She has amazing answers to some commonly asked (and a few less commonly asked) questions about writing and the writing life. She has some amazing answers to some off-the-wall, non-writing questions, too. Ask her whatever you want!
(1) The moon
A lot of poets are insomniacs, or up late drinking, or busy sobbing into their green tea as they draft encomium after encomium about the autumn leaves’ brave last bursts of color against winter and impending death. In any event, we’re often awake at night, and unless you’re in some horribly cloudy place like London or Seattle or something, there’s a pretty good chance of seeing the moon on a given night.
As the old saw goes, one writes about what one knows, and we poets know only about sadness, loneliness, and the wide gulf between what one wants and what one has, all of which are encapsulated by everyone’s favorite natural satellite, the moon. (Personally, I think the moon is just a pockmarked teenager who is stalking his would-be girlfriend, the Earth.)
Anyway, there aren’t many other things to write about at night and contrary to popular belief, poets do not have imaginations. None whatsoever. So absent the moon, there are only three other nighttime-related subjects: bats, city lights, and owls. Not great options. Clearly we don’t want to write about bats, as we’d be typecast as Poe-wannabes. City lights aren’t exactly exciting (especially here outside my rural hometown of 1,500) and all poems about city lights are probably copyrighted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti anyway. And owls, as everyone knows, are jerks.
Thanks to smart phones, one of the most common phrases in today’s English language is “there’s an app for that.” If Little, Brown Book Group’s latest book technology experiment is successful, authors will soon have to think about what supplemental materials will serve their readers’ small phone screens.
In the UK, the number of books available as iPhone apps passed the number of games for the first time this March. As Alison Flood of The Guardian reports, writers Ian Banks and Martina Cole are some of the early adapters and are working with their publisher and a software company to enrich their readers’ experience.
Readers who have bought the paperback of Banks’s latest novel, Transition, will be able to scan a unique barcode on their edition with their iPhone, and companion features for the novel will be transmitted to their screen.
Dialogue in Creative Nonfiction (or Everything I Need to Know I Learned in High School English with Mr. Koterba)By
I still remember learning how to use quotations in high school English. Only use quotations, my teacher said, if the quote says something you can’t say better in your own words. I guess I’ve carried that with me all these years, because I’ve always tried to use paraphrasing, at least in researchy, academicky papers. But having recently started writing narrative essays, I find myself still holding back on the dialogue, parceling it out only to underline something I’m getting at elsewhere. The less dialogue I use, the more people pay attention to it. So what conversations I choose to transcribe have to be doing a lot of work, not in the way of planting information here and there, but rather of growing, building on, an emotional center.
I’ve talked about “making shit up” in another post. Read more »
immediateinternetwhizbangdigitalondemandnownownow. i think it’s safe to say that modern life frequently compels us to do/interact/consume more than reflect/consider/take stock. not to say that we all need to run off to the woods, but i know that at least i could stand to stop and ponder the ramifications of my decisions a little more frequently. and, i gotta tell you, when i did so this past week, i was somewhat baffled by my own behavior.
For the most part, we’re supposed to write what we know, but does it matter how we know it? As a rule, I think most writers stick closer to experience and supplement it with research. I most often write from a memory or an interesting observation. Research less so, and I think I could use it more.
Poets seem to pull from their cannon more than prose writers. We write about Icarus and Lot’s wife and the like so much it feels like a rite of passage. Louise Glück’s Averno and James Wright’s “Saint Judas” come through this kind of research. That’s right kids, allusions fall into this category, too. But let’s not hate on Eliot again. Read more »
Some news from my world: I’ve been hired to teach at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. I’m incredibly excited about this new development. A couple weeks ago they invited me to give a presentation at their professional development day, which was awesome, so I spent the entire day there last Thursday going to sessions, getting to know the people, and giving my own presentation, and it was great, but I realized something. One of their big challenges, at least in the liberal arts department, is getting these students, who all think they are artists, to write. In session after session, I heard teachers talk about trying to get students to see writing as something they should want to do, something they shouldn’t be afraid of, and for some reason I was a little surprised. I’m not new to students who hate writing, but generally those students don’t see themselves as creative people. Often they see themselves as better at math and science; they’re students who have been put down for their writing by one teacher or another and have given up on themselves as writers. I suppose that can happen to people who are good at visual arts, too, but my assumption, I’ve just learned, has been that words are part of the arts and that artists would most likely have an affinity for them. I was wrong. The teachers at PNCA went on and on about students who think writing is useless and painful and irrelevant. Sigh.
So here’s the question: how is writing like the visual arts? They are both skills that have to be practiced; neither of them are innately learned. There’s one thing. But what about the process? My boyfriend is a writer, visual artist, and musician, and it makes sense to me for all those things to go together, but how do I convince reluctant students of that? Could their hatred come from some learned misconception about what writing is? Maybe these are unanswerable questions until I get in there and meet my students, but I’m curious to know what other people think. If you’re a visual artist, how do you relate to writing? And vice versa? If language really is our most prominent mode of self expression, how do I convince a bunch of visual artists of this? Should I assign multigenre assignments where they’re allowed to incorporate words with images? Any suggestions at all would be greatly appreciated.
I’ve stolen few things in my life. One of them is a book called Stand-Up Comedy: The Book by Judy Carter. I discovered it on a shelf in Victrola, an idyllic coffee shop on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. It is one of those shelves that holds board games and books to help entertain the patrons who forgot their laptops, mole skins, GRE study guides, or novels. One day, I reached up and pulled down the comedy book. I passed the “funny test” and couldn’t resist. I slid the book into my bag.
I ended up giving the book to my friend, Fat, because he’s funny and I thought he should become a stand-up comedian. Five years later, he hasn’t yet, but he still might. I missed the book, though, so I bought myself a copy. Therefore, the hot copy is not in my possession. If you want to find it, I’ll give you Fat’s address.
It’s embarrassing to be seen with this book. I hide it in my sketch book. Maybe I’ll cover it with a brown paper bag. The book is unattractive, and it’s a ridiculous notion that a 36-year-old-failure-at-so-many-things would fancy herself a standup comedian. Yet, Judy Carter makes it seem possible. She offers step-by-step instructions for creating your own routine. She prompts you to list your negative personality traits, things you hate, worry about, and fear, and shows how each of these things really can be funny. Here are some examples for negative personality traits:
“I have low self-esteem. When we were in bed together, I would fantasize that I was someone else.” —Richard Lewis (Carter 25)
“I had to move to New York for health reasons. I’m extremely paranoid and New York is the only place my fears are justified.” –Anita Wise (Carter 25) Read more »
There’s a new writing Internet meme floating around the web this past week or so called I Write Like. Basically, you enter a few paragraphs of text and the program analyzes it for you and tells you which famous writer you write like.
Now, I’m (admittedly) a bit of a cynic, and so I immediately set to testing the validity of this statement, wondering if it actually analyzes some aspect of your writing or if it’s a random author generator. So I started submitting snippets of my writing, mostly paragraphs from my thesis. With the first few I was told I wrote like Chuck Palahniuk, Vladimir Nabokov, Dan Brown, then Margaret Atwood. Ah yes. Clearly my writing is nothing but an elaborate hybrid of the four.
However, two of those four writers were actually on my thesis list (I’ll give you a hint, Dan Brown is not one of them, though I’ve read all four of those writers), so I thought I’d dig a little further. I resubmitted a previous chunk of text, wanting to see if I would get the same result. I did. Read more »