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On the Docket for 2015

2 Jan
A partial reading list for Novel #3.

A partial reading list for Novel #3.

In 2014, I focused my blogging attentions to 16 posts on writing prompts for PloughsharesNow that the series is done (though stay tuned–I have plans for them), here’s a little update on what I’ve got on deck for 2015.

What are your plans for 2015?

The Tangible, The Visceral

3 Nov

My latest blog post for Ploughshares explores the sense of touch in writing, with wisdom from Aristotle, Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E at the Henry Art Gallery, Natalie Goldberg, Diane Ackerman, and John Edgar Wideman, and with a bit of inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. Here’s how the post begins:

Touch is the sense common to all species. So wrote Aristotle in Historia Animalum and De Anima. And so is the premise for the art show Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, which I’ve been helping out with here in Seattle, and which explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature, as well as our ability to be touched, emotionally and intellectually, through the private act of reading.

This got me thinking about the importance of touch in writing. Like the sense of smell, touch is a tad neglected when compared to the senses we gravitate toward first: the visual and the auditory. But think about how connected you’ve felt to a text when the author captures a particular tactile sensation or visceral reaction? How do those moments create emotional and intellectual resonance?

continue reading

Escalating Conflict

13 Oct

My latest blog post for Ploughshares offers suggestions for inserting and escalating conflict in fiction, with advice from Stephanie Kallos, Janet Burroway, and Merrill Feitell. Here’s how it starts:

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. For the conflict averse, instilling a story with juicy conflict may take some practice. Someone who has read many drafts of many of my short stories once dubbed me “Anca Did She Forget the Conflict Szilagyi”–a moniker that has become helpful as I work on second and third drafts of stories. As is often the case in learning something, I was aware, theoretically, that I had this problem. But how to proceed?

Continue reading

Skitter on SoundCloud

13 Jul

In honor of Friday the 13th, I’ve uploaded to SoundCloud a recording of a short story of mine, “Skitter,” about a man losing all of this teeth. It’s the first time I’ve recorded myself (except for an experiment or two for teaching English as a second language), so please forgive the faint whine of a lawn mower coming from outside! I think it adds a certain je ne sais quoi. More aural fun to come!

Titles of Novels I’ll Probably Never Write

8 Jun

I used to strong-arm my undergraduate students into thinking more about titles – not because I’m one for strong-arming, but because sometimes titles are a last minute concern, whereas I believe they’re essential to the writing process. It was important for expository writing students to focus their essays through thinking of apt titles, and it was important for fiction students to think about how a title can add sharpness and/or layers of meaning to a story. Donald Murray, a big teaching-of-writing guy, used to generate about 150 titles per piece. He allowed himself to be clumsy and awkward in order to find what was precise and just right. Whenever I told my students this, they would grip their notebooks in apprehension until I’d say, “we’re not going to generate 150 titles today, but we are going to generate 20.” They’d sigh with relief, then get antsy by the tenth prompt. Some were eager to share new titles at the end and others said, with arms crossed over their chests or with a twinkle in their eye, “My original title is still better.” In any case, keeping a list of titles to potentially write to, even if I never write the piece, is something I enjoy doing and find quite useful. That said, lately I’ve been collecting imaginary titles for novels that, in all likelihood, I won’t write. (I’m keeping titles of actual works-in-progress close to my chest for now.) Here are the imaginary titles:

The Sex Lives of Traffic Engineers

Young Jewish Men Arguing in Diners

The Sweat Pickle

The Fishmonger’s Uncle’s Tax Accountant

Hard Drinking Elsewhere

The Ghost of Obligation

The Ineffectual Perfectionist

People Alone in Cars Reading E-mail

Now you try!

Filtering

8 Dec

Last week, I finished a fourth draft of my novel (whew!). One thing I tried to excise was filtering. I’d used “look” about 178 times in about 65k words (thanks Find All function). This was not to my loving. Verb choice aside, as John Gardner notes in The Art of Fiction and as Janet Burroway points out in Writing Fiction, filtering is an unnecessary and common mistake. Phrases like “she noticed”, “she saw”, “she looked at”, or “she remembered” needlessly take readers one step away from the story rather than letting them inhabit the story and experience it with or through the characters. Now, the act of seeing is important in my novel, but I definitely didn’t need to let filtering phrases run rampant in the manuscript. Combing through the draft, I found instances in which removing the offending filter helped me expand and deepen imagery and sensory detail. That isn’t to say you can never ever use those verbs (that’s silly). But you’ll want to ask yourself if you really need to.

p.s. Readers, out in the ether or down the street, what do you think of bolded text in blog posts? This is my second such use. Helpful?  Unnecessary?

Revise, Rinse, Repeat

12 Oct A step in the revision process

A step in the revision process

On Saturday I took a fabulous one-day class on revision with Karin de Weille at the Richard Hugo House. I’m between the third and fourth drafts of my first novel, taking a month-long break so that I might return to the manuscript with fresh eyes. Though I sometimes get the itch to go back to the novel, I’ve found that if I interrupt the fallow period too soon, I start to lose steam. The time away is so key. In the meantime, perhaps the most heartening lesson I’ve taken from the revision class was to luxuriate and indulge in the revision process – rushing is the last thing you want to do (I guess I knew this, but it’s always a helpful reminder). I’ve plunged myself back into the world of the short story, drafting some new ones, splicing and rejuvenating  a few I wrote last spring, and sending out a couple that seem “done”. Onward!

55 words

2 Jul

So I’m now the editor of the guest stories portion of Rosemary Mosco’s website. There’s a new email address for submissions: 55gueststories at gmail dot com. I hope y’all will try writing one–55 words, no more, no less. They’re oodles of fun. I put one of my own up on the site (Ro originally had it on her livejournal). Take a peek .

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