Saturday, January 12, 2013

Join me, won't you?

Ah, so. This blog is close to my heart; hell, I've left bits of my heart pulsating on the pages. But, everything changes. Please visit my new website, including blog and other squishy things. I've e-published a collection of short stories, and the new site does a better job of putting it all together. It's not Blogger. It's me. Thanks for reading "the dull yellow eye," y'all. I'd love you to jump on over to the darker side.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Triumphant comeback notwithstanding, my writing output's been herky-jerky, a paragraph here, 1000 words there. Days in between. I've heard people suggest giving myself a deadline, but then I'd just feel guilty about breaking an arbitrary goal I'd set for myself. I don't need more practice with that, to be honest.

I thought I'd try immersion, a couple of weeks ago. I discovered Camp Nanowrimo (, a new 50k-in-one-month project brought to the world in August. I cranked out 1700 words the first day and then let life distract me. Vet appointments, changes at work, dates with the hubby, lollygagging. Today's the 8th? Yeah. But, hey. 1700 (Ok, about 2000--I've added a few bits here & there since the 1st) words more than what I had on July 31st, and a new idea for a longer story out of it, as well. So, I'm ahead, relatively speaking.

I have my shiny new replacement computer provided by the nice NVidia folks, and I still get a wee thrill when I sit down in front of it. My office is cozy, environmentally encouraging for free thinking and navel gazing. I have pistachios. All systems go.

(crickets chirping)

I think part of the problem (beyond the nameless terror preventing me from making an honest effort) is my tendency to dwell on how little time I have in blocks. Not that I don't really have enough time, because I do. But I take a long time to settle in, arrange the above-mentioned bowl of pistachios (and the empty bowl for the shells) and a glass of iced tea into a configuration within reach but not in the way, find a place in the story to start, choose the appropriate music for the mood I'm in/trying to evoke, narrow down the font I want for the day and get into a state of proper concentration. There's serious preparation going on, here. By the time all that's done, it's time for whatever outside obligation I have for the day. And with the interruptions (potty breaks for me and the dogs, refills on the tea, checking the mail, generalized scratching,) I often get nowhere even with the best intention.

I know this is a common problem. I think it's called procrastination. I remember hearing somewhere that people aren't lazy. They're either sick or tired. That helps us feel a little better about ourselves, maybe, but the problem's still there.

But hey, I'm writing a little something every day, if only a meandering blog post or a grocery list. I use a pen to mark off the day on the calendar. Things are looking up. I'm rusty, sure. But not rusted shut.

I just had a brilliant idea. I could maintain the longest-running blog for an aspiring writer who can't ever quite get to the writing. Each week a new hope, dashed by ennui, anxiety and/or prime-time television. Tonight was "True Blood." You don't expect me to miss that, do you? It's literary and everything. I'm studying story structure over a larger arc.

I'm 43. I'm a patient woman. The question is, how much time do I really have, and do I really want to be writing horror stories when I'm 82? Ok, that's not the question, because the answer is yeah, I really do want that. The question is, when will I hit bottom and start to crawl back up, so i can be writing stories when I'm 82? See? Plenty of time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wow. That was dark.

So, after I dug myself out of the yard and hosed off, I started reading a collection of Eudora Welty stories I'd gotten months ago.

(I'm also reading an early collection of Kelly Link's, "Stranger Things Happen." I've been having very genteel, very disturbed dreams lately. I'll drone on about Ms. Link, one of my literary heroes, another time. But real quick: go to the Small Beer Press site (, download the collection for free (!) and read "Water Off a Black Dog's Back" first. I get thrills just thinking about it.)

The first Eudora Welty story I read was a few years ago, "A Worn Path." Old Phoenix Jackson trudges along a worn path from country into town on an errand. She encounters obstacles and annoyances and borderline unpleasantness on the way, but taking the journey with her lets us spend a little time getting to know this woman, both from her thoughts and reactions, and from her expectations of others. That kind of steadfast strength and devotion is inspiring, especially considering the effort it takes her. And she never wavers, even when her frailty would make someone less set on the path question her purpose, and even when we wonder toward the end if the purpose for her journey even exists anymore, in a practical sense.

I think a lot of people read the story in school, but I'd never come across it. I'd love to include a link to a video of an interview with Ms. Welty in 1994 about this story--she sounds just like I'd imagined she would--but this site won't display the links I've attached. Harrumph. Here's the address:

I just read another of hers, "The Key." A train station full of waiting passengers, everyone keeping to themselves in one way or another. A young man drops a key accidentally, the sounds of which startles everyone. When the key slides up in front of an older, worn man sitting next to his equally weary wife, the story takes on a poignancy difficult to watch.

The thing that jumps out at me about Ms. Welty and other southern writers (the ones whose stuff I've read a little of, anyway--Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, Dorothy Allison, Cormac McCarthy) is the ugliness. Beautiful writing, clean and strongly visual. Ugly characters in an unbending world, even when the surface is civil enough and pleasantries are exchanged.

I know everyone probably knows this stuff already, has read the same stories and noticed the same thing. But I like thinking about this contradiction, about how viciousness can be bone deep and not break the skin.

A quick look at the Wikipedia site got me this list of contemporary southern writers:

Among today's prominent southern writers are Tim Gautreaux, William Gay, Padgett Powell, Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg, Randall Kenan, Ernest Gaines, John Grisham, Mary Hood, Lee Smith, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Wendell Berry, Cormac McCarthy, Ron Rash, Chris Offutt, Anne Rice, Edward P. Jones, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Maron,, R.B. Morris, Anne Tyler, Larry Brown, Allan Gurganus, Clyde Edgerton, Daniel Wallace, Kaye Gibbons, Winston Groom, Lewis Nordan, Richard Ford, Ferrol Sams, Natasha Trethewey, and Olympia Vernon.


Do I already have way too many books waiting for me to read them? Yeah. I don't care. I'm piling on.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Poseur! ... Dilettante! ... HYPOCRITE.

Do you listen to the voice in your head? Maybe not everyone has one, or the one telling you you're a has-been, a loser, undeserving of the shiny new desk in your office and bereft of original thought or the discipline to mold a readable story from thin air and some twine.

We're so bent on figuring it all out, on setting in stone our definitions of who we are. I do the same thing. Then, sometimes I remind myself I'm not finished yet. The stories I'll tell won't be completely told until I'm hot-footing it in the crematorium and everyone's gathered at the party in my honor, chatting each other up, munching on canapes and talking about how fabulous I was, et cetera et cetera. So, why try so hard to judge now?

I think we like to understand the framework. Then we build our understanding around it, place the "it" in its proper classification and move on in an orderly fashion. Yeah, it's a monkey thing. Chaos is upsetting. Unpredictable means potential for being eaten by pterodactyls when you've left your club in the cave. Knowing the score is where it's at. I get it.

I gotta say, this whole mindset does balls* for writing.

I've spent the last year spiraling the drain, trying to force creative thinking, spanking myself when nothing comes, comparing my relative failure to those talented writers around me who've worked hard and made solid strides toward their goals. I've been sliding backward and succeeding at punishing myself for it. And before that, I presented myself as someone who could tell people creativity is all around us; just pluck it from the collective unconscious like cotton candy. Tra la la. Heh. My self-fulfilling cosmic flagellation has kicked into overdrive.

Maybe I should just float along into complacency, accept I'm one of the 99% of people who dabbled a bit for a while before they found Funyuns or Hose Monsters of Newark (or whatever new trash has made the fall TV lineup.) Complacency implies a certain surface satisfaction, though. I ain't got even that.

Am I a fake? Since I've stopped telling people "I'm working on (insert current project here)," not technically. I'd give anything to be able to call myself a poseur again, though. Dilettante. I don't care. I just want to be able to write again and not feel like burying myself in the yard afterward. I'll worry about shucking the wanna-be label later.

* I got "balls" from Great word. Not used enough. Great blog, also not used enough. (Glad you're back, missy. Get to posting.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Good or Good Enough?

I had a conversation with a friend several days ago. We were discussing story critique and judgment about when a story is "good enough." The question came up (in my head) about the point of the whole endeavor. Each person has their own fantastic goal. Some strive for genius, beauty, meaning. Some want fame, cash, prizes, critical acclaim ...

Is it possible to publish stories which are both accessible to a large audience and artistically accomplished?

Here's my point: when do we decide our story is finished? How perfect does it need to be to deserve an audience? Is there equal value between working toward our version of perfection and stopping when we've reached a level of marketability? One road leads to insanity, but I'm honestly not sure which one.

This reminds me of those other folks: writers truly motivated by the desire to create. They toil, seek endlessly to improve on structure, character, dialogue, et cetera--intending to reach the pinnacle of each aspect. Is this purity laudable? Crippling? It seems it doesn't matter how accomplished a writer they are, they remain unsatisfied. They never let go completely, and perspective becomes a weak alternative to the highest standard. This could even be a custody issue. Boundaries, right? Who does the story belong to, ultimately? If we don't write with the intention to share, then why?

I admire anyone who can write a story of whatever length which draws an audience. My goals with writing fall somewhere closer to center along the spectrum. I want to write thought-provoking, well-crafted stories scads of people clamor to read. Do I want to get paid for them? Heck, yeah. Would I sell my soul for a multiple-project contract? Ask me when that becomes a remote possibility, and I might have an answer.*

As always, I have plenty of questions and no real answer. C'est la pee. ;)

*For another time, perhaps: the question of e-publishing in the new digital world of trade books. Is print and the associated old-world gauntlet even necessary anymore? Everyone has an opinion, right?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Constipation, Confidence and Cannibalization

I'm trying to approach my situation with a more objective eye, which will be a refreshing change from the hand-wringing I've been allowing myself the past (mrmphmm) number of months.

In case you're not familiar, my situation is one of blockage.

Creative constipation is a common issue, one with several potential solutions, but also dreaded. I see it as akin to sexual impotence. The power of suggestion creates the problem in most cases, and will intensify the degree to which the problem mainfests. When we can relax about it, it eases up, creating a Chinese fingertrap of the process. This helps me wrap my head around it with a clear image to visualize, and we all know the first step is to recognize the problem.

I'm stumbling back into writing. It's a herky-jerky experience: clumsy, embarrassing, frustrating, and exhilarating. Because at least I'm fricking trying. I haven't given up. I haven't killed the urge. What cracks me up is the image of the poor constipated soul straining over the toilet who makes tangible progress one morning and falls right off the toilet seat because he's out of practice.

I can feel I'm not where I was, both in confidence and ability. I'm beating at these stories with rusted clubs, when last year I would've used filament wire to shape them. The dents are noticeable, and those stories from last year feel like they were written by someone else. The realization confidence plays a larger role in the process and the end result is what's exhilarating. And terrifying. Learning how to use punctuation or grammar is concrete, black/white, right/wrong, and not considered exciting by most people. The difficult stuff, the aspects requiring judgment and subtlety, those need confidence from the writer. Confidence both in the ability but also in the story the writer's trying to tell. How many of us have enough control over our thinking to switch gears from hesitant to adventurous? To find that oomph and intrepid spirit again?

I don't know if I do, but I haven't given up. Part of me is watching this whole experience from a distance, stashing and cannibalizing it for future stories. That's a good sign, right?

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's been awhile.

I haven't posted for a while, and thought it was time I got back onto the mule. Heeyah.

Which is funny, because the writing's been off the mule, too. Sporadic bursts here and there, like milk from the nose and just as attractive. Even though I know what's behind my inability to surge forth and conquer, I haven't been able to get past this hobby horse of an obstacle. You'd think my fear of leaving nothing of consequence behind after my death would at least match my fear of not meeting my own expectations.

Has the well run dry? Is that it? All I've got has been spilt onto the page? I'm an empty vessel, tabula rasa?

Good question.

I hope you weren't expecting me to have an answer. If you're here for more questions, though, I've got those by the barrel, mister.

Here's one:
What's the point of stories? Why write? For that matter, why read? In the larger picture, I mean. We all have our personal reasons for why we do what we do. But on a societal level, what's the true value of fiction? I understand and wholly support finding a path to others' experience. But do you think it works? Are we becoming any more compassionate as a species after centuries of fine, evocative works to learn from? If not for finding compassion and mutual understanding, what's the why of literature?

I can't fool myself into thinking I need an answer laid out before I'll be productive again; even my hindbrain knows a flimsy excuse when one piffles about in front of it. But it's a question worth asking, no? Any thoughts?