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Month: January 2014

Why Utah Set Me Off

I want housing for the homeless to be designed by men and women who have been homeless. I want us to ask: where would be most convenient for you? What do you want in terms of size? What community space do you want? Do you want a front porch? I want us to care enough to design space useful to people instead of putting folks in available apartments because the apartments need tenants.

I want a Plan to End Homelessness that a normal person can read and make heads or tails of.

I want us to stop putting quotation marks around “experts” when we turn to men and women who’ve experienced homelessness for advice on how “we” can best “serve” them.

I want us to require developers to put dollars toward public housing whenever tax breaks are given by the city.

I want our “mixed income” communities to actually be “mixed income,” not faux “affordable housing” for $600 a month that folks coming off the streets cannot afford.

I want us to have options available to men and women living on the streets, regardless of income, so that not only people with “checks” have the “privilege” of being housed.

I want us to quit thinking our goal is to make “the homeless” productive members of society and to start thinking our duty is to structure housing in a way that lets people live the lives they need to live.

I want us to quit worrying about giving things away “for free” and start caring about people.

I want us to realize that people are still “homeless” if they are jailed.

I want us to quit talking about “low neighborhood impact” from housing for the homeless, as if homelessness were something to be afraid of.

I do not want to have to look at Utah—Utah!—and envy their action to end homelessness.

16 Truths about Revision

Things I have re-learned from this round of revision on The Bone Trench, my manuscript about Mother Mary and Jesus called back Memphis by a private prison project:

Description must flow from the character observing it

Description works best when in motion (e.g. She wore a tight skirt vs Her tight skirt tugged as she bent to pick up the skull)

Too much description inside the course of dialogue clots the flow

It’s a fine line between creating atmosphere and suffocating the reader

The setting must be interesting—move the setting from a support group on folding chairs to one where the members are painting a brick wall and see what happens

Unless you are writing a novel about food, avoid every time you can having your characters sit around eating a meal

Your central character may slowly disappear if he is constantly following action directed by others

You can take the information from a scene that’s not working and transpose it into another setting, providing the needed information in a more interesting way; the novel will survive

If you have a scene that’s not working, study the scenes that are working and discern why they appeal to you as a reader

When stuck in a revision, open a new blank page. Take off writing and wait for the image/symbol/alive connection to be made with what you’ve already written

Trust your subconscious, a corollary of the above

Don’t use the “I’ve got a secret” approach, slowly meting out the facts of the past in a literary striptease; get on with it and then let the reader read to find out how on earth that came to be

Write it in, then go back through and rake two-thirds of it out

Remove as much explanation as humanly possible, another corollary

If at all possible have your characters engage in an activity while they talk

When you reach the point where the manuscript is an unholy mess and you believe you will never emerge from the other side of the brambles, keep working

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Slant of the Poet

Sometimes, poetry has to teach you how to read it. Valeriu DG Barbu’s poetry at his blog http://valeriudgbarbu.wordpress.com is like that. Poet, writer, and playwright of Romanian origin settled in Rome, Italy, Mr. Barbu writes in English, Italian, and Romanian. I love the unpredictable imagery in his work, the sudden change in direction. Each post is accompanied by photos that add to the meaning of the words. Like several of the blogs I am covering in this series on blogs of strangers, Mr. Barbu’s blog is full of variety.
What do you learn from the fact I like this blog? I admire the unexpected is an obvious answer. I like poetry? I have to admit this is often not true. Sometimes I find poems too inaccessible; also, too precious, as if the poet has spent too much time bent over, searching for the perfect word, which of course is the point of poetry.
Why I admire this exactitude in prose and get a little squirmy around it in poetry, I don’t know. It may say something about how very important it is that a poet’s work resonate with one’s own view of life. If so, you learn a lot by my love of Mr. Barbu’s slant on life, his use of words, his playfulness, and sometimes the darkness hidden in the point made.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

 

The Allure of Normal

Some blogs I’m drawn to because, like me, they are so odd. I like Luanne because she is so normal.
Luanne Castle blogs at writersite.org. Her blog has been featured on Freshly Pressed, quite an achievement. Yet she responds to every comment posted on the blog, responses that actually engage the commentator in conversation about the issue she’s chosen to write about. I truly admire that.
Luanne is working on a memoir (she’s a poet as well), and she often addresses creative nonfiction subjects, a genre I loved and wrote in for many years. Right now, she’s posting about key memoirs she’s read and learned from. The resulting conversations have been engaging. One thing I’ve noticed about Luanne’s followers: like Luanne, they are genuine people who comment because they’re interested in what she is saying. Not a snarky one in the bunch.
Luanne’s posts are primarily geared toward helping others with their memoir-writing, by sharing her own experiences, insights, etc. But I particularly loved this post that teaches by example. It’s an essay on how birds have figured into her life. It’s lovely. http://writersite.org/2014/01/03/for-the-birds-2/.
What does my liking Luanne’s blog tell you about me? Individualization—in the language of the Now, Discover Your Strengths book— is one of my strengths; I like to approach people as individuals. Thus, I would be drawn to Luanne’s particularized response to comments. Learner is also one of my strengths. So I’d also be drawn to Luanne’s teaching posts. Positivity is another of my top five strengths. So a woman who was interviewed by the Missouri Review because she wasn’t a “somebody” writer with major awards and publications (http://writersite.org/2013/12/06/she-asked-me-a-lot-of-questions/) would definitely appeal to me.
If this description makes me sound like a Pollyanna, I can’t help it—the book says your strengths are fixed in concrete. To round out the picture, see my earlier blog posts on Waiting for Satan and 300 Stories

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

As I Write, I Will Weep

She was no more than four years old, black-headed and petite, a land-based water bug. We were at the beach, a place where she absorbed comfort from her mom and grandmother and whole entire family. She took my hand and led me onto the sand. The moon shone above. Otherwise, the night was dense, dark, the sand itself invisible. She, with more courage than I, led me into the unknown because she—four years old—wanted to walk on the beach, and night did not matter. Last week she called on the phone with her boyfriend (like my mom and dad, always on the phone together) to thank me for her Christmas gifts, in love with the city she’s chosen, in love with the life she’s built for herself. 

She was no more than four years old, as towheaded as any Southern child can be, a dandelion wisp on the wind. She was visiting my new house, standing in the foyer with her mother. When I descended the stairs, she collapsed on the hardwood floor and bawled because I, so dressed up and proud of myself, was off to work. She, with priorities better than mine, sobbed and I comforted her briefly, tears streaming down her face, before leaving her with her mother—I would just be gone for the day. This morning the email arrived: she is in Rabat, a grown up woman in a country she chose herself, in love with a new adventure she created on her own.

To us, inside our own lives, we are not the people we were in the past. We’ve changed, we make our own decisions now—how bizarre to be told of the time we stuffed the hated scrambled eggs inside the dinner bell, hiding them. For those on the outside looking in, time arcs back to the beginning, an awe-filled mystery. What strong, confident women my sister has raised.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

A Lifelong Marathoner

My eyes were supposed to correct in five days. Because I have astigmatism, the process might take up to three weeks, the eye doctor said. Only yesterday, in the middle of my third month, did my eyes settle into the new routine. I could see.
I’ve changed my life for this process. Every night, I set my alarm for six hours ahead. Every morning, I rise whenever the alarm sounds, usually between 5:30 and 6:00. I enter the dim bathroom, open my eyes wide, and remove my contacts. Filling the plastic wells with solution, I tighten the lids and store the case until the next night, when I insert the hard little contacts in my eyes and repeat the process all over again.
Why am I doing this? Because after I wake, I can see. Without glasses and without contacts, which I was no longer wearing because they hurt.
For most of this process, the ability to see has been erratic, and clarity evaporated early in the day. The eye doctor adjusted and tested and replaced, but we had given up on our current approach. When I returned to Memphis, we were to take a different tack. The doctor was going to retrain my eyes, making me use my non-dominant eye as my dominant.
I was really looking forward to this experiment. “I welcome the opportunity to make my brain learn new things,” I said when the doctor asked if I was willing to give the reverse-training a go (this is not stilted dialogue; I actually told him this; he laughed out loud at my nerdiness.)
Then, yesterday, I realized my eyes were falling in line. Ten o’clock last night, I could still see without my glasses. The brain experiment might not occur. A loss, to be certain, but I may have had success in refractive therapy for my eyes.
My point is: I am slower than most people. It takes me longer. If I give up in the middle, I’m screwed because I’ve put in ALL THAT TIME then conclude it’s never gonna happen, and I fail. I must remember: others’ timelines are not mine.
Yes, I’ve been going at this writing business obscenely long to have earned so little. Yes, it is taking me FOREVER to produce a ready-to-publish novel. Yes, the reformation of my soul into someone who gets mad at those who want to help only those they deem worthy of helping has been laborious.
But.
That’s me.
To quote a wise friend of mine, I’m a marathoner. There’s no sprinting inside me. For a world that advertises, “Faster is Better,” my very timeline can make me feel like a failure. It is only a failure if I fail to remember: I am a marathoner. Hang in there. You are well underway. You simply haven’t arrived yet.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

I love quirky humor. I love, love, love it when I discover other people also love quirky humor. I love the Waiting for Satan blog at http://waitingforsatan.wordpress.com , and I love that the blog has many followers. I have no idea who writes this blog. He (? he uses cartoons that depict himself as a he—I think) was or is a student. His family moved to Canada. He started the blog as a school project; the class ended, and he’s still doing the blog. He’s disappointed in the trends on Facebook. That’s all I’m gonna tell you.

If you are a fan of All My Friends are Dead or The Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990, you might want to check out Waiting for Satan.

What do you learn about me from the fact that I like this blog? I have an offbeat sense of humor. I would tell you I like “cartoons for adults” but these days that means sex or anime. I was raised on Pogo comic books written for adults (published way before my time but found in the attic and absorbed, reread, labored over – I even sewed a tiny Pogo bug because I wanted to make the cartoon characters real), and I’ve never outgrown them. Finally, I value humor – it’s not a waste of time or lesser activity. It’s an essential way of looking at what otherwise would make you weep.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

Quit That

In an effort to identify an agent who might be interested in an urban fantasy novel I’ve written that features Mother Mary and Jesus, I subscribe to a daily email service from PublishersMarketplace. The email lists the deals of the day: sales of Fiction, Nonfiction, Mystery/Crime, Sci-fi/Fantasy, etc. The sales are described in one sentence. I have noticed a pattern. If the description of the sale begins with a long dependent clause describing the literary accolades of the author, the sale is of short stories.

The other sales—Thriller, Children’s, Young Adult, etc—focus in the limited time of the one sentence on the narrative hook. The short stories depend on the literary credentials of the author as the selling hook. This broadcasts to me the belief that people do not read short stories for pleasure; they read them for literary merit. To me, these attributes are not mutually exclusive. But listen and you will hear many, many readers’  impression of literary. “Literary” is hard. “Literary” is intellectual. One could conclude from the email that, to be bought by a publisher and sold to the public, short stories must be hard and intellectual.

The audience at my short story debut, listening because they thought the stories were fun.
The audience at my short story debut, listening because they thought the stories were fun.

 

I am a literary writer, though I don’t have the MFA and prize credits at the level of those whose short story collections are being listed. You might say I’m not a good enough writer to pitch my short stories to an agent and publisher. I think that’s fair. My question, though, is when did short stories become defined solely by their literary merit?

Let me be clear: there is not a Literary genre on the list. Short stories are reported under Fiction at Debut or General/Other. The same place that lists Romance, but I’ve never read a Romance description that begins with the author’s writerly credits, an obvious  option for many gifted Romance writers. Does this approach mean short stories are sold as literary because, like the steamy plot summaries of Romances, that meets the expectations of short story readers? That, in fact, the only readers of short stories are literary readers? Maybe, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy if you ask me.

I love short stories. I cut my reader’s teeth reading them and my writer’s teeth writing them. One of greatest desires if for MORE people to love short stories. But if you consistently describe them using the heavy credentials of the writer rather than the intriguing plots, the compelling characters, the humor (!),  you automatically lose many potential readers. As my mother would say, “Quit that.”

There, I’m finished. My short story rant for the day.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

Last year I sent my manuscript to Kore Press.They had some deal going where if you submitted, the press would provide limited critique of the submission—yes, precious critique of the first fifty pages of your novel. I sent them The Bone Trench in which a controversial private prison in modern-day Memphis brings Mother Mary and her son Jesus back to earth. Mother Mary tries—this time—to protect her son from harm, while Jesus goes about doing what he always does: causing trouble.

My Mother Mary float
My Mother Mary float

I did not get accepted for publication; I did get a lovely email. The editors really enjoyed the manuscript, though it wasn’t right for Kore Press. I also got a quite upbeat critique.
In the critique I learned the term “Urban Fantasy,” which is a subset of the fantasy genre where the action is set on earth in a real place (yes, Memphis is a real place). The email began with the standard caution—don’t wig out, this is the subjective view of only one reader—then said nothing remotely negative.
The tone of the novel is “humorous” and “bold” with “quick, funny dialogue.” She found that the “unique character choices” worked, even with “the juxtaposition of holy figures, natural images, and well, spit.” But, more seriously, the novel gave “an intrinsic sense of the culture of Memphis, the importance of recognizing the history of this place, the relationship of people with one another and with their past.”
A scene from Graceland, the setting for the short story that birthed the Mother Mary character
A scene from Graceland, the setting for the short story that birthed the Mother Mary character

I reveled in the review and forgot it, because I didn’t get accepted for publication, and there was nothing negative for me to work on in making revisions.
Today, I picked the review back up because I am, once again, revising the manuscript. I wanted to share the review with y’all. I re-read the first line, something about not being able to help but compare it to a novel by a writer I didn’t know, Neil Gaiman.
Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman.
Hadn’t that been the dude staring back at me from the front of the Poets and Writers Magazine I had been meaning to read for months?
Yep.
Neil Gaiman, the author of the Hugo and Nebula-award winning novel, American Gods.
I’d already put American Gods on my list to read—I wasn’t going to ignore the reviewer’s identification of a book similar to this odd book I wrote—but for some reason I read her description to mean “cult classic.” As in, an odd book like your odd book beloved by odd people. Not a book that actually gained a wide appreciation.
I don’t know why this gives me hope but it does.
Hope I need as I begin, again, to revise a novel without any guarantee anyone will want to read it.
Cheers!

The Once and Future Booksigning
The Once and Future Booksigning

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

A Treat Rejected

The entire time I’ve been slogging through the revision of Train Trip, I’ve been holding out the treat of reading a James Lee Burke novel. It’s a Hackberry Holland mystery, not Dave Robicheaux because I’ve read all the Louisiana novels. James Lee Burke is one of my favorites, with his lush language and “haunting of the past” themes. But I’ve decided not to read the book.
Last night, I got thirty pages into the novel. After my first sigh of relief—he writes so well!—I became depressed at how my own writing would never reach the heights of Burke’s. His details in creating place are amazing. I truly admire him. Then a foreboding set in.
These are mystery novels, okay? Death hovers over every page. Evil saturates the bad guys. As the novel progresses, people will die. Burke has already introduced Hackberry’s horses; he’s made us love them; they are now at risk.
I decided I did not want this story of humanity’s dark side in my life. It’s to Burke’s credit that I believe he is showing me what actually exists out there. I just don’t want to see it.
Thanks to my friend Joe Hawes, I recently read an article debating the purpose of reading: to find friends, connect with characters, experience happy endings—or something else. I guess right now I don’t even want to live through the hatred to get to the satisfying resolution. (And, yes, the raccoon did make it through all the Robicheaux novels so maybe the horses are safe, but …)
We each read, and write, for our own needs. Without this kaleidoscope the world would be pitiful indeed. My job is to figure out what I need in my life at any given time and try to answer that need. So, right now, I leave Hackberry to his travails, wishing him all the luck in the world.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The History of the Nightlight

At the river house where
it is so dark I scrambled
off the end of the four-poster
three-foot high
bed and there I hovered
like a cartoon character,
full-on in the throes of a night terror,
before falling splat!
onto my face where I almost
but not quite
broke my nose.
After that,
we bought a nightlight.

The Mighty Nightlight
The Mighty Nightlight

God on the Blog

A blog on God that gives me words to help me feel my way through life, like a woman blinded by the dark, touching the walls, groping her way down the long corridor, and feeling, every so often, a brick that helps her move forward.  That’s what I find at A Pastor’s Thoughts by Irvin Boudreaux.

Like the other blogs I’ll be mentioning in this series on blogs by strangers, I found the Reverend’s blog because he found mine. I don’t know Rev. Boudreaux even though we spend time in the same city (with a name like that you know he has to be from Louisiana, and he is). Nor do all of his posts resonate with my journey. But for me, a woman with a complicated, unorthodox belief in the presence of God on this earth, his posts provide guidance often enough that I read them when they arrive in my email box.

Coming tomorrow: from the sacred to the profane: a blog with Satan in the title

 

 

Blogs of Strangers

Almost every morning an email arrives containing a fresh story of less than 300 words. The stories are written by Dieter Rogiers who lives in Brussels. He started his blog 300 stories on the eve of his 35th birthday, vowing to write a new story every day for a year. I’m glad to see the email in my box; I read the stories. The flash fiction is, as Mr. Rogiers predicted, perfect for the computer screen, and the stories vary enough with enough surprise endings that I want to see what Mr. Rogiers has to say. Of course, free short fiction is close to my Cain’t Do Nothing with Love heart.

Over the last six months, blogs have come into my life. I’ve been blogging on ellenprewitt.wordpress.com for years. But somehow only recently have other bloggers found me. The happy outcome of this discovery is that I’ve found them. I’ve decided to share with you five blogs written by heretofore strangers. I’ll tell you what I love about these blogs. If you blog, you’ll learn something about what appeals to readers. If you’re a reader, you’ll discover fun, free reading. In the process, you’ll find out more about me.

What does liking Mr. Rogiers’s blog tell you about me? I love the narrative arc. Yes, I like imagery and language and themes swimming allusively underwater. But, if you ask me, a story isn’t a story without a story. (It says something about the modern “literary short story” that I feel I have to state this.) I’m a fan of the “O. Henry” surprise ending, something my uncle recently told me he’d discerned in my short stories (who knew?). And I love that Mr. Rogiers’s is making his fiction available for free as he forces himself to write and gives his followers a gift every morning. It also helps that every once in a while he writes about chickens.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

 

Yesterday, I’m talking to the dog (yes, I talk to the dog, but that’s not the point of this particular writing) and we’re discussing being depleted. Getting the give-downs. When all the energy seems to suck out of you like someone’s pulled the plug and down the drain your energy goes. I’m wondering aloud if I might get repleted. Or whether the opposite of deplete isn’t replete but plete. The dog, not being a language-phile, has no opinion on the topic, and we move on.
Today, up pops my A.Word.A.Day email and the word is—repletion. The condition of being completely filled or satisfied.
That made me think of the phrase, “replete with,” as in, “my life is replete with coincidences.”
I’ve read before that coincidences are one of the most puzzling things to womankind (or course, I read it as mankind but I don’t mindlessly use gender-based words that are intended to be, but never have been, universal). The allure of coincidences is a tangent of our eternal quest for meaning—why are we here? Coincidences tantalize as evidence of pattern, patterns being one of our primary ways for our brains to see meaning. Coincidence makes us think someone is in charge. The universe itself is in charge. Or God, if you will. Serendipity, some call it, and consider “coincidence” a pejorative term.
I’m also familiar with the selective notice theory, a phrase I made up but which means once we register a bit of data out of the billions of pieces of data in the universe we tend to keep noticing it, creating our own patterns, you might say. Like the time I was standing in the bookstore, one day back from a trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana, and glanced down. There, on on the stack of books, lay a book set in . . . Grand Isle, Louisiana. Coincidence? As it turns out, the book—The Awakening—is famous, actually a banned book. So, yes, it would be displayed in a New Orleans bookstore and, yes, I was busy scanning the books and, yes, my eye would fall on it.
Let me just say, I’m susceptible to coincidences—for example, I bought The Awakening. I like them. They somehow strike me as physical puns, like little court jesters in the great hall of the universe jumping up and down, the bell on their pointy hat tinkling. Whatever their origin, I hope they keep happening to me. Of course, the little bell ringing somewhere in the universe that I follow might be a God-sent clue to the next stepping stone in the path of my life. Or I might be creating the most erratic of wakes, following a hopping court jester. Either way, I’m good with it.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

1000 Listeners

Many years ago, I read excerpts from Write Your Heart Out on the local NPR affiliate. In response, the book’s author, my friend and mentor Rebecca McClanahan, said, “Thank you for sharing my words.” Ever since, I’ve had a very specific goal with my writing: getting my words shared.

Random photo of me about to go out on the town
Random photo of me about to go out on the town

Followers of this blog know that, right now, I’m in Phase 2 of an audio experiment. My short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, was released on podibooks.com on December 28, 2013 (last year, can you believe it’s no longer 20103?).  When the collection was released, podiobooks.com—which has over 4000 followers—tweeted it out.

New release! Cain’t Do Nothing With Love by Ellen Morris Prewitt http://t.co/wdWURSBppn

They also included notification of the new release on their podiobooks blog . 

In the next seven days, almost 1300 downloads were recorded.

My dog, excited by the downloads
My dog, excited by the downloads

Honestly, I have no idea how this compares with other new releases. I don’t know if all the recorded downloads are folks actually listening. What I do know is that the chance of my words being heard has increased exponentially. Given my long-term goal, I consider that a success. Thank you, podiobooks.com

ACTION REQUEST:
If you’ve listened to the stories, would you please to go to iTunes and rate/comment on the podcast? It would be very helpful.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

Welcoming New Listeners

If you’ve found us here through Podiobooks, welcome!

The release on Podiobooks is the latest step in a process that began last December. You can read the background on how I came to record my short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, by scrolling over the ABOUT tab above and clicking AUTHOR Q&A. You can read more about the recording/story selection process at IN HER OWN WORDS under the same tab.

Sprinkled here and there on this blog are my plans for the future. My current writing projects, my woes wrestling with editing, and my exploration of life in general are at my EllenMorrisPrewitt blog. Here’s a photo of the creative synthesizer at work:

The Creative Synthesizer
The Creative Synthesizer

If you’re a writer on audio, let me know—I’m really interested in this process. If you’re a listener and you’d like to share your comments, I’d welcome that too. It’s a long road, this writing one, and I’m glad to have any companions I can get.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

How do you choose to get your work out there? This question—ebook or print?—is raging on LinkedIn. Sprinkled in but treated as an annoying buzzing mosquito of a distraction—quit bringing this up!— are a handful of posts about audio.

I am the buzzing mosquito.

Here, at Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, we are living in an audio world.

“Written and read by the author.”

If you want to know why I chose this route, click on “Q&A with the Author” above.

If you want confirmation this was a good decision, check out my page on  podiobooks.com. People are listening to the stories. Hearing my words. Laughing, we hope.

Here’s to getting your work out there. Cheers to a new way of “reading” in the New Year!

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt | EllenMorrisPrewitt.com