Monthly Archives: January 2014

You deserve so much better

Savannah Brown

Savannah Brown

Hello from the Dogpatch! Check out this amazing slam poem by seventeen-year-old Savannah Brown featured on Erika Fuego‘s site, where you will find a delightful, eclectic mix of writing and imagery.

“You Deserve So Much Better” is one of those performance art pieces that makes you grateful there are poets in the world. You can see more of Savannah’s performance art videos at: http://www.youtube.com/user/savanamazing?feature=watch

Thanks to Erika for featuring this video. And go, Savannah!

You deserve so much better.

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O Magnus, Where Art Thou Clothes?

NAKED MEN ON THE ROAD TO ATHENSI love an actor who’s willing to disrobe in the name of art.

Which means I love Swedish television.

First off, the Swedes are just so damn gorgeous. Even if they’re not gorgeous, they’re gorgeous. Take The Bridge, for example. A show I started watching because it’s set in Malmö, which is headquarters for a couple companies I’ve done work for (and whose names I’m still not sure how to pronounce). Plus, I like bridges. And IKEA. I got my writing desk at IKEA and it has a glass top with “Love” etched all over it in different languages. It’s gorgeous, too. Those Swedes just know how to do it up.

Or take it off. Continue reading

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Thoughtful Readers/Reviewers

I’ve been reading Fiction Fan’s book review blog for quite some time, but a recent post piqued my curiosity about why she found a particular novel wanting. For those only interested in writing “literary fiction,” I believe the discussion here is instructive for all writers despite the genre.

I asked in my comment:

Since it didn’t work this time (sounds like the subplots detracted from the tension), I’m curious to hear about when you think it does work for a book to reveal the “what” or “who” and then discover the “why” or “how” throughout the rest? Would it have worked without the subplots/length? Are there other flaws (you mentioned implausibility, but sometimes a little of that can be overlooked if the rest of the book receive high marks, yes?) that kept it from being engrossing? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I’m struggling with this issue in my own work.

Her response, as I should have expected, was insightful: Continue reading

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Scribbles from Squaw Valley Writers Workshop – part three

So we’ve been wandering through the wilds of Squaw Valley with a variety of writers in my two previous posts and now arrive at a brief conversation about:

Writing from Life

Here lie a few morsels I gleaned from the likes of Alan Cheuse, Lynn Freed, and Greg Spatz:

“Life is a maze. Fiction is orderly.” (Don’t have an attribution for this, but it was one of the three.) The point being that your fiction (based on real life) shouldn’t be a maze for your reader to wander through even if your experience was confusing to you. The process of writing should turn confusion into structured understanding of the mystery that is life. 

“There’s a very narrow path one treads between saints and sinners.” (Cheuse)

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Two sides of the same coin?

I think Cheuse’s point resonates with another post about villains by fellow Dogpatcher, Wes Pierce.

“Write about what obsesses you.” (Freed)  If you don’t do this, it will be tough to hang in there for the long haul that is the writing life.  

Freed quoted Anais Nin: “The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say. It’s to say what we cannot say, otherwise.” Yes! Say what cannot be said in the family or at the family reunion. Say what co-workers cannot say to each other. Say what everyone wants to say but can’t. And say it in a way that makes your readers’ toes curl. (in a good way)

I think the most helpful thought from this discussion was uttered by Spatz:

“Write about what has happened to someone else as if it has happened to you, and write about what has happened to you as if it has happened to someone else.”

So often writers are too close to their material because they’ve lived it and can’t write about the experience with enough distance. But the opposite is just as true. Too often writers can’t get far enough inside the experience of someone else to make it feel real. So writers must put on the mask of distance or the skin of proximity when necessary.

I took an intense afternoon workshop called Finding the Story each day with screenwriter Gill Dennis, so I missed some of the panel discussions. But the benefits of taking Gill’s class far outweighed the detriments. I’ll post about his class at a later time. It was transformational. Thank you, Gill!!

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You’re welcome, Jil!

Now we move on to the daily afternoon open reading workshop with Sands Hall, where I scribbled down a couple of notes about POV:

Make sure your narrators are of the right place/age/experience to say and know what they know.

When in scene, the reader should only see what the character’s consciousness sees or hears, especially if the narrator is a child. Then during exposition, you may pull away from the character, perhaps becoming the older, wiser narrator looking back. This allows the reader to see and understand more than what the character/narrator currently sees and understands.

I often think it’s a good idea for the reader to know more than the character does, unless we’re talking about an unreliable narrator. In this situation, the reader often doesn’t know the “real truth” until it’s revealed through other action/character insights later in the story. 

From the morning workshop with Gail Tsukiyama:

When in scene, a character must act, react or be seen suppressing a reaction.

Your protagonist doesn’t have to change in a story, but he/she must be given the opportunity to change.

Know what the specific issues are for each of your characters, but keep the roots below the surface. “Issues” are often related to things like heritage, family background and expectations. Issues often provide conflict that shows the reader just what the character has lost or could lose.

Gail’s awesome quote: “My mother always said, ‘Don’t draw legs on a snake,’

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otherwise it becomes a dragon…

meaning: Don’t overwrite. Make one line mean all the world.”

Don’t give the reader the “to-ing and fro-ing.” Readers don’t want to watch your character go from one room to another unless it’s important. Give only the significant details through the eyes of the characters. Manipulate your sentences so they do three things at once.

And finally, so much of a story is “seeding.”

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You will often write your way into a story before you really get to know your characters. Then you will need to go back and “seed” the earlier pages with what must happen to make it all work, foreshadowing specific details that reveal more and more about the characters and plot.

Th-th-th-that’s all for now, folks! Stay tuned for the next installment of Scribbles from Squaw!!

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Dogfight: “Dearest” by Laurel Leigh

10__Red_River_of_the_NorthHello from the Dogpatch, and welcome to the dogfight! Based on a childhood experience, Laurel Leigh wrote an early version of this story as a pre-MFA student taking creative writing classes at U.C. Berkeley Extension in 1999. That first version was one of few student stories selected for an SF Bay Area reading night. Being the type of writer who can let stories sit for a very long while, it’s been through numerous revisions over the years and the plot now continues where the actual events ended. A previous version titled “The Raffle” was selected for both the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and Tin House Writers Workshops. Laurel plans to include this story in her collection in process, Gracie and Them, and meanwhile may submit it separately.

The photo above is of the rumbling north-flowing Red River, seen where it divides Moorhead MN and Fargo ND, a key location in the story now called “Dearest.” This newest title was suggested by Wes during our meeting, and we think it will remain the title. Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts these excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and we’d love to know what you think about the excerpt or what we had to say about it. (photo credit: The Red River: Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Excerpt from “Dearest” (formerly “The Raffle”)

When I’m even with Snee’s front door he walks out of it. I stare at him and forget to pedal. Maybe it’s a rock or that old pothole again, but something bounces into my worn-out chain and it snaps. I go over the handlebars in a kind of somersault, shut my eyes, bounce into the street. When I look again, Snee is staring down at me.
 
He’s the blondest man I’ve ever seen. When he reaches toward me his thin wrist sticks out from his striped shirt. I’ve only seen cufflinks in the Sears-Roebuck catalog, never anyone wearing them. The ones on Snee’s shirt look like clock faces. I’m wishing so hard I’d talked my daddy into letting me keep a dog and that dog was biting Snee on the leg. Then he’s so close, his hand on my shoulder, and I know he’s going to kill me and I should pray. The only prayer I can think of isn’t a prayer. It’s the recipe for butternut pie.
 

jill-hoffman-e1331589180324From Jilanne:
Well Laurel, You’ve got yourself quite a lovely, devastating story here! It has evolved so much since the group first read it. I love how you’ve eliminated an unnecessary character and dialogue, both distractions from the critical components of the story. The result is a much more concentrated or condensed, however you want to view it, version, one that’s driven by voice and tension. The voice of the little girl reminds me of the young female narrator in Ellen Foster, a slim novel written by Kaye Gibbons, a southern writer. She’s both funny and heartbreaking.

I have three suggestions for WWMIBFM (what would make it better for me).

1) I need just one more brush stroke to anchor me in time. I want to know how much time is passing between the loss of the money and the festival, and the confrontation with Snee and his being “dealt with” by the town. Otherwise, I find myself distracted from the story by having to guess. Continue reading

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