Tag Archives | Seattle

Five Things on Friday: July 24, 2015

AnotherReadThroughSignHere we go again.  It's still summer, still hot, but rain is forecast tomorrow.  Yay!

What I'm grateful for: Friends and family who turned out en masse last night to hear me read from The Bonne Chance Bakery manuscript, and to also hear Kayla Dawn Thomas read from her latest novel, Tackling Summer.  She and I are Twitter friends and since she lives in Washington and I live in Oregon we'd never met until last night.  So fun. She's awesome!  The bookstore where we read, Another Read Through, is awesome, too, and owner Elisa offers readings every Thursday night.  She's a huge supporter of local writers and a really cool person, too.

What I'm reading: The last two weeks I've been struggling through Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. She's a NYT bestselling author, but frankly, I was not overly impressed with her writing.  It was certainly serviceable enough, but the characters never grabbed or charmed me. I looked up the reviews on Amazon, and while many were over-the-top glowing, several agreed with me.  I also learned that she is known for her twists at the end, so I skimmed and skipped to find out what this one was.  And can I just say that if I'd bothered to read the whole thing I would have been furious? Like, throw-the-book-across-the-room, rip-it-into-shreds-even-though-it-was-a-library-book furious.  The twist was as hackneyed and stupid as the old it was all a dream schtick.  

Now I'm reading, sort of, Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I say sort of, because it's sort of depressing.  Not giving anything away here to tell you the premise, which is that the moon gets whacked out of orbit by an asteroid and terrible things happen on earth.  It's all written from a teenager's perspective.  It is compelling, but sometimes I just can't take apocalyptic fiction. Although, in looking for a link I've just discovered this book launched a whole series, so that's hopeful.  I also discovered that Pfeffer retired from writing books last year, which I just don't get. I want to write books until they shovel me into the ground, many years into the future.

I'm also reading After Perfect, a memoir by Christina McDowell, the story of a wealthy family losing everything.  Another cheery one.  But its good.

Where I've Been: Seattle, last weekend.  More to the point, the suburbs south of Seattle, near the Sea-Tac airport.  My cousin (and fifty million other cousins) lives up there in a house a few feet from Puget Sound.  Nice spot, to put it mildly.  We were celebrating the wedding of her youngest daughter, and even though I nearly got arrested (I'm exaggerating the tiniest bit) by an overly zealous traffic-type person who didn't want to let us cross a street where a parade was congregating, it was a lot of fun.  After all, few things are better in life than watching your three-year-old grandson entertain a roomful of people by dancing to Shut Up and Dance.

 

What I Need: A housecleaner.  Every time I gaze (in a writerly manner) in any direction in this house I see cobwebs. Sigh.  At least I'm making progress on sorting through files and books in my office, in advance of moving it back downstairs.  I WILL get this project done before I leave for Europe in September.

What I'm Reading Online: I read a lot of blogs and newsletters, but surprisingly, not a lot on writing.  Oh well, my tastes have always been eclectic.  For writing blogs, I recommend Writer Unboxed (I love Barbara O'Neal's posts there), Janice Hardy's Fiction University, and Shawn Coyne's work on Story Grid.  Oh, also Steven Pressfield.  

And now, here's my compendium of non-writing blogs and newsletters I follow: thekitchensgarden, where New Zealand transplant Cecilia writes every day about her "farmy" and also dispenses all manner of practical wisdom; Dispatch From La and Kelly Rae Roberts for visual inspiration, emails from Steve Chandler and Brian Johnson for kick-ass motivation, and Leonie Dawson for a combination of visual, crazy, and down-to-earth inspiration.  I know there are more, but these are enough for now.

And that's enough from me for now! What's going on with you as we cruise toward the end of July? I think we should all take a cue from Henry and get some dancing in this weekend!

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Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

ElliottBayBooks

A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students–I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?

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Report From AWP 2014

If you were on Twitter this weekend, you probably saw #AWP14 trending.  If you were on Facebook, you no doubt noticed a lot of photos from Seattle (the Space Needle! Chihuly Glass! Pike Place Market!) and people quoting various writers.  And if you read last week's newsletter/most recent post, you know that I was one of the many writers who attended three full days of panels, readings and an enormous bookfair at AWP in Seattle.

When I say many, I mean many.  I heard estimates between 11,000 and 13,000.  The official AWP website says "over 10,00" and also that it is the largest literary conference in North America.

I believe it.  Events were held at the Sheraton (the official conference hotel, where I stayed, one of a gazillion hotels that housed us), the huge convention center and the convention center annex.  I've never been on so many escalators in my life.  There are events all day long and into the evening at these venues, as well as numerous off-site parties, readings, and get-togethers at night.

AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and the organization is comprised of 50,000 writers, 500 college and university programs, and 125 writers' conferences and centers.  (I'm quoting from the website.)  Many of these programs and centers exhibit at the conference, along with numerous literary journals and small presses.  The Bookfair is unbelievably huge and I've learned over the years not to buy or collect too much, or the tote bag you get upon picking up your badge will not fit in your luggage for the return trip home.

The schedule features panels, readings and, if you're a really big author, an interview or discussion about your work.  But most of the day is taken up by panels of three or four writers plus a moderator. Any member can submit a panel (I've got a group in discussion about submitting for next year and have been on a panel in the past).  The subjects vary wildly, from topics on craft, to pedagogy, to trends in publishing, to information on how to create a winning reading.  Anything related to literature might find a home on an AWP panel.  As a wild guess, I'd say there are upwards of 30 panels and readings at each time slot during the day, of which there are six, and then there are two time slots for readings in the evening as well.  The selection is, to be honest, overwhelming. And it's a crap shoot as well, with the panels varying widely in quality (which is why there's no stigma attached to arriving or leaving in the middle of a presentation).

AWP is about as literary a conference as you're going to get.  (Some might same that a few panels even lean toward the arcane.)  You don't attend expecting to hear the latest bestselling romance author speak, that's for sure.  And it is a stronghold of writers from traditional university programs with legacy publishing house contracts.  Which is why it was so interesting to me to see Amazon all over the place–as sponsor, exhibitor, and host of two panels.  Indeed, Jon Fine, director of author and publishing relations at Amazon, joked that he used to feel he should wear a Kevlar vest to protect himself at such events, though things have changed in the last year or so. (I meant to write more about these panels in this post but since it is already getting so long I will save that info for another day.)

I gotta say, being around this many people for several days is wonderful–and also a bit much.  I think of myself as a balance between introvert and extrovert.  I crave time alone spent writing, but at the end of the day, I'm ready for human contact.  This year at AWP, I realized that maybe I'm more on the introverted scale than I thought.  I'm actually very outgoing and easily strike up conversations with strangers. But, after a couple of panels and a stroll through the bookfair, I needed to go back to my hotel and get some downtime.

A non-writing friend asked me if I was meeting new people.  Yes, and no.  Mostly I hung out with my dear friend Diana, which was the best treat ever.  (She has an amazing new book of poems just out called Lust, which I highly recommend.)  Diana's son Josh runs a hip literary journal called The Newer York Press and it was fun to meet him and the people who work with him.  I reconnected with old friends from my MFA days and that is always a pleasure. I had some entertaining brief chats with other writers. But the conference is so big and overwhelming that it is not conducive to meeting new folks. (The place where I did meet people was on the train.  My seatmate on the way up was also attending AWP so we chatted happily off and on from Portland to Seattle, and the woman I shared a cab with from the station to the hotel was also from Portland.  Turns out we are pretty sure we used to know each other when we were both active with a local writing group.)

To me, attending AWP is acknowledgment that there is a huge like-minded community out there that cares about the same things that I do.  It's fun to wander around town and see other people with the tell-tale lime-green lanyard attached to their badge and feel a connection.  It's thrilling to walk the street from the hotel to the convention center in a throng of writers.  It's amazing to come home with your head buzzing from all the information it has just absorbed–and also to feel energized and excited about the possibilities for putting words on the page.

So, if you get the chance, attend AWP some time.  You don't have to be affiliated with any university or writing program, all you have to be is interested in writing.  Next year the conference will be in Minneapolis in April.  I'm pretty sure I'll be there!

What's your favorite writing conference?  Do you make it a point to attend conferences regularly?

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