Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Weird Work...

This summer I was left alone in the house for over a week. I felt immediately feral and read weirdly and wildly -- free-falling through Oliver Sacks, re-rummaging in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and crash-coursing The Big Book of Science Fiction. 

The result? This short story now up at Tor. 


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

On Form vs. Formula

Below is a Facebook post that sparked a lot of conversation: 

I'm going to get at this inelegantly. I'm running out the door. But here: novelists -- emerging ones -- are the most resistant to structure from all the various kinds of writers I've worked with. Talk to them about acts and beats and sequences and they often immediately balk with an accusation that they're being asked to be formulaic. There's an enormous difference between formula and form. Screenwriters usually get form. Their roots are in theater. I recently had a student frustrated that he was being taught a paint-by-numbers approach to screenwriting. Shakespeare was paint-by-numbers not just in acts but line to line. He regulated down to the syllable, those are some very rigid numbers for painting. Poets, of course, understand that forms are usually liberating, not stifling at all.

But the novelist has stepped out of these traditions. I've wondered if it's because the formulaic novel exists in such successful ways. Nope, soap operas exist, greeting cards exist, and serious writers for TV and poetry don't seem to push away from form -- or at least not out of this fear.

The balking novelist is a tough breed. I think some of the blame falls on teachers not teaching structure in upper level courses. And it's tougher to teach in a novel -- there aren't act breaks on the page, there aren't line breaks to examine. We have chapters and sections, but they aren't looked at the same way. The novelist's most demanding structures -- both external and internal structures -- exist invisibly. They have to be pointed out, which isn't easy. Often when an emerging novelist says that a book has failed, they don't know that the failure is architectural. They usually pin it on the sentences, not know that these are load-bearing walls -- or the characters, not really knowing that character equals plot.

And, look, structure is often something novelists do have to create by hand -- and often it's a brutal process of the story pushing its form into view. We have to chop through the jungle with machetes. But paths exist. They just do. We're in the same jungle that other novelists have been through long before us. If you can start off as a writer on a path -- in a structure that already exists -- all the better. You can keep your eye on other things, like your sentences.

I use this metaphor -- the structure is a bottle -- you hold it in your hands, it doesn't have to be bottle-shaped, it's see-through (or I prefer it when it's see-through), but it holds what's important: the boat that doesn't have to be a boat at all.

My comments to various responses:

 I don't distinguish between traditional and non traditional structures but that each bears the weight of the house.

Look, what's inside that boat can be a cocoon or web or rain or dangling nests or the wasp itself but it's made, considered, formed if by spit or vast knowledge of physics.

...if you look at my descriptions of structure listed throughout this thread -- smashed window, wasp, rain... internal images, underpinnings of metaphor (as well as, this one time, five parts with five chapters each -- discovered in part four -- and then just weirdly eyed by me...) -- we're not even talking about the same thing. one extreme side of the spectrum is a beat sheet, the other side being: swallows nests made from swallow regurgitation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My new short story about shedding skins, trans identity, family, home, revenge, avatars, and forgiveness. Feel free to share it with folks you think might dig this kind of work.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Poem of loathing ...

My poem up on Poetry Daily (okay, I'm two days late) is about my love-hate relationship with the reader. And this one is a little less love and a little more hate (and fear).Thankful to be included -- with all my rancor. Here is the ugly despicable link.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Want to write an Op-Ed? Do it.

If you're inclined to write opinion pieces for newspapers, now is the time! Seriously. Now. 

To help people navigate the how-to of op-eds, I gave at talk at VCFA this winter, followed by a Q & A on all sorts of topics. It was a long talk and, mercifully, it's been condensed so you don't have to suffer all the war stories and long-winded asides -- thanks to the good people of Hunger Mountain. 

Here's the link

My New Job at VCFA.

The announcement went out this week that I'll be the faculty director of Vermont College of Fine Arts' relatively new residential MFA program
I want to say how much I've loved teaching at Holy Cross, a complete joy. And I will still be teaching graduate screenwriters at Florida State University's Film School; they can't seem to shake me. I've been so lucky to have such generous and smart colleagues. 
And I'm very excited to start at VCFA, a college I've admired for so long! 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Strategies: How to Press On

My fellow writers, here’s my fear: you’re not writing. I’m afraid that the barrage of chaos from the White House is pounding down on you. I’m afraid you read the news and feel like your arms and legs have been ripped from your body -- maybe I'm projecting. Let me be dull here and just offer a few strategies to get back to the page. Know that I'm being selfish. It's hard enough to think of all that's being ripped from so many of the people in this country; I don't want to think that your writing is also being taken from us.
Here goes. You're going to have to cordon things off. It's the only way to survive.
1. Set a timer on your phone. Disconnect. Two-hour chunks. You're going to have to do this with your elbows out, fiercely.
2. You might want to try writing differently than you have in the past. If you didn't write to music, try it -- with headphones on.
3. Have a weird food that's hard to eat nearby -- sunflower seeds or something -- so your hands are busy when you're taking a break and gazing. You won't be as likely to drift back online.
4. Keep the best books around you at all times. Don't reconnect before your time is up. Open one of the books.
5. Tape the picture of a writer you deeply admire over your desk. Let them keep an eye on you.
6. The administration's constant chaos is a mental loop that will keep whirring in the back of your mind, taking energy and attention, drawing you back to it. Write a list of a few things you want to do once you're finished writing -- a rep you're going to call and two articles you're going to read. Writing lists helps close mental loops, studies show.
7. Hold each other to it. Create small groups or one-on-ones that hold each other accountable and check in to make sure you're still meeting your allotted time at the page.
8. When you get back online, set a time limit for that too.
9. Each of us can't hand over ourselves, our time, our energy to constant vigilance. This isn't on you alone. When you're writing, know that we're all taking turns keep watch.
10. If you can, use it. Let what's happening in, let it alter your state. Write from that feeling of being torn up, write full-steam, armless, legless, heart-ful.
Most of all, press on.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Book of Poems -- out in the world!

Amid all the awfulness -- how can it keep coming at us this fast? -- my new book of poems has made it into the world. INSTRUCTIONS, ABJECT & FUMING -- seems like the exact title of 95% of the Facebook posts I'm drawn to these days.
It's been ten years since I published my last book of poems, and some of these poems were written during the short and terrifying rise of Sarah Palin. (Remember when McCain tried to calm the crowds she riled and stood up for the integrity of his opponent? It seems centuries ago.) I felt sick and bereft -- and was certain that the English language didn't have the words to express what I needed to say and so I went backward, looking for words that we'd lost. Some of these poems draw on those lost words. (I think we're going to need new words this time around.)
If inclined, here's the link. And if you're a reviewer and want a copy, let me know and we'll get you a copy.

For more information, here's the back jacket of the book with quotes from two writers I deeply admire -- Aimee Nezhukumatathil and David Wojahn. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

hold up! it's free!

Okay, so I didn't understand this before but "THE VIRTUAL SWALLOWS OF HOG ISLAND" is up at Tor.com as of today, for free. 
Enjoy. Share with others, if inclined... 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

on writing, mid-career...

I went back to writing short stories this past year as a way to start over, to get back to my roots as a writer. (As a grad student, I'd have said I never intended to write a novel in my life.) What I really needed was a time away from writing, completely. But I'm incapable of the fallow fields approach so I went into the fields and took soil samples to see what the land offers, stories.

Around that time, my manager said something that made me speculate on the future uses of virtual reality. I was sitting in my office, trying to think, completely annoyed by my 16 year old son who was yelling while playing a video game with friends of his who were likely yelling at the same game in their own bedrooms throughout town. I thought what I usually think -- Please God, I hope they're learning something in those games -- one good thing. Then I thought, Maybe it's therapeutic. Then I thought, What if we could use VR gaming for therapy instead of talk-therapy?

I then created Klaus Han -- the self-proclaimed bad boy of virtual reality gaming therapy. The short story is up at Amazon now -- for,99 cents through Tor.com -- and I'm working with a producer on the a half-hour TV comedy version. In the show bible, I describe Klaus like this: "Think of the boyish cockiness of 30 ROCK’S Jack Donaghy cross-pollinated with the psychological fuckery of James Spader’s Robert California from THE OFFICE."

So, despite the small robot on the cover, it's not for kids. I'll have three stories coming out with Tor over the next three months -- all strange in their own ways. I suppose I'm still trying to pace out the plots of land, still plotting. 

My main job as a writer -- mid-career at this point -- is finding ways to keep coming back to the page. I suppose that's true, in one way or another, for most people, no matter what career you're in the middle of.

Here's "The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island."