1913: The Year Before the Storm

Friends who give you great books are priceless.  I have savored and just completed 1913: The Year Before the Storm, by Florian Illies.  Sadly, my German language skills are nil, but I read an excellent translation, thanks to the skills of Shaun Whiteside and Jamie Lee Searle.  This amazing book offers a month-by-month description of selected events that took place before “the war to end all wars.”  Henry Ford put a conveyer belt in his car factory, Louis Armstrong picked up a trumpet, Chaplin signed his first movie contract, Proust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring–the list goes on.
Some quotes:
from Thomas Mann:  “And how greatly and severely war is felt as a crisis of moral cleansing, as a grandiose stride of life’s seriousness beyond all sentimental confusions.”  His reference was the war of 1870-71.
from Thomas Mann (again):  “Give us today our daily sheet of paper.”  All writers should relate to that comment. On the same subject:  “I need white, smooth paper, fluid ink and a new, softly gliding pen nib. To prevent myself making a mess of it, I put a sheet of lined paper underneath.  I can work anywhere; all I need is a roof over my head.  The open sky is good for unbridled dreams and outlines, but precise work requires the shelter of a roof.”
Illies shares a story from June 20, 1913, when an unemployed thirty-year old teacher, Ernst Friedrich Schmidt walked into a school “draped in weapons.”  He went on a shooting rampage with loaded revolvers.  Five girls, aged 7-8, died; eighteen children and five adults were severely injured.  A passer-by overpowered him.  His rationale?  He was protesting not finding a teaching position.  It seems that mass shootings are not as new as we think.
And from Illies, talking about Thomas Mann:  “…but only by the sea does one have an uninterrupted view of the soul–and of the mountains before it.”
May we all write with such grace.

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Right/Wrong Way to Read a Book

From the New York Times, Sept. 27, 2016–an interesting perspective on reading.  Potentially useful for classes on information literacy or reading comprehension.

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Writing Resources

Recently, I was asked if I could provide some resources for poetry and for writing generally.  Rather than create a document to share, I thought I’d return to my blog and begin a thread for writing resources, with reason(s) for selecting them, and also create a separate page where I could compile them.
A few months ago, a friend, Cathie, gave me a book that I quickly came to treasure:  Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing, a book that offers multiple treasures.  The insights are amazing and apply to any type of writing.  While you can read the book from front to back, I doubt you can absorb it that way.  The book is divided into small sections that you can “dip” into or work your way through systematically.  Whether Klinkenborg discusses the job of the writer (“making sentences”) or “noticing” or “reading out loud” or “flow,” he touches on the heart of the pleasure and challenge of writing.  I try to read a one-two page section every day and I know that, at the end of the book, I will simply close the back cover and re-open the front cover to begin again.
What’s your favorite book about writing?

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Writing Practices

Finding a writing practice can be a challenge for all sorts of reasons.  Many of us have full-time jobs, families, other responsibilities that have nothing to do with writing.  Sometimes, if our full-time jobs involve writing, we come home “written out” and find it hard to write some more.  Some of us are intimidated by a blank page.  Some of us think we can only write if we have long blocks of time.  Some of us can only write in a certain place.  Some of us think that we’ll get to it tomorrow.  Some of us suffer from writers’ block.  The list of barriers goes on.
Once, I had the privilege of meeting Elmore Leonard.  He was a great writer (unfortunately, he died in 2013) and also a complete sweeper-aside of anything that sounded like “b.s.” to him.  Which included the list of barriers in paragraph one.  When he was the keynote speaker at a writers conference sponsored by the Detroit Women Writers (as it was then known) and held at Oakland University in Rochester Michigan, he gave a speech that was serviceable, but not memorable to me.
What was memorable was what happened in the Q&A after the speech.  A young man, possibly a student at the university, asked Mr. Leonard:  “what do you do about writers’ block?”  At that point, Mr. Leonard trembled with rage.  He leaned over the podium towards the student, who shrank back in his seat.  “Writers’ block?” shouted Mr. Leonard.  “Writers’ block?”  He paused. “You either want to write or you don’t.”
This has stuck with me over the years and served me well.  While I was certainly glad that I was not the target of Mr. Leonard’s rage, I felt it and I suspect so did every person in the room.  Whether it’s about writers’ block or any other issue, his point is absolute.  If we want to write, that’s what we should do—write.  Let’s do it!

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Critique Groups

Last week, I had the privilege of facilitating a discussion about critique groups at a “writers table” hosted by the California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch.  I’ve been fortunate to have participated in a number of these groups over the years and I find them invaluable.  Our discussion covered the basics:  how to set up ground rules, ideas for critiquing, group management, and so on, but the question that circled around over and over again was this:  how do I find one?  Perhaps it might be more accurate to say:  how do I find one that’s right for me?
I’ve never really known the answer to this.  Networking gets you closer to finding a group, but finding one where the participants are approximately at your level, are equitable in their approach, and know how to offer feedback in a meaningful way is a tough job.  Right now, I participate in a fabulous poetry group called Greenhearts, organized by Sharon Coleman, an amazing and thoughtful poet who always wants the best for poets everywhere.  She’s the founder and moderator and we are all grateful. Our group members write wildly differently, but they’re all high quality poets and many publish regularly.  Its a gift and I look forward to our almost weekly meetings with joy and anticipation.
I also belong to another poetry critique group that meets in the evenings.  Robert Eastwood leads it and it’s held twice a month at two different homes.  I only go to one (there’s a limit to how many of these groups you can handle), but that group is so very different from the other poetry group that I get very different feedback.  That feedback is less intense than what I receive and share in the first group I mentioned, but the difference is invaluable.
I also belong to a writing group whose members write novels (historical, young adult), short stories, memoirs, many types of prose.  Again, we have a founder and moderator:  Gloria Lenhart.  She says she started her groups (she runs more than one) because she wanted a critique group for her own work, but her energy and dynamism in making it work (now for many years) is a testament to talents beyond her writing talent.  It’s not an easy task.  She has some basic requirements that include not only being willing to listen to honest and well-delivered feedback but also to demonstrate that the feedback makes a difference as new pieces are brought to the group and the benefit of the feedback becomes visible through the writing.
Good critique groups are serious business for serious writers.  They are not “love-ins” nor should they be.  If a group wants to get together to share and enjoy each others’ work, that’s great, but it’s not a critique group.  If you’re just getting together to write independently in each other’s company, that’s great, too, but it’s a “meet-up” not a critique group (I have one of those, too—I love it).
A critique group takes work.  You must be prepared to read others’ work and provide honest, thoughtful feedback that takes time to prepare.  The advantage is that by analyzing others’ work, you learn how they put their pieces together and that’s a bonus because you learn their strengths and can make them your own.
Right now, I feel tremendously blessed to have these groups in my writing life and I thank every one of the people in them from founders and moderators to participants.  Thank you.  You make my writing life and my work better.  I hope I do the same for you.

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Back in the Land of the Living

poems_in_progressI may have been on hiatus for six weeks, but, happily, it’s been for a good cause—writing.  I spent the first part of the year preparing extensively for the visit of Jeffrey Levine, founder of Tupelo Press, poet extraordinaire, and mentor to many of us.  Jeffrey offers experiences (workshop, conference, other words don’t justice to the process he offers) and I was in a position to immerse myself in three two-day experiences while he was here.  Jeffrey has now offered these events for four years and each time I attend, I come away rejuvenated, readier than ever to write, and more able to get at what I truly want/need to say.  Last August (see previous posts), I participated in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 project, which helped me to generate new work at a tremendous pace (30 poems in 30 days).  I’ll throw out some of what I created, no doubt, but I have much raw material to work with and have been doing so for the last six months.  I also made the decision to spend at least one day a week generating new work rather than creating something and revising it before I moved on to the next thing.  The brain needs a mix of generation and revision, I learned—an invaluable lesson for my creative life.  Of course, after he left, I had to catch up on the rest of my life, but I seem to be coming up for air now and am working to get into a new writing routine that balances generation and revision more equitably.  I also find I enjoy writing even more in my new routine and that feeds into better work.  I’m enjoying the upswing and will participate in Tupelo’s May conference to keep me going.
Image credit: http://www.commongoodbooks.com/event/poems-progress, accessed 9 Feb 2016.

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Holiday Mayhem

I love the holidays when I can get together with friends and family and just “chill” (as the verb goes).  Of course, such get-togethers involve food (I love to cook), good conversation, and lazing about.  Much of this isn’t good for my exercise program, or writing, but I manage to get in at least a little of both.
Happy-New-Year-2016New Year’s Day looms and that means resolutions.  In my last blog, I wrote about my annual resolution to get ahead of “submit by” dates.  Even if I fail and make only a few “early bird” submissions, the resolution will be worth it.  It lingers in my mind.
A key aspect to resolutions is not to go overboard.  A couple are ample. My two center on writing practice and exercise.  When I limit my resolutions to a couple, I make headway.  I may not get as far as I’d like, but I do make progress.  I don’t overwhelm myself.
When people make a “list” of resolutions, often ten, I wonder how they manage.  I suspect each individual experiences resolution-making differently, but no matter how many resolutions we make, I hope that one of them is to take time to breathe, to think, to improve something from writing to exercise to whatever goal each of us has.  May 2016 be good to everyone.
Image credit:  http://www.twoten9.com/515-happy-new-year-2016-images-1.html

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Coming Up for Air

Just as everything else goes crazy at the holidays, so does writing and everything connected to it—or so I’ve found.  I’ve always been determined to write every day or, at least, six days out of seven.  Preparation for the holidays usually means I write less, but I still chug out something every day, good or bad.  I’ve also noticed that deadlines come in spurts and December 31 is one of them.  I hope to get ahead of “submit by” dates, but, often, I fail.  One of my annual New Year’s resolutions is submit earlier.  I expect I’ll resolve to do that again in 2016 and only succeed one or two times.
new_year_aheadThe other aspect of today’s writing is marketing, which consumes—or should I say, subsumes—me.  Dickens never had to do this.  Why do I?  Pointless question, but it nags at me.  I am a very poor self-promoter, but I need to spend more time on that, too.
As the hustle of Christmas and bustle of New Year loom large, I hope all my online readers have a wonderful season, but still manage to keep writing.  After all, fellow NaNoWriMo writers, we managed to write 50,000 words in a month.  We can make it through the holidays.

Photo credit:  http://www.propertymanager.com/2010/10/preparing-property-management-office-years-end/ 
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The Argon Factor: Book 1, by Heather Harlow

Plot Summary:The Argon Factor Book Cover
Susan Caldwell is one of GTS’s Security Development and Design Managers.  She’s new to Boston and this company and was hoping to get a new start, leaving her old life and distrust of men behind.  But now, her life is in danger and she has to depend upon a man to keep her safe.
Christoph Baldric is CEO of GTS and the Argon Earth-based Commander.  His alien race has been living in secret on Earth for centuries, assisting the Earth humans in their maturity and technological advancements in hopes to one day integrate and reveal themselves to the humans.
About Author Profle_Picture _ HHarlowHeather has wanted to be an author since adolescence. The Argon Factor is her first book in a series about aliens from the planet Argon.  She’s always been a fan of superheroes:  Batman and Robin, Spiderman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Six Million Dollar Man, and the Bionic Woman.
She likes sci-fi movies and series, like Star Trek and Battle Star Galactica. More recently, she’s been enjoying the Avenger movies. In addition to her sci-fi interests, she’s a romantic. Therefore, it was natural for her to write about science fiction and combine it with a human interest story with romance.
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Whew! NaNoWriMo ends

Remington12I emerge after a month of clacking typewriter keys and realizing that while I wrote 50,000 words, I still haven’t finished my novel draft.  No matter—I’m “over the hump” and am confident that I’ll finish by the end of December.  It’s been a whirlwind ride, but if I hadn’t leveraged NaNoWriMo in November, I’d be much further behind, so thank you NNWM.  I hope others in the NNWM frenzy have had good experiences, too.  I also did something I didn’t expect—I signed up for two online groups, one locally, but one that gathered in my original home town—Dundee, Scotland.  I suddenly got curious about how another place in another country managed the month-long process.  They were fantastic.  There were tons of tips for everything from keeping writing to avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome.  The organizers were terrific.  As for my local online group, they were far less active, but I was also more involved with other writers face-to-face here, so perhaps I missed something.  Regardless, it’s been an interesting experience.  I don’t know if I’ll do it every year, but I’ll certainly do it again when I need to create a lengthy draft.  As many others have found, I got swept up in the camaraderie of it all, the deadline, the word count, the whole experience.  May all our drafts be good ones.
Image Credit:  http://sevenels.net/typewriters/rems.htm
Note:  This is the typewriter that my Dad was given during the war and had to carry with him wherever he went, usually on the back of a motorcycle.  He kept it well into the 1980s.  The platen was so narrow, he had to fold a business-sized envelope to fit into the typewriter if he wanted to type an address.

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