Sunday, July 31, 2011

Writerly Boot Camp Final Speech.

This isn't the somber speech from the podium. This is what I'd say if we were out and it got late and I was feeling beaten. I'd start by talking about my own personal failings. I'd talk about losses. I'd explain why writing is always a lesson in failure. I would tell you that I get weary. I'd say that the daily practice of empathy has been harder than I thought, and that the fertile field of childhood and memory is booby-trapped with landmines.

I might go on a short tear about Cal Ripken -- not missing games. I might say that I love the writing equivalent of the freshly mowed outfield, the well oiled glove, the snap of the ball in warm-ups. I might say what I really want in my writing career: just don't take me off the field.

I might say I'm no Kevin Spacey and not bother to explain it.

But then I would clap you on the shoulder. I would tell you the truth. This is hard work. We feed it. It feeds us. It's part-disease, part-cure. I would offer no hope except that -- in the end -- it turns out to have been more cure than disease. But I'd whisper that I love this writerly disease. It's come to define me. How would I even recognize myself without all of the words in my head, abuzz in my chest? I'd feel gutted.

I would tell you that I'm proud of you -- word upon word, hour upon hour, day upon day.

I'd say: You don't need me anymore. It's all inside of you. Keep going.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In light of the economic crisis, some irrelevant musings on bangs and the word "cowlick"

Since my forehead takes up about fifty percent of my face and could be used as an income source for advertising AND since I have gone through life fairly surprised by what I've seen, my forehead is wrinkled. By the mere cutting of bangs I could decrease the appearance of wrinkles (and wide-eyed surprise) on my face by about 50%.

I know, it's terrifying when I start to use math, but bear with me as I veer toward language -- in particular the visual imagery of the word cowlick.

The problem is that my hair does not bang. (See photo to the right of the best bangs of all time -- poet Mary Biddinger.) Why does my hair not bang? The cowlick.

Now, I have written an entire treatise on the word "cowlick." I used it for grad school applications that asked for a scholarly writing sample. (In retrospect, the paper was not scholarly in any form.) If I'm recalling correctly, I looked for other languages that used the term "cowlick," assuming that any culture that had a population of people with wayward locks and cows would probably have stumbled on the usage. I mean, if the term "honeymoon" could exist in so many languages as a direct translation, how could cowlick fail to?

Well, turns out, most languages use some kind of term like unruly or wayward coupled with hair to describe a cowlick. Did I run the term through every language known to man? I did not. (There was no internet at this point in time. We still walked on all fours.) I didn't find the term in other languages.

Cowlick became a beautiful, almost poetic term in my mind. A kid standing in a field of cows. A cow stretches her neck, licks the kid's head, and, like a good Frost poem, the kid totters forward, his hair lifts in a swoop off of this crown.

Cowlicks were marks of beauty at one point in time -- back when people used the word "comely."

For the purposes of my scholarly paper, I also walked through the presidents of the United States who'd been gifted with cowlicks. How was this relevant scholarship? Well, it wasn't scholarship at all.

The cowlick, in my case, was a blessing of the 80s. My bangs naturally banged. They had built-in pomp. But now I look at the great bangs of writers of my era -- your Cate Marvin (see left), your Mary Biddinger (see above) -- and I can only sigh. No literary bangs for Baggott.

What can I do? Be less surprised? Paste my cowlick down -- snubbing my nose at the poetry of the English language? Be simply wrinkled?

These are the musings I have on this day -- the musings that keep my mind (ever so temporarily) off of my disdain for Boehner holding the country hostage while bowing to extremists and trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 22.

DEAR LEAN MEAN WRITING MACHINES,

How many more days do we have left in us?

(I'm just not sure. Not many. Not many.)
[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,

here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]


Exercises 1-4 will be used in exercise 6.

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory of your worst teacher, one of a teacher with quirks, and one associated with your best teacher. You've spent years of your life watching these people.

Friends you're no longer friends with. How do friendships form? Why do they fade? Focus on three.


2. Quote.

“The unsaid, for me, exerts great power…” Louise Gluck


This is an old exercise -- known in theater. Two characters. Before you start to write the scene, write down that each has something that they can't say, but something that exerts great power as Louise says above. Have it motivate what they say and do -- without it ever being said.

For example, mother and son at a bus depot. Mother's line, "Don't go." Son's line, "I'm never coming back."

3. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.


Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Smart Kid Hates to Read: Part II


So yesterday we went over tips to get your smart kid to the page. And today, we're hitting WHAT to choose for your smart book-hating kid.

First of all, I'd look very seriously at Graphic Novels. The illustrated element moves the plot more swiftly. There's gratification in turning pages and a lot of story packed in. ALSO, comic books and graphic novels often use elevated vocabulary. This has been documented in research studies. The vocab in graphic novels can be very rich. If you're feeling snooty about graphic novels, don't. You haven't looked at them recently. They've moved up to rank in Pulitzer territory. Check in.

Secondly, DON'T FORCE THEM to read the books YOU LOVED. Keep trying of course but also play to your child's natural interests. Let the sports kid read World Record books and Sports Illustrated and biographies of great players and then great sports novels. If your kid is funny -- 9-13 -- I'd go with Dear Dumb Diary, a little older I'd look at Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. Both are girl narrators. I was throwing beautiful timeless traditional and beloved novels at my daughter -- many of which were whimsical fantasy, which I'd loved -- but I'd forgotten that my daughter loves the gritty truth of life. I stopped giving her the books I loved and started with gritty biographies of tough women. (A girl who refused Twilight, my daughter loved The Hunger Games. In fact, Katniss was an antidote for many young women readers.)


Thirdly, novels in verse. Witness was also a favorite because it's written in verse, is complex, and appears very spare on the page. There are a number of novels in verse for both middle and high school. (Karma by Cathy Ostlere is a very long novel in verse, but may be of interest.)

Fourth, books of contemporary poetry for high schoolers. Nothing old and dusty. Look at the new stuff -- have 'em dig around in some Best Americans or Poetry Daily (online). There's great depth and few words.

Fifth, mysteries. The slow reader has a huge advantage in mysteries because they absorb clues better. One of my kids is now reading The Westing Game. I loved Agatha Christie as a kid (and was a slow reader); suggest readers move onto her work, if old enough...

For great book suggestions at all ages, cruise around Melissa Wiley's site at the Bonny Glen.

I forgot to mention yesterday -- 1. AUDIO BOOKS. Listen in the car, then read some of the book in print ... Strike a deal to keep the book moving.

And 2. Kindle -- the % function, in particular. Yes, we could look at the book and tell how much we had left, but this function -- something old made new -- boosts some young readers, that progress function, the popping up of the dictionary ...

The deal is they have to keep opening books -- don't force them through the books (see yesterday's post). The more books they open, the better chance they have of getting hooked and drawn in.

My Smart Kid Hates to Read: Part I



It's summer. Kids should read. They should, in fact, ENJOY it. But some don't. Let's be honest. And frankly not all books deserve to be enjoyed. Not all books deserve to be read. But the main thing is trying to get a smart kid who hates to read the right book. Once they get hooked, they often stay hooked or at least are happy to get hooked again.

First off, if a smart kid hates to read, there may be something physical going on. Two of my kids are doing eye exercises having been tested (and failing) tracking tests, as well as looking for dyslexia -- even mild cases.

If you've got a slow reader on your hands who's smart, that IS the problem. They're ready for more complex material than the books on their level can offer. And the books on their intellectual level are so painful to get through that they aren't rewarded enough -- narrative-wise -- for their efforts.

The more you read, the more fluency you build up, the faster you get. But slow readers who are frustrated read less, get slower. In the long run, slow reading can be good -- it makes for a careful, attentive reader. Talk to writers - many of them are very slow readers. And fast reading is a problem of its own too. But readers have to be able to ingest enough words to keep the plot moving quickly enough to appease their smart minds. The way to do that is to read -- slowly and then more quickly...

So, today, I'll go over how to get smart kids who hate to read to the page and tomorrow how to pick books for smart kids who hate to read.


1. Model reading. If they see you engrossed, they're more likely to want to be engrossed.

2. Read aloud. No matter how old your kids are, have a read aloud going. Often you'll start the book and get to the end of a chapter one night, and they'll snag the book and read ahead, and then it's theirs. Because some of my kids are slow readers, I'll read the opening just to see if it hooks them and to get them in deep enough that they have to press on out of curiosity.

3. Read the book before you're allowed to see the movie. Easy rule. High motivation.

4. Have books in the house, laying around. Books in the home is a primary indicator of literacy. If they're there, they're more likely to be opened.

5. Buy good books. This seems simple enough, but really get on some notable book lists for kids -- ALA, Printz, Newbery, your state award lists -- and have them around, not random bleck.

6. Read the books your kids are reading and talk about them. Make reading something that goes beyond the page.

7. Make reading social. Organize a small book club -- even if it's just a couple kids. If kids are reading things that other kids are reading, they're more likely to dig in.

8. Library trips. Let your kids hand-pick. Let them get too many. But also make it a rule that they have to read the first chapter before tossing the book aside. That way, at least they're reading first chapters. Eventually one will snag them.

9. Don't force them to finish books they're reading for "pleasure." Forced pleasure isn't pleasurable.

10. Help them get through assigned summer reading -- if it's strict and something they loathe -- in exchange for them reading -- on their own -- a book of their own choosing (vetted by you).

Keep your kids opening books. This is crucial. They can't get snagged if they're not opening books.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 21.


[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,
here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]


1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory associated with music lessons, one associated with swimming lessons, and finally, a memory associated with any other kind of lesson(s) that resonate the most with you.


2. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

You might be having a problem with your work -- something large or small, craft or professional. Imagine you're having drinks with a writer you admire -- dead or alive -- ask that person your question. Wait for their answer. It's messed up, but sometimes this really works for me.


3. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

Today, give me something blue, one thing that's dusty, one thing that's black.


4. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“All the things one had forgotten scream for help in dreams.” Elias Canetti

Dreams. Certain projects burrow into my dreams. There are certain places I revisit in dreams -- build on each time I go back. There are kinds of dreams I have at certain times in my life.

Write a dream you've had. Write a dream your character recently had and a recurring dream from your character's life.

AND ... tell me three things you've forgotten -- but would love to have back.


5. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 20.


[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,
here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]

TO YOUR LEFT, Kathy Bates, starring (undeniably)
in MISERY.
It'll make sense as you read on.


1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Have you kept up with the things that you need to collect as a writer? I've mentioned three -- ways in which people met, jobs, and coping mechanism. There are many more, of course -- meals, house plans, stories we tell to prove we trust another human being, things people collect/hoard.

Keep collecting these. Pile 'em up.


2. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

Repeat yesterday's assignment. Three more genres. Three more book jackets. This might really hurt.

3. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

Three things that are white and/or gauzy.


4. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“Everything one invents is true.” Flaubert

But, of course, it's your job to give it gills, to make it feel true, to make it true to the reader, real. How do you do that?

Be undeniable in the realism of your details, for one.

I remember an Inside the Actors Studio with Kathy Bates. Lipton asked -- in his way -- how she managed to get so many roles while not being your typical Hollywood-looking leading lady. She put it bluntly. "I had to be undeniable." That's how she went into all of her auditions. For whatever reasons, I've always thought that -- as a writer -- I had no margin for error. Let me put it this way: in elementary school when the teacher said, 'All kids in the gifted program need to collect their things and go," I didn't have to collect my things. I wasn't going anywhere and neither were my things. I wasn't Most Likely to be a Writer. I was more like most likely to lose her keys in a parking lot or something... So, when it came to the page, I've always felt I've had to be undeniable.

And maybe it's because I'm such an unforgiving reader -- I need to be compelled and swept up as a reader -- that I feel that I have to be undeniable on the page.

Or maybe because I'm short or the baby of the family who had to talk loudly to be heard at all or ....

In any case, undeniable in your details -- that's what you have to be to make the invented truth true.

5. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 19.

Today, at a glance, looks stripped down, but READING AS A WRITER will be a little more work. Have at it.

[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,

here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]


1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory associated with thieving, vandalism, and one associated with divorce.


2. Reading as a writer.
Today, practice plotting. Read book jackets -- summaries of books you love -- then write a few summaries of books that don't exist (except perhaps in your mind). Write three, if you can, in different genres. (Maybe historical fiction, mystery, experimental ... ) In my novel seminar, I make the grad students write summaries of many different genres over the course of the semester. It should be liberating.
3. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“Memory is a net.” Olive Wendell Holmes

This is why we do the memory exercises. Use the net.


4. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 18.

BOOT CAMP
the stripped down version.
No frills.
Go.


[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,

here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]

(A small note: If you want to share your bits, head on over to the Facebook.
I'm there at this link.)

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory associated with YOUR conception and one associated with your birth.

Jot a memory of slapping someone or being slapped.

A trip from your childhood.

Favorite hiding places.

Something you shouldn't have eaten.

Setting up two people you thought should be together.

Rumors -- destructive or to boost cred...

2. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“What is remembered becomes reality.” Patricia Hempl

Take the memories above -- choose one. Bring it to someone who might actually have their own version. Hash it out. What's true? What's false? Mainly, what makes the best narrative?


3. Quilting Exercise.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 17.



Okay, I've lost it.

Today, you might go down.


[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,

here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]

(A small note: If you want to share your bits, head on over to the Facebook.
I'm there at this link.)




Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory associated with frogs, snakes and write down your earliest childhood memory.

Your three top cheating stories -- yours or through the grapevine -- how they were found out, caught, and/or confronted.

War. When did you first understand it?

Lying. You've told whoppers. I know it. What have you lied about in big bold ways. What are you lying about now -- in some small way? What are you withholding from the world?

First time you saw nude person of opposite sex.

First kiss.

First time.

Memory of curtains, getting lost, your first best friend.




2. Eavesdropping? I'm cutting this today.
3. Reading as a writer. CHOPPED.
4. Image Exercise. NOPE.
5. The Quote. YES:

“Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.” Anne Lamott


Take three of the exercises above -- and twist them into something magical, otherwordly, odd.



6. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A 1/2 Dozen for William Giraldi



A 1/2 Dozen for
debut novelist
(and essayist, critic, editor at AGNI)
WILLIAM GIRALDI
author of the brand new novel
BUSY MONSTERS
(I'm reading it now and you should be too. He's wild-brilliant, obsessively-brained, a dazzling word-freak extraordinaire.)

Here goes:

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

Jack White has been my uncomfortable obsession since 2005, the year I began Busy Monsters, actually. This fascination with the White Stripes clobbered me without notice. I'll write a book about it one day, but for now I remain as befuddled by it as I was when it rushed upon me six years ago. My only guess at an explanation is that I was about to turn thirty and needed a rock-n-roll obsession, as if to prolong my youth. Make no mistake: "obsession" is putting it lightly. I dream about him. My wedding was a black-red-and-white themed affair. My wife and I followed the White Stripes across Canada for our honeymoon. When Jack disbanded the White Stripes this year, I wept. I literally curled into a corner and wept. He's a genius, a guitar god with a perfect face. So? And? And I can't explain it. I don't even like thinking about it.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

A singular moment, yes: I was in a poisonous relationship with a woman who had two children -- a "rebound" relationship, I believe, is what pop parlance has dubbed it -- and I was simply delusional, trying to find ways to make this union work despite knowing that it was doomed, that she and I didn't share the same atoms. The father of her two children was a menace, a rapscallion, the tattooed type, and he caused these poor kids great grief. In planning our future, I would literally lose sleep every night pondering the ways in which I could erase this fellow from the picture. I felt like Macbeth! Simply crazed. Contemplating the perfect crime. Murder! Me! Can you imagine? The sight of even the most benign violence gives me the shakes. But that was the beginning of Busy Monsters: my hero, Charlie Homar, decides to rub out his fiance's ex-boyfriend, a Virginia state trooper full of garden variety evil, a very bad man who won't leave them in peace. Of course this "moment," this inspiration for Busy, was influenced too by Don Quixote and The Odyssey, both of which I was rereading at the time. I know what you mean about "inspiration": it sounds so Oprah. I prefer "influence," and its attendant anxiety, with thanks to Harold Bloom.


Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

My relationship with the page: Well, I don't like it very much, I have to admit. It's very hard, and very lonesome, and the gratification is delayed, unlike for, say, a musician on stage. Some writers really need to call themselves writers in order to feel validated on the earth, in order to feel purpose. But I find that being a writer is a terrific nuisance, and I'd much rather read or loaf about. If I had chosen my parents more carefully I would have been a musician or race car driver. Look: I didn't choose writing. It chose me when I was child, when I wasn't looking. I identify as a father and husband and reader and teacher before I identify as a writer. I don't even like to speak about writing. Let's stop.


What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Go fall in love with someone else. A zoo keeper or balloonist.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

My Writing Tip #1 would be this: stop writing for a while and go read some more. Start with Homer and the Greek tragedians, then on to Virgil and Catullus, maybe Ovid too, Dante for sure, and then skip ahead to Marlowe and Montaigne -- leave Shakespeare alone for now, trust me; you'll have time enough to be daunted by him -- and then try to write again. Write for a while. Then stop. Then go on to the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Keats and Shelley too, Byron if you have time. Then on to Goethe. Spend a month on him, no less, more if you can. Write some more. Stop. On to the Russians: I'd start with Pushkin since Russian lit begins with him, but you might have time only for the top two, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, although you'd be committing crimes against yourself if you failed to find Chekhov. Turgenev too, in my opinion, though he isn't as essential as the others. Next up: the great 19th century English novelists: Eliot and Dickens especially. Then on to Hardy (his novels AND his poems, don't forget). Stop. Write some more. Write a while longer. Then: welcome home, come to America: Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman, Poe, (not Thoreau), James, Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor, and Raymond Carver. Congrats: you're a writer now. (Although, really, if I were you I'd choose a less wobbly profession.)


What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

Nervous, anxiety-ridden sometimes, being raised by a nervous grandmother who always believed that John's apocalypse was only a day away. I went to Catholic school. I studied the gospels in a Greek I didn't understand, and then in a Latin I understood even less. But I remember the sounds of it. The poetics of the mystery. Mass every Sunday with a giant, looming, crucified Christ behind the altar -- he must have been 12 feet tall -- and I knew from an early age that I wanted to be like him. I mean make an impact, show the world my blood, stir up a little worship. Christ was, is, just so darn popular. Look: I had a happy childhood, don't let me fool you. My mother walked out on our family when my siblings and I were just kids, but so what, my dad and his family gave us a great life. (Shrinks have insisted I have female issues because my mother rejected me. That's not true, no matter how many times a month my wife shouts, "I'm not your mother!") Flannery O'Connor insisted that any writer who has lived through her childhood has enough material to last a lifetime. It's my strict policy never to disagree with Ms. O'Connor. So every day of my boyhood made me into the scribe I am now. How could it not? The great Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld insists on the same: "Childhood," he has said, "gives us the first."


What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

Complicated because I rarely read strictly for pleasure anymore. A critic reads mostly the books he's reviewing, or books related to the ones he's reviewing. For example, I spent three months reading all of Harold Bloom -- all 30 books -- in order to write an appreciation for Harper's magazine, and then they ended up killing the piece when my editor there was let go, but it wasn't a wasted three months at all. To read all of Harold Bloom front to back was a stunning education. But I have a new deadline every month or so, and I'm always reading in relation to my reviewing. An example: I wrote a piece for the Barnes and Noble Review on a new novel about a brother and sister, and the book made me yearn for George Eliot's masterpiece The Mill on the Floss, also about a brother and sister, and so I went back to reread it, which was a joy for me. There's no one like Eliot. I'm currently reading a newish study of Homer called The Rape of Troy that's been on my nightstand for the last year because I've just now come into a free week when I don't have to read a book related to my job as a critic. It feels grand, to be reading for pleasure and not for work, although of course all reading is pleasurable for me.


Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

Lord, striking the balance, it's impossible, I haven't learned it, I think. I teach 100 new students every year at BU, plus have my duties as an editor at AGNI, plus my fiction and critical work, plus my husband and father work: it's daunting, exhausting. But maybe the trick is doing nothing else. I mean, I don't have any hobbies or sports, don't donate my time to the homeless, don't really leave the house unless I have to, have only a few friends, all of my family are in New Jersey. I spend 6 hours a day here in my home library, reading and writing, though mostly reading because writing is so onerous for me. The rest of the time is for my wife and son and then my students and AGNI.

What’s your take on touring?

Hate it. Takes me away from my treasured Bs: my baby, my bride, my bed, my books, my bathroom, my Boston. Touring is for musicians, but writers seem to think it makes them a pretty big deal if they go on "tour" too. I know a writer in Boston who, after her novel came out on an independent press, sent herself all over the place doing readings at bookstores. I hadn't seen her in a while, and then I did, and I said, "How have you been?" and she said, "I just got back from a tour," and I said, "You joined the Rolling Stones?!! Awesome! Good luck with that."


Faith. Do you consider yourself religious? If so, how does that manifest in your work and/or your process?

I used to say that literature is my religion, Homer and Milton my gods, and I still mostly believe that. The thing is, I was raised Roman Catholic and that exerts the gravity of a collapsed star: you never escape it. Homer and Milton, for all their secular worth, are essentially religious poets, and I had to ask myself -- vociferous atheist that I was in my twenties -- why I kept turning to poetry of the sublime: Whitman, Shelley, Wordsworth, Hopkins. They saved me from having to go to Mass every Sunday, from having to believe in a literal god. The truth is, I might have been just another unknown self-destruction if it hadn’t been for Donne’s “Holy Sonnets” and Wordsworth’s Prelude. They taught me that agony is endurable, that living is beauty. Wordsworth is a much more religious thinker than scholars usually give him credit for. That Snowdon scene in Book 12 of The Prelude is the grandest moment of humanism in all of English literature, but for all its humanism, it's an undeniably religious moment too. So, faith? Well, I have faith in the poets. They inform my work because they inform my life.


Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?

My narrator in Busy Monsters, the memoirist Charles Homar, claims to be a writer of place, yes. He claims to write about that shady continent called "My Heart."


What's your worst writerly habit?

Writing.


This is a vast question. Interpret it at will. What’s the future of publishing?

What's the future of the bicycle?


William Giraldi teaches at Boston University and is a senior editor for the journal AGNI. A regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, he was a finalist for a 2011 National Magazine Award in the category of Essays and Criticism. Busy Monsters is his first book.


To find William on Facebook, click HERE

Follow William on Twitter: @busy_monsters


Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 16.



[If you don't know what's going on,
here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]




Exercises 1-4 will be used in exercise 6.

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory associated childhood pets -- yours and the neighbors'. [Image above is Wilfred, from the new series. Haven't yet seen but deeply desire to.]


2. Eavesdropping Exercise. This exercise is ALWAYS the same, every day. Give me 3 things you've overheard. Start a good writerly habit.

Today, catch yourself saying something that, if overheard and taken out of context, could have a very different meaning. Build something around it?
3. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

Read outside of your genre today -- if you're a fiction writer, read some poems (google: poetry daily for good ones), if a poet and you read a lot of fiction, read a screenplay online ... What does the other genre have to teach you?
4. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

Today, give me things that you'd find if you drained a lake.


5. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“… he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exatly what he felt.” From “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” in Tim O’Brien THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

I give a speech about this line. Basically, it's permission to burn it up. Bring it. Don't hold back. If you want us to feel what you felt, you're going to have to go deep.


6. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Go the _____ to Sleep.


So I say to the 4 year old as we're trying to go to sleep, "Be the bed." (Caddyshack reference put to good use.)

He lays there for a while then starts singing (Lady Gaga).

I say, "You're not being the bed. You can't sing and be the bed at the same time."

So he's quiet a while and then he whispers, "Are we done being the bed now?"

"No," I explain, patiently, "we've got to be the bed until we feel like we are one with the bed, enmeshed in the bed itself, and then we'll be asleep."

He gets right up close to my face and says, "That doesn't make any sense."

Will All Books Soon Have Animated Covers?

It's like something out of Harry Potter -- on the front page of The Quibbler, there are moving photographs ... and now it's here. Last week, my editor sent me the "animated cover" for my upcoming novel PURE (the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy). Animated cover? I had no idea what she was talking about. Dutifully, I followed the link and now, less than a week later, we have a web site with the animated cover up (in time for Comic Con).

Here's the link.

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 15.


[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,
here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]

9A small note: If you want to share your bits, head on over to the Facebook.
I'm there at this link.)


Exercises 1-4 will be used in exercise 6.

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, jot a memory associated with a broken tooth, broken bone, and stitches.


2. Eavesdropping Exercise. This exercise is ALWAYS the same, every day. Give me 3 things you've overheard. Start a good writerly habit.

We eavesdrop now without leaving the house. Tell me a story in which social networking plays a key role. It's part of our lives but has been slow to function in our art.

3. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

This week, try to figure out how much of what you're reading is prose that's been honed to art and what's been slapped up. Be aware of it. Draw some lines in the sand. Read more prose honed to art.
4. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

Today, you're on your own. One rule: make sure it's something you can touch with your own fingers -- not an image from a network, a screen...


5. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“Any story told twice is fiction.” Grace Paley

What are the stories you tell? Seriously. What are the ones that you would tell on a first date, at a cocktail party, to a colleague? What are the stories you only hand over when you really trust someone? How do you prove that intimacy with a story you hold close to your chest? What makes these stories good? Why do you guard them? Which ones can you truly use? According to Paley, tell 'em twice and they're fiction.


6. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.



Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 14.

[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,
here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]




Exercises 1-4 will be used in exercise 6.

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, write about your odd aunties, uncles, grandparents, and/or cousins. (For some of you, this is endless.)

2. Eavesdropping Exercise. This exercise is ALWAYS the same, every day. Give me 3 things you've overheard. Start a good writerly habit.

This is designed to help get you in the mode of listening and NOTING what you hear. Because some of you do these exercises in the morning (I'm all for freshest brain cells and PAYING YOURSELF FIRST), you might have to do this part of the exercise the day before. Pay attention to things you overhear or bits of conversation or snippets from radio or TV with no other context (an easy way to play catch-up) or the stories people tell or facts they spout off ... Remember cell phones are walking confessionals -- writerly GOLD. Listen to everything. Suffer (some) fools gladly. Trust me on this.

3. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

Epiphany. I have much to say about epiphany in the short story -- my woe and bitterness and frustration with its existence. But the more I've written, the more I've come to enjoy writing insights. I prefer thinking -- especially in the novel -- of mini-epiphanies as moments of insight. That's the only way I can approach them while maintaining an organic relationship with my characters. Not that I don't build to big moments -- I do. But the epiphany itself -- let's face it -- is daunting. (I was raised Catholic, after all.)

Today, read for epiphany. Be aware of it. Look back to the novels you've loved and find those moments of epiphany. What does it mean to you? What do you think of those moments? Do you have them in your own life?
4. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

On a recent NYC trip, we saw the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met -- transfixed -- and The Museum of Art and Design -- their miniatures were intricate and disturbing and beautiful. Look back on the best exhibits you've ever seen or look up what's going on now in distant lands. Spend a little time looking at another art form -- choose some elements, images -- and use them to build twisted images of your own or to push yourself into memories ...

[To the right -- this is the cover of McQueen's book Savage Beauty. Here's the link.]

5. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” W.H. Auden
There's a huge difference between these two -- authenticity and originality. Originality can be a beautiful byproduct of authenticity, but aiming for it -- over authenticity -- can lead you away from the truly startling center of your own experience, your own work. To be authentic in this world is a very hard thing for us to do. My goal as a teacher of the craft is to push students toward a vision that is most essentially their own. Yes, each of us stands on the shoulders of the great writers who've come before us. Of course. The craft is passed down, rejected, turned inside out, accepted, fed crackers like a little song bird, allowed out of the cage, built a new brass cage, etc etc etc ... But reflect on authenticity and originality. Spend a little time with both words and your own work and vision for your work.


6. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.





Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email southeastreview@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 13


I was MIA. I'm back. (Let's not go over the details.
Short version: your commander is a lightweight.)

Okay, we're back!

[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,

here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]

A small note: If you want to share your bits, head on over to the link that I post on Facebook every morning around 9 or 10am. You can decide how much or how little you want to share. You don't have to share ANYthing at all. Not one word. (People have been asking and I had mentioned opening up my comments section but have decided Facebook works just fine.)
I'm there at this link.


Exercises 1-4 will be used in exercise 6.

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, write about your present day phobias with detailed back story.

2. Eavesdropping Exercise.

Imagine you're in the first place you ever worked -- what does it sound llike? What's being said? Go back in your head and listen.

3. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

Think about books about work, ones in which you get a real look into an industry, a business, a shop ... Think back again on those early jobs of yours, think of your parents' jobs -- all of those characters and conflicts, that fertile setting. Readers love an inside look. List some of the books that swirl around work and then your own insider knowledge ... Is there something to draw on? (There is.)

4. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

Today, pick things from jobs -- the small instruments of a craft, the larger machinery, the hum and swirl of that space -- whatever it may be.

5. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” Lillian Hellman


I map. I need to know where I'm headed. I have to have a plan. But Lillian is right. For something to rise up -- really start taking its own full breaths -- I have to leave the map and follow. The map is only an etching. You're trying to create the land itself.

6. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.