idea comes to you, and it isn’t handy to jot it down in a notebook?

Like, say, when you’re driving?

I’ve thought about this these past couple of days, since it was another question that was asked of T.C. Boyle Monday night: What do you do if you get an idea while you’re in the car?

He said… "Hope I remember…"


He did say that the ending for "The Women" came to him in the car when he and his family were on their way for a fun day of swimming, etc. – and he pulled over and jotted down some notes.

I found that fascinating. He’s a novelist and a professor with, I would assume, a pretty decent income. I would have thought he kept a mini recorder or some other such gadget with him for those instances when Lady Muse whispers to you and your hands aren’t free to write.

Maybe he does, and he’d just forgotten to bring it.

I prefer to think he doesn’t even own one. I’d like to think he’s old school like me – and has a small cheap notebook he carries with him everywhere.

Mine stays in my purse and might be brought out at a moments notice anywhere, on the train, at my desk, waiting in line in a store…

But I’m pretty much screwed if I’m driving, unless I decide to pull over. The back roads I take to work don’t really have a good place to do that in a lot of places, so I also do a lot of ‘Hope I remember…’

So what do you do when ideas come to you and you can’t write them down right away?

Hope you remember?

Pull over and write them down?

Use a gadget to preserve them till you can write them out?

Boyle had some very good questions asked of him the other night, which I’ve been pondering for my own answers to… so you may get another post or two in the coming days with his insight/answers on a couple of things… maybe you’ll be sick of hearing about him by then.

I won’t be… I never am 🙂

Seeking inspiration from a master

February 2, 2010

I went into work early today, so I could leave early and catch an inbound train downtown.

I was headed for the library. The one on Van Buren and State.

One of my favorite authors, T. C. Boyle, was there tonight, as he calls it (aptly) performing.

I hadn’t seen him for 3 or 4 years I think?

Anyway – he read a short story from his new collection, and he was, as always, fabulous.

He looked great. He strode out in a bright red jacket and pants, a black and white t-shirt underneath, and the ever present high tops on his feet and ear cuff on his ear. Hair askew as it always is.

A little older, beginning to look just a tad wizened, but brilliant as ever.

Just the sight of him made me smile.

He was animated as he read, and his delivery and wit captivated his audience as it always does.

He made remarks that made us all laugh. He answered questions and stayed for a signing afterwards. I didn’t stay to get anything signed. I knew I was going to be home late enough as it was.

He was asked if any of his children read his works. He said that his sons had modems attached at the hip and never read. His daughter and her boyfriend make videos of his short stories.

He said they’d all been required to read The Tortilla Curtain in school, and because of who they were, they were expected to have some special insight. He said it wasn’t a problem, he’d helped them with their papers. LOL.

He was asked if he ever re-reads his own work – and he said he reads and re-reads till he’s finished with it – and then never reads them again.


He did say that once he was to appear at a venue where he’d be asked questions of an earlier work, so he took it on the plane with him and re-read it.

I went because I wanted to see him again. I went hoping to spark some inspiration in myself. I sat there and listened to him, and thought how wonderful it would be if, someday, I shook his hand as a literary colleague.

How sweet would that be?

I feel like I accomplished what I went for. As I returned to Union Station, there were homeless people everywhere, napping on benches and stairs. I thought – ‘there’s gotta be a story here somewhere..’

And I think maybe there is.

Taming the Muse: Or, Whatever! I Do What I Want!

January 24, 2010

Nathan's AvatarAbout the Author

Nathan is an amateur writer, poet, and self-proclaimed god.  He has written a number of short stories in a variety of genres, and recently started work on a fantasy novelette (or novel – he’ll know when he’s written the first draft) tentatively titled Scream of the Butterfly.  In addition to writing, he also enjoys hobbyist programming, playing Dungeons and Dragons™, and what he terms as “general geekdom”.  He lives in Massachusetts with his girlfriend, her two sons, four dogs, two cats, and his imaginary friend/muse Juanita Guadalupe Rancheros Nicaragua Gonzalez, III.

My imaginary friend has a severe case of ADHD.  If Juanita had her way, I’d write as though I were a passenger in a cherry-red 1968 Pontiac GTO cruising at 80mph on Route No-Clue-Where-This-Is-Headed with my ass dangling from the window and my butt-cheeks flapping flippantly in the wind, and I’d do so with as many superlatives as would fit on the page.  She’d have me babbling paragraph after paragraph about the nuances of this to that, and the message I was trying to send would be lost at sea, drowning in metaphors and similes, until it finally gasped its last Save Me and was lost forever.  Since I don’t usually plan on sending my point plummeting to rest in Davey Jones’ Locker, it’s important that I keep her rambling in check, filtering pearls of literary genius from irrelevant chaff, until I’ve gleaned enough to keep the reader entertained while still conveying whatever it is I wanted to say.

Juanita hates this process. She calls it Torture Most Vile and insists that I should consider her words sacred, untouchable perfection. I remind her that she’s imaginary and therefore doesn’t know shit from Jiffy Pop.

Whenever I announce that I’m ready to begin writing a work’s first draft, Juanita lights up as if she were a girl who’s just realized her parents bought her a pony for Christmas.  She flits through the air to land on my shoulder – Did I mention she’s three inches tall, and she can fly? – and whispers in my ear so quickly that she’s unintelligible.  The words are strung together in such a way that they sound more like a high-pitched hum than English, and I’m forced to flick her from my shoulder to garner her attention long enough to ask her to slow down.  Once she’s calmed  enough that I can understand her, I set pen to paper (or appendage to keyboard) and scribe every word she says without question or criticism.  For her, it’s a taste of heaven.

Juanita asked that I take a moment to explain a little about her. She’s a thin, hawk-nosed 22-year-old redhead with brown eyes, tiny, pointed ears and a mouth so large for her face that it’s comical. While her mother, Juanita Guadalupe Rancheros Nicaragua Gonzalez, II, was a fairy, she did not inherit her mother’s grace (she was born with big feet and often trips over them when she walks). Nor does she have her mother’s wings.  Juanita can only fly because her father, Bob, was a leprechaun, so she’s able to wield a little Irish magic. Because she’s a half-breed, she does not own the traditional pot of gold. Instead, the Leprechaun Guild of Little People and Potted Gold awarded her a pot of coffee. She guards it fiercely.

Once I’ve written the first draft and Juanita is beaming triumphantly at her masterpiece, I set it aside for a time so that I can come back and read it with fresh eyes. When I revisit my work, hours or days later, I invariably find a variety of unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and hyperboles that are irrelevant or detract from the story. Then, to Juanita’s dismay, I set to work cutting words, phrases and even paragraphs from the manuscript, tossing them to the dogs of revision like so many table scraps. She’ll stomp one of her clown feet on my shoulder and argue with every change, insisting the reader needs to know the intricate history of the sprinkles on the protagonist’s donut and how they feel about being eaten, while I retort that she is an idiot and she should keep her idiot mouth shut and let me work.

After I’ve revised the story, revised it again, and probably revised it a few more times, I set it aside once more.  Juanita skulks off to a nook somewhere to pout, and I spend a week or two trying to forget what I’ve written.  When I return to read it again, I scan for missing details.  My petulant muse returns to my shoulder to whisper her suggestions, and instead of describing the sprinkles on our protagonist’s donut, we explain to the reader where the protagonist eats the donut and why it’s important enough to mention.

We illustrate all the sights and sounds of our scene, taking care to mention the sweet scent of baked goods and the bustle of customers buying cookies and cakes.  We tell our reader that the protagonist visits Fay’s Bakery every morning before work and always buys a dozen donuts, half powdered and half with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.  He eats one of each with a cup of coffee, and then gives the rest to a homeless man living in an alley beside the bakery.  Thus have we informed the reader that our protagonist is a philanthropist, and our scene has meaning.

After going through this process with scene after scene, Juanita grudgingly accepts that the story reads much better and congratulates me on managing to salvage the mess I’d made of her original manuscript.  She smiles and apologizes for her behavior, and I tell her she’s still an idiot.  Then, I go about correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation.  Once I’m finished correcting my work, I give it to someone else to read. From there, depending on my test-subject’s response, I either revise the story again or consider it finished.

And that is how I keep my muse in line.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

January 20, 2010

Yes, I know. It’s been done to death.

I’ve never really talked about what I do to overcome it. I use the same tools to overcome this as I do burnout. I figured out why I’m not beating this burnout stage lately.

I use nature.

A walk outdoors somewhere, a weekend trip to a remote area full of nature…

I walk around backwards a lot – like my old composition professor used to advise me to do. Gives you a new perspective on your surroundings.

It’s winter. Being outdoors isn’t a pleasant thing to do right now. I had one of those ‘duh’ moments today, realizing that.

For the past two years, I’ve blamed NaNo. Writing at a furious pace for a month and not wanting to pick up a cyberpen again till spring.

It isn’t NaNo though – it’s winter. Hence.. no outdoors, and little inspiration.

I have Anne Rice on my Facebook friends list, and she posted this video the other day, talking about writer’s block. I thought it was pretty basic stuff, but good nonetheless. I never would have thought of movies helping to overcome it. Reading, yes, but for me, movies are just a way to kick back and be entertained. Apparently it works for her though.

I asked her if I could use this here, and she never responded. I’m sure my comment got lost in the dozens she had. I went to you tube, and found it, and it’s open for viewing, the link was there for embedding, so it’s okay for me to use it.

What do you do to overcome? Anything different from the norm? Quirky stuff? Share 🙂

Hello boys and girls

January 17, 2010

I apologize for my absence.

There hasn’t been anything to blog about. I’m not writing lately. No new ideas at all. I’m still burned out from NaNo I guess.

I’ve even questioned whether or not I should even be writing at all. It just seems like such an overwhelming task at times.

I have to though. I got a message from my spirit guide, the deer. I ran across an image while googling the other day that simply blew me away, and I knew it was meant for me to find.

Now if that damn spirit guide would just kickstart the muse…

The good news is, eldest has told me he plans to finish his guest post next week, so you’ll soon have something interesting to read. He’s a talented writer with a very offbeat sense of humor. I’m looking forward to what he has to offer.

Merry Christmas to my crew

December 24, 2009

All my supporters, commenters, followers, readers, lurkers, all of you!

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun

And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

~John Lennon