If Rushdie Can Do It So Can I

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I was first introduced to Salmon Rushdie’s writing in a college course where I read Midnight’s Children. I was immediately a fan. Since then I’ve read several more of his books and attended readings and speaking engagements. I’ve always believed the old adage of learning how to write by reading. But it always felt like a very general concept until I started reading Rushdie. I feel like I’ve learned more casually reading his work than I ever did studying other writers in depth in school. I will likely go on to write more about the things I’ve learned from him and his writing. For now I want to discuss one of the simplest things that has impacted my writing.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Rushdie’s writing is how much he includes from his own life in his fiction. Some of these things are very clear, like basing a major character in Fury on his then wife Padma Lakshimi. But other’s I only realized after reading his memoir, Joseph Anton. Reading it I found several instances of people, events and even dialogue that was very similar, if not exactly the same, to what I had read in his fiction. For example when he relates telling his father he is going to be a writer. Clearly disappointed his father says, “What am I going to tell my friends?” A line that appears in The Satanic Verses. 

There are many more examples, he specifically points out experiences and the stories inspired by them, and characters based on those close to him.  He seems to have no problem using his life and those around him as source material for his writing. This is something I have always struggled with. I never felt right including people or events from my life in my writing and avoided it at all costs. Part of it was insecurity, I don’t even like writing about myself in nonfiction. But really it was self doubt about my ability as a writer. It seems too easy to fictionalize elements of my life and take myself seriously as a writer. I also worried about what other people would think. Like I wouldn’t or couldn’t be considered a good writer if I couldn’t come up with everything in a story from imagination.

It seems like a silly thing to think now. Who exactly would even know how much of what I wrote was real or made up. Well I guess my family and friends, but how many of them are even reading my writing anyway. Inspired by Rushdie I’ve learned to let go of these irrational fears. There is no reason I can’t include elements from my life in my writing. It’s more than likely to improve my writing if I draw from real world experiences and people. And I have had some experiences that would make some pretty interesting stories.

 

Back to Class: Poetry Exercises

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With all the different writing classes I’ve taken over the years, I’ve somehow never taken one on poetry. Which is interesting because my love of writing started with poetry. I very quickly realized it was pretty bad though. In my humble opinion I’ve improved a lot, mainly through reading more poetry and a few instructional texts. I still feel that some more instruction and education on the craft could definitely help me. So I enrolled, for free of course in Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop, an online course conducted by California Institute of Arts.

I’m up to the third week and so far it’s really gone down to the basics. Even with the instructional texts I’ve used in the past, I skipped over a lot of the beginning stuff. I skimmed over a lot of it and skipped almost, if not all the exercises, to get to the parts I thought were really interesting.  Participating in this course, I’m more committed to actually putting in the work, which means doing all the exercises even if they seem juvenile. Here’s a couple I’ve completed so far:

Week one–Poetic Lines

This exercise was for the lessons on lines. The following text was presented in a block of text I had to add in my own line breaks.

tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace

from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time;

and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

out, out, brief candle! life’s but a walking shadow,

a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot,

full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The piece is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Check it out, my version made the lines just a bit longer.

Week Two-Abstraction and Image

For this exercise we were supposed write a poem describing an object. The instructions said to be as literal and vivid as possible, and not to use any figures of speech. Not sure how vivid my image is but I like it. I’ll likely keep working it and who knows where it might end up.

 

Clear glass heavy in my hand.

Filled with dark liquid and ice

popping ever so often

as the whiskey melts it down.

A sip, cold

goes down with a slight burn.

The Mothers of Yernus–Short Story

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What if I told you there was a world where mothers were honored by feasting on a child of their choosing. The savage race of almost humanoid beings on the planet of Yernus, have developed such a tradition. It might seem horrific to advanced and civilized societies like ours. But these beings haven’t, and may never, reach our level of evolution. The toxic environment of the planet has mutated their bodies and minds. Their misshapen bodies appear to be a grotesque mix of apeish humanoid and reptile. They display very little intelligence and are very hostile, even among the small tribes they’ve formed.

Tribes tend to include few males, those not killed in battle for dominance are driven away.  Female numbers vary greatly, averaging about five times the adult males. They mate as you would expect of wild animals, polyamorously and bearing offspring in litters. Each pregnancy produces no less than three and up to six babies. The women of the tribe care for the children communally, many women die in childbirth or for any number of other reasons. Survival on the planet is not easy, many are born with life threatening illnesses, resources and food are hard to find, and their nomadic life can quickly wear down the body. Only half of the babies will survive past five years of age, and only one in five will make it to adulthood.

At some unknown point in time it appears that rather than waiting for nature to take it’s course they began sacrificing the weakest born. Though savage and primitive in its nature it does show some progress towards a cultured society, with customs dictated by a belief system. In fact, to watch as they choose the child and prepare it for the evening feast, it mimics sacred religious ceremonies. The chosen children and the mothers bathe together before the tribe gathers to form a sacrificial circle. One at a time the children are led to the middle where the dominant male slits their throat. The males, as usual, build a large fire, butcher the bodies and cook the meat. While the males attend to preparation of the feast the women perform ritual dances around the fire shrieking, while banging sticks and rocks. It’s not clear if they’ve fully developed a language yet, they communicate in mostly undecipherable grunts and screams. However, there does appear to be a recognizable word among those high pitched female screams, Car Rar. Those that study these beings are in utter disagreement about its significance. Some theorize it’s the name of some god, they are calling out for forgiveness for their beastly acts of the day. Others believe it is either the word for mother or child, as they seem to be the beings of significance on the day. And yet others believe its the designated word for the day or the ritual itself.

We may never know the meaning of anything these creature do, but we can conclude they may not be as unintelligent as we first assumed. Even if this is merely a survival tactic for the women of the world, it’s clearly evolved into a ceremonial practice. It’s hard to imagine, but somewhere in this horrific act is an honorable place for those responsible for bearing and caring for the races young.

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Feel free to leave some feedback in the comments. I welcome any helpful suggestions or critiques.

This piece was originally written specifically for my monthly newsletter. Join my mailing list today to get more exclusive sneak peaks at my latest writing, updates and more.

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Television, Distraction or Inspiration?

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As a writer there’s a lot I can justify in the name of writing. Almost any experience or activity can be seen as a necessary part of the writing process. For years it fueled my already voracious reading habits. I’ve always believe the advice to become a better writer you have to read, and read widely. As if I needed a excuse to excessively shop for books. Even with my often visits to the library, my book collection has grown considerably the past couple of years.

But thanks to a good friend and her Netflix account, my new favorite medium is television shows. In the past I’ve been critical of myself watching too much TV, it felt too much like a waste of time. It’s likely because of the lack of choices, hundreds of channels and still nothing good is ever on. But after thoroughly browsing the horror and sci-fi/fantasy categories I realized the potential for inspiration it provided. So I’ve been pretty much binging on all shows having to do with witches, monsters, space travel, fae, etc.

I have to admit if it wasn’t for the content I’d probably be saying this was a real problem. At my worst I’ve spent almost entire days watching at least half a season. And more than a few times I was up until at least 4am because I just couldn’t walk away. So I’m starting to wonder if I really am lying to myself. Is this binging really just a distraction from the things I should be doing, or is it a part of the process? Some days I feel like I’m really benefiting, inspiring new creative work. Other’s I feel like I’m wasting too much time. I do have a bad habit of become a little obsessive.

I’m sure plenty of other people have lost time getting sucked into a TV watching binge. How do you know when it’s really a problem? I’d love to hear from my readers, especially other writers. Do you think TV can really be a productive use of time in terms of finding inspiration, or is it a big time suck?

The Tower’s Coming

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I’m pretty excited about The Dark Tower movie. I realize it’s not an adaptation of the books, that would pretty much be impossible. Unlike most people I’m saving my criticism until after I see the movie. But judging from the trailer, released this past week, it looks pretty good. It’s been over a decade since the final book of the series was published and more years than I’d rather say since I read the first book. Needless to say my memory of the story was a little fuzzy. So I thought it’d be fun to reread the entire series before seeing the movie.  In addition, I was basically a kid when I first read it. (Seriously, I started reading adult books at an early age, and Stephen King’s were among the first.) I thought it would be a different experience reading it as an adult, and also back to back. While the first three were already published when I started and the fourth came out about a year later, I still had to endure the tortuously long wait for the last three.

I wasn’t much surprised by the first book. While I may have forgotten details, I knew most of the basic plot. The biggest difference this time around was the “Hey Jude” reference. I only had a vague idea of the song when I was a kid. This time around I could not get it out of my head. Moving on to the later books, I was surprised by how much of the story I didn’t remember. I really can’t believe how much of the books I forgot, like the cliffhanger with Blaine, the entire Susan Delgado story line, main character deaths, and the actual ending to the entire series.

While my memory of reading it the first time was fuzzy I do think reading it all back to back was a very different experience. For one I really was so immersed in the world of the books I had moments where I caught myself thinking in Mid-World speak. I was also able to catch a lot more of the minor connections. I likely didn’t catch the references to other stories he wrote because I hadn’t actually read them yet. But the time between books in the series kept me from catching connections within the story. I’m sure there’s lots of things I missed the first time around. Some were minor and I’m already having trouble remembering them. One that stayed with me was the changes in the way time moved in Mid-World. I realized the changes reflect the character Stephen King’s progress writing. The first few books were written over a span of many years, that’s when time in Mid-World had slowed down. Later in the series time speeds up. Those books were all published much closer together and the journal entries of King’s character discusses the freakish speed of his writing pace for at least one of these later novels.

The last thing that struck me in a different way was King inserting himself into the story. When I first read it, I thought it was very strange and kind of narcissistic. But also it seemed almost like he just ran out of other ideas. I realized now that it really couldn’t have gone any other way. In fact, I started thinking that it was set up from the beginning to go that way. I felt like through out the books there were hints that the characters and worlds were a creation of someone’s mind. For example, Eddie Dean’s Co-Op city being in Brooklyn. (Another detail I didn’t catch as a kid, this time around I kept thinking that couldn’t be right.) The books specifically point out he’s not actually their creator or Gan itself, simply writing the story he hears in the song. But it is possible that because he writes them they exist, a power similar to Patrick’s, instead of drawing things into existence he writes them.

I’d love to hear what you other Stephen King and Dark Tower fans think. Comment to let me know if you’re looking forward to the movie, when you last read the books or any other thoughts you have.

 

 

Can’t Escape Information Overload, Help!

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Information overload isn’t a new issue, nor is this the first time I’ve been stuck in it’s grip. The past couple of months have been quite overwintering. In the chaos there’s one thing that’s totally been neglected, my email inbox. I’ve managed a couple of times to clear it out but it seems to fill right back up. I have over 300 unopened emails in my inbox. Plus clearing out my inbox I tend to just move emails to folders that I intend to review later. So in addition to the unopened emails I have another buttload of emails waiting to actually be read. Most days I just scroll through opening anything that might be of importance and deleting junk. Every week or so I sit down intending to really clean it out, then anxiety sets it and I give up. It’s just too much, I’ll never have the time, and even if I do it’s a waste of time. With these thoughts ringing through my head is no surprise I can’t get through it.

The easiest solution would be to just delete everything. But as I’ve said it just fills back up again, plus I get nervous about just deleting it all. Would if I miss that one important article, contest, submission deadline, etc., that changes everything. I know ridiculous right. I admit I’m a bit of an information junkie. I’m always signing up for new online courses, subscribing to newsletters, following blogs, and don’t even get me started on social media. But the problem is I just can’t keep up with it. And I honestly wonder if it’s even worth it to. A lot of the information I collect is inspiration for my writing, career and business advice, self improvement advice, and generally just anything I think might be interesting or useful.

The funniest part is it’s never going to be useful if I never actually read it. I just feel so overwhelmed it’s essentially paralyzed me, I’m not sure where to even start. I’m sure I’m not alone in this issue and I’d love to hear how other deal with it. Please comment with any ideas or advice. Or simply let me know I’m not alone or being completely crazy.

 

Pretty Pictures

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Been playing around with different creative outlets the past couple of months. Decided it’d be fun to share some of the results and works in progress.

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A random pic of of my lovely work space on the living room floor.

 

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Kind of obsessed with these repetitive patterns as backgrounds, for what, no clue. But I think they look pretty cool.

 

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Some watercolor flowers, I seem to have a thing for tulips.

 

The Road So Far: Pennsylvania 2017

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Today makes it’s exactly five months since my move. I like it so far but it’s a big adjustment. I’m still not even used to the idea of not living in New York City. I’m glad to be out but do miss it, mainly because there isn’t much to do up here. The week of Thanksgiving I visited for a couple of days, hadn’t been gone long and it felt like I’d never left. With the chaos of the move followed by the holidays I’m finding real hard get back on track. Most of my time’s been spent getting to know the area, looking for a job and just getting settled in.

I let myself take it easy, trying to get my office together and working out new plans for my blogs, newsletter and Etsy shop. I’ve been slowly forcing myself to get back to writing, but my lack of concentration has made it very difficult. I did manage to write and publish a few new blog posts,  in addition to the last two months newsletters. I’ve been stuck editing (actually rewriting) my novel for a couple of months now, barely making it to chapter five. Between the frustration and lack of structure to my days, I feel like I wasted a lot of time watching TV, playing games online and basically sulking around trying to figure out what to do with myself.

I’ve been working on different strategies and practices to boost my motivation and creativity.  I have small library of books on writing with prompts and exercises I’ve tried working with. Also started reading The Artist’s Way again, before the move I got about half way through. I wasn’t really putting much effort into the exercises and tasks. I really like the advice and approach of letting yourself explore your creativity without judgement. That’s not something that comes easy to me and often beat myself up or give up when I can’t meet my standards. It’s been helpful as I start experimenting with other creative art forms.

I just hope that soon things will start falling into place. It’s no surprise that the move would cause so much disruption. I just didn’t think I’d be working at a snails pace to get back on track. At this point all I can do is keep pushing myself.

What is the Kafka myth? 

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Before I even moved in September, I located the nearest public library. Luckily, it is within walking distance. It was one of my the places I visited after the move. Since I’ve gotten a card I’ve tried to visit every couple of weeks. On one of my first visits I found the book, Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes. I actually haven’t read much of Kafka’s writing, but Metamorphosis is one of favorite books. I found it in my high school library and loved it so much it became the topic of an English paper. For which I read The Trial and compared the two stories. I didn’t know much about Kafka or even his significance in literature at that time. It seems my ignorance might have been a blessing.

According to Hawes, much of what we think we know about Kafka is not actually true. Much of what people think they know about him is actually part of a constructed image he refers to as the K-myth. Mainly this mythology promotes the idea of a poor, lonely, writer who suffered working a bureaucratic job. It goes into greater detail about so called facts about the writer and his work. Thankfully, most of which I had never heard. Hawes alleges, the less you know the greater chance you’ll enjoy reading Kafka. Below I’ve listed a few of the ones I found most interesting.

  • Kafka was poor. Okay so he did work a bureaucratic job that he wanted to leave. But being poor was not the reason. The author points out he made much more money than the average worker. Not only that he lived with his middle class family most of his life, owned a business with them, and was paid for his writing.
  • He was ignored by contemporaries and unknown in his lifetime. It’s hard to be unknown when you are publishing stories in prestigious journals. He was also in the same social circles as his contemporaries. In fact they arraigned for him to be  awarded the prize money for an award given to another writer. He may not have been world famous during his lifetime, but he was well known in his city’s cultural society.
  • His work is based on his experience as a Jew and Jewishness is vital to understanding his writing. I’m not sure something like this should be said of any writer ever. But the author also points out that Jewishness wasn’t actually a large part of his life. Why then would it take up so much in his writing.

2017 Goals

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Every year I make a list of goals for the year. Usually I have a list a mile long, eventually I don’t even want to think about. Basically, I just overwhelm myself so it’s almost impossible to complete anything. This year I’m going to keep the list short hopefully it will help me focus and actually accomplish them. I’ll also try out the advice I’ve read to tape it somewhere you can see it. The past couple of years I’ve written in a journal or notebook and totally forgotten about it. I’ve just included the most important five, I’ll be working on a lot this next year but these, I absolutely must work on.

  1. Finish editing novel in progress
  2. Build newsletter to 100 subscribers
  3. Add two new products to Etsy shop
  4. Complete 5 sewing projects
  5. Complete first Draft of poetry chapbook