Stop The World, I Want To Get Off

I don’t really, but remember that old movie?  Or was it a musical?  Or just a joke?  I don’t know, I think it was a little before my time, but it is such a great sentence.  And it kinda describes how I feel today.  Or how I felt this morning.  I’m feeling better now, having completed a couple of assignments today and dug around in one of my in-boxes for missing emails.

But I still have not told you what ekphrastic means and it has been so long I’ve probably forgotten myself.  And I have over 100 message pertaining to my blog in my gmail account.  And comments to respond to.  And nary a post from these hands in days. Arrrggghhh.

A quick recap:  I got home from the great state of Tennessee on Friday night.  Linda and I left Gatlinburg that morning, and she handed me off to Candace at the O’Charley’s parking lot at the Lebanon exit off I-40.  Now some of y’all know right where that is.  Right across the freeway is yet another meat and three called the Sunset Diner, and Candace insisted on taking me there, even though I had made a solemn vow never, ever to eat at a meat and three before getting on an airplane.

But this one had coconut pie.  Which is almost, but not quite, as good as coconut cake. 

While the pie digested Candace drove me around and around and around and around the airport telling me about the play she is going to write.  And, I am happy to report that she is actually writing again.  She better keep it up, too, or there is going to be hell to pay.

Anyway, my plane stopped in Ontario, California, and then I had to change planes in Oakland and that plane was late and so by the time I got home to Portland and got in bed in was almost midnight and I realized I’d been up nearly 24 hours.  I fell asleep on the plane for awhile, which I just hate the thought of because I was probably snoring or at the very least my mouth was no doubt hanging open in an unattractive way. 

The next day, despite spirit lag, that weird state that happens when your spirit is still in the place you left but your body is in the place you’ve arrived, I worked all day at the Centennial Celebration of OCAC.  The beloved daughter organized the event.  She is probably the only human on the planet who could have convinced me to do that in the state I was in.

Actually, it was a blast and incredibly successful.  For those of you who don’t know, OCAC is the Oregon College of Art and Craft, an amazing private art college tucked away in the west hills of Portland.  It really is 100 years old, and in the middle of a capital campaign to update the campus, and on Thursday night at the chi-chi party for donors and board members, they were able to announce a $1.5 million donation.  Nice, huh?

Just two days earlier, I’d been perusing the gift shop at Arrowmont, another well-known craft school located in Gatlinburg, so the week definitely had a craft theme.  As well as a musical comedy and country music theme.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I kinda fell in love with Gatlinburg.  I mean, you just have to love a place where gorgeous crafts, tacky t-shirt shops, trout streams and Ripley’s Believe It or Not all exist side by side.  And let us not forget the stores named "God’s World," and the wedding chapels.

If the bottom falls out of the writing market, I’m moving to Gatlinburg and starting a wedding chapel.  You think I’m kidding, but I am an ordained minister with three weddings under my belt, so I could so do that.

So, all this is by way of saying, forgive me for being gone?  And I promise I’ll be back to my regular self now.  First up will be the post you’ve all been waiting for:  the explanation of ekphrastic. 

Don’t jump up and down quite so high, you’ll hurt the ceilings.

It is September 11, Do A Good Deed Today

Wait, what?  It is September 11, isn’t it a day of gloom and doom?

Not anymore.  There’s a movement afoot to make this day, the anniversary of one of the worst days in our nation’s history, into something positive.

The idea is to focus on the humanitarian outpouring that followed the September 11th attacks, not the awful attacks themselves.  There is a grass-roots movement afoot to make September 11 Good Deeds Day.

You can go to the Good Deed Day page and make a pledge as to what your good deed for the day will be.  There you can also read what others have pledged to do.

If you’d like to learn more about the movement, including how its been endorsed by Congress, you can read the news article here.

So, here’s my good deed for the day.  Actually, its not only for the day, but forever.  I’m no longer going to yell at other drivers.  I pledged to work on my propensity towards road rage after I heard the Dalai Lama speak a few years ago and I’ve not worked very hard at it.  So I’m going to start over and try again.  I just don’t think the world needs any extra anger in it, especially over something so trivial as our driving habits.

What You Don’t Know About Me

Nina, the wonderful author of Darwin’s Paradox, and the blog The Alien Next Door, tagged me for a meme, on eight random facts about me.

You really sure you want to go there?

Well, alright.  If you insist.  Here goes:

1.  I am the proud mother of the largest pug in the world.  I’m not kidding.  He weighs 45 pounds.  Wait, I have to go cover his ears if you are even thinking the word obese.  He’s very sensitive.  Because he knows that it’s not fat, it’s muscle.  He is also blind, but he prefers not to think about that, either.

2.  There are few foods I hate in the world more than beets.

3.  There are few foods I love in the world more than coconut.  Fortunately, coconut oil is full of healing properties.

4.  If I could be anything in the world other than a writer, I’d be a fashion designer.  Back in the dark ages, when my first child was but a wee little tidbit of a girl, I used to design and sell children’s clothing.

5.  My great-great grandfather was killed by the Sheepeater Indians in the famous Rains Ranch Massacre, which is featured in Idaho history books.  Well, it is featured in one Idaho history book.  That makes it famous, don’t you think? After his death, my great-great grandmother moved into the town of Grangeville and ran a whorehouse.

6.  Last time I counted how many cousins I have, I stopped when I got to 28.  I know a remarkable number of them fairly well.

7.  I’m a water sign.  You have to guess which one.

8.  I’m a huge fan of the Eagles.  I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that, huh?  But come on, its that whole Desperado, Mystique of the Wild West thing.  You know you love them because of it, too.  And their first studio album in YEARS is coming out October 30th.

Part of this whole tagging thing is that I now get to tag other bloggers.  So, here we go:  Lisa, Becca, Susanne, Theresa, SpeedCatHollydale, and Adrienne–tag, you’re now it!

Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month

I love when this happens.  Here I’ve been up to my elbows in an assignment all day–all flippin’ day–worrying about neglecting semi-important things like grocery shopping, and really important things like my blog, when in pops this press release into my inbox.  (Are there enough "ins" in that sentence for you?)

And now my worries about what to blog are over. 

To wit:

September is Be Kind To Editors and Writers month.  I am both an editor and a writer, so do you think this means I get a double dose of kindness?  Think my family will buy it?  Nah.  But they did go grocery shopping for me.  I suspect mostly because there was beer involved (not for me, for them).

Anyway, I digress.  I learned all this from the press release sent on behalf of Malibu literary agent Wendy Keller.  Now I don’t know Wendy, but I do know Malibu, and even though it is full of disgustingly pretty and thin people I still like it.  My friend Brian, the screenwriter, lives there, and I like him, too.  Most of the time.  Just kidding, Brian.

But I digress.  Back to Wendy.  She offers non-fiction writers tips on selling their book proposals.  She’s got a free ezine and does free teleseminars.

As we say here in Portland, free is a very good price.  Especially for someone who want to be kind to editors and writers.  So go check it out–and thank Wendy for giving me something to blog about.

Things to Avoid in Writing: Expositional Dialogue

Today, class, we shall talk about dialogue.  More specifically, expositional dialogue.  What’s expositional dialogue, you say?  Well gather round while we discuss it.

Even if you don’t know it by the fancy name I used for it, you are no doubt familiar with it.  When you are reading a novel and the characters start telling each other things they would obviously know for the sake of revealing the information to the reader, like this:

Mother:  "When I had you on April 20, 1992, you were the cutest baby I ever saw.  I just don’t know what happened."

Daughter: "You know, mother, my life changed when Dad walked out on us.  Now all I want to do is smoke pot and watch TV all day long."

That is expositional dialogue.  I exaggerate, but you get the point.  Obviously, when the mother mentions her daughter’s birthdate, it is information her daughter already knows.  And when the daughter replies with choice bits about her own life, it is, again, information her mother knows. 

Expositional dialogue makes readers groan.  Avoid it.  Usually expositional dialogue is a lot less obvious than the above example.  Writers sometimes use it unwittingly in their never-ending efforts to show, not tell, so the impulse behind it is pure.

I was reminded of the issue of informational dialogue when reading a post on Trashionista, which gives a great example of it here.

Another Great Blogger

One of the things I am consistently amazed about is how positive and supportive the blogosphere is.  Over and over again, I meet other bloggers who are willing to go out of their way to help each other.  The best community, as far as I am concerned, is Blog Catalog, but there are plenty of other good ones as well.

One of the awesome bloggers from Blog Catalog, Kim Darrell, runs five, count ’em, five blogs.  You can read one of them here.   But don’t go there quite yet, because first you want to hop on over here and read all the nice things she said about little ole moi!

Thanks, Kim!  You’re the best.

Writing Exercise: The DaVinci Device

I learned the Da Vinci Device from one of my MFA mentors, Melissa Pritchard. (And let me note here, this was probably long before the dreadful novel The DaVinci Code came out and ruined the name.)

The DA Vinci Device forces you to write in the three different styles of description. Take an object or something from the natural world and describe it three different ways:

1. Objectively–In a strict journalistic fashion, ie, who, what, when, why, where, how, totally objective. These are concrete attributes you can see, smell, taste, etc. Here’s an example:

“It’s a small farm town in the San Luis Valley, down by the New Mexico border. High and dry, flat and windy, ringed by mountains—Sangre de Cristos to the east and south, San Juan, La Garita, and Conejos-Brazos to the north and west. White frosted in winter, dirt brown in spring, green in summer. The cottonwoods that it’s named for turn gold in autumn, and the air is thick with the damp earth smell of potatoes, piled at the edges of fields, stacked in bins and boxes, truckloads and railroad cars full.” (Judith Ryan Hendricks, Isabel’s Daughter).

2. Figuratively or Metaphorically—what does it look like? What does it remind you of? The house looked like a ship docking, etc.

“Even our father is pressed into dancing, which he does like a flightless bird, all flapping arms and potbelly.” (Michael Cunningham, White Angel).

3. Abstractly—relating it to the emotion you feel when you see it. Poetry is full of abstract description, relating an object to a quality apart from itself. Example:

“And Dawes was restless because it was August, and August wasn’t a month, it was a short afternoon, an executioner leading directly, without jury, and finally toward the school where they chained him to dull rooms…” (Dow Mossman, The Stones of Summer).

Here’s a brilliant descriptive passage that uses all several different kinds of description:

“The daughters march behind her, (concrete) four girls compressed in bodies tight as bowstrings, (figurative) each one tensed to fire off a woman’s heart on a different path to glory or damnation. (abstract).” (Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible).

This is a wonderful way to train yourself not only to describe things in different ways but to teach yourself to see.

So here’s your exercise: Take an object and practice The DaVinci Device on it. 10 minutes. Go.

Once you get used to doing this, you can do it all the time to keep your description muscle sharp.

Writing Exercises: Techniques for Generating Ideas and Getting Started

Techniques for Generating Ideas and Ideas for Getting Started Writing

Generating Ideas

MAKE LISTS:

The best way to do this is to do it fast. Number a page from one to ten or twenty and go!

Drawing from your own life:

1. Jobs you’ve had
2. Careers
3. Passions
4. Obsessions
5. Quirks
6. Pet peeves
7. Loves
8. Interests
9. Favorite authors and their themes
10. Habits
11. Places you’ve lived or visited.
12. Hobbies
13. Your daily routine
14. Family members
15. Pets you’ve had
16. Names of streets you’ve lived on.
17. Items of clothing you’ve loved
18. Cars you’ve owned
19. Lovers/Relationships
20. Dreams you remember
21. Favorite movies, their themes
22. Favorite phrases, where did they come from?
23. Your most-used cliches

Now take a look at your lists. Do you see any themes emerging? Do all your passions and obsessions coalesce around one main idea with offshoots? Can you start to write about items on your list? For instance, under places you’ve lived, write what you like and don’t like about them. Start to cross-pollinate. If you want to write a piece of fiction, you could transpose your daily routine onto living in a different place.

What would your current life be like in a totally new environment? Even changing none of the details of your daily routine, in a new place it would be different. If you moved to a small mountain town in the winter, for instance, suddenly you’d have to build in time every morning to shovel the snow away from your car. Of if you moved to LA from a smaller city, the morning commute would be much different. If you moved from LA to the country, you’d suddenly free up tons of time you used to spend in the car.

What if you crossed the authors on your list and imagined them writing about another author’s themes? What if a very macho male author wrote about domestic issues? What kind of story would result? For non-fiction, what kind of essay could you write linking several contemporary authors and exploring their themes in terms of a current social issue?

Drawing From the World:

1. Places you’d love to go
2. Political issues that make you crazy
3. Social problems you’d like to solve
4. Politicians you love
5. Politicians you hate
6. Celebrities you love
7. Celebrities you hate
8. TV shows you love/hate

Other ideas:

1. What you’d buy with a million dollars
2. What you’d take on a round the world journey
3. What three items you’d want with you on a dessert island
4. What people from your life you’d want with you on that island
5. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
6. Other deep questions from childhood (like #5)
7. The first three things you’d do if you ruled the world

You can think of numerous other ways to cross-pollinate from your lists, and you can also think of other things to add to it. Write new ideas for lists as they occur to you. Keep going back to the lists and use them as the basis of a journal entry or a free-write. The thing about ideas is once you start cultivating them, they come fast and furious.

Word Games

1. Choose 20 verbs, 20 nouns, and 20 adjectives. Write them each on a separate piece of paper and put them, according to category, in separate containers. When you are ready to write, draw one of each, make a sentence of it, and start writing.

2. A variation on the above is to choose 20 occupations, 20 personality traits, and 20 locations. Draw one of each, create a character from it and start writing.

3. Take a thesaurus, photocopy random pages from it. Run your finger down the listings with eyes closed, stop, and use that word to create a sentence and then a paragraph.
4. Take first lines of poetry and use them as starting points. Or take a poem, photocopy it, cut up all the words and put them back together again into a sentence or several.

5. Use Refrigerator Word Magnets to create sentences and spark ideas.

If you have a vague idea, but aren’t sure how to develop it, try the following:

1. Utilize the five Ws and the one H. Who, what, when, why, where and how. Answer all of these in depth for your idea.

2. Explain the idea, in writing, as if you were explaining it to an alien who does not understand the mores of society. For instance, if you had an idea about the history of desks, you’d have to start by explaining what a desk is. If you had an idea to write about marriage, you’d have to explain what marriage is. This is an excellent way to go deeper into the heart of the idea.

3. Look at it through different lenses. How would a reporter, a poet, a screenwriter, a novelist, a short story writer, an essayist, a letter writer approach it?

4. As above, put through the eyes of people you know.

5. The old standby, do a cluster.

6. Quickly cut pictures from magazines that remind you of your idea and make a collage.

7. Do a repetitive activity, like walking or sewing or knitting or weeding. Some thing about this jars ideas loose.

The Big Questions

1. Why do you want to write?
2. What moves you?
3. What stops you?
4. For whom are you writing?
5. How can you be true to yourself as a writer?
6. What causes you to get blocked?
7. What is your legacy?

Other Useful Techniques

1. Brainstorming. Take one of your lists and force yourself to go deeper, writing as many ideas from it as you can in one minute.

2. Over-responding. Similar to above. Take an idea, a problem, a concern and over respond. Similar to over-reacting, except over-reacting is desperate and over-responding is positive. Think of all the ways you could possibly solve a problem and then push yourself to list more. This would be great for character development—over-respond to a character’s problem and think of all the possible things that could happen to her.

3. Utilize your sub-conscious. Tell it you need an idea. Tell it you need to develop an idea you have. As you are falling asleep, read over what you have and tell your sub-conscious to work on it in the night. Or do that right before you go for a walk.

You can easily hire writers at smartwritingservice.com to have your essays and term papers written from scratch! Check it out!

Blog Carnivals

One of my blog catalog friends, Jimbozs2000, has started a blog carnival.  Its pretty cool, all the moreso because he picked up one of my posts.  Head on over to his blog and check it out.  You’ll see me if you scroll down a bit and you can also lclick on the Why I Write heading.

While you are there, check out some of the other great blogs he has linked to.  A lot of them are people from blog catalog, which in my not-so humble opinion is the most user-friendly and fun blog networking site.

By the way, Jimbozs maintains about 10 blogs.  I’m not quite sure how he has the time to keep them all going.  I am in awe!

Typepad Outage

The Typepad data facility had a power outage this afternoon and nobody could access Typepad for a few hours.  All seems well now.  So, if you tried to get on earlier and were wondering what was going on…that’s the scoop.