April 11, 2011 § 9 Comments

Last year at a writers’ conference, I chose not to pitch the book I was working on. It was partly out of respect because, you know your book should be finished before you pitch it, especially if you’re a first-time writer. But it was also partly because I was too shy. What? Too shy? Too shy to sit in front of an agent and “sell” my book, enough to pique his/her interest and get her to say “send it to me” ?  what? I couldn’t muster that?

But this year was different. Pitching to an agent, for five minutes, FIVE MINUTES!, was included with the conference price. I’d be crazy not to try. Further, serendipitously, I had, two weeks prior to the conference, discovered the presence of a local agent/publisher. She would be attending the conference, listening to pitches and was interested specifically in Missouri writers. I signed up. Nothing to lose, right? (still, if one could lose weight by being stressed, I would have lost about 5 pounds moments before I was to pitch!)

Here’s what I now know about pitching. 

1) Get your pitch down to one sentence.
2) Don’t waste any time disclaiming or explaining … about your book OR your writing!
3) Leave your business card (seriously) when you leave the table.

Once finished, there is a good chance you will hear “send it to me.” This does not mean your book is accepted; this means you showed up at the conference, you chose the right agent to pitch to, you care about the writing/publishing process,  you want to move your book forward and that the agent will take a look at it.   “Send it to me” is only the first of the many million steps in moving closer to publication.

Pitching, for its own sake, is darn good practice.  There you are with 5 minutes sitting across from an agent who is NOT scary (really) and there you are, listening to your own voice distill the book you are working on and wondering if it even sounds like something YOU want to read!
Following your pitch, you may make several of many different decisions.
(I have no idea if anyone else would read my book. A writer tends to work in solitary. I will look into buddying up with a “first reader”, though.)

Anyway, I recommend pitching.
It is preparation, it is distillation, it  is nerve and guts and belief. If you believe in your book, if you don’t hear any falseness in your own voice as you pitch it , if there are no niggling doubts in the back of your mind, then you are, at least, on  the right road.

Even if the book  gets a look, I know one thing for sure. It needs  tons of work. And that work is still (and always) part of the fun.
But yeah, I’m keeping my day job.

the writing part…

March 13, 2011 § 13 Comments

Haven’t opened laptop in 36 hours. (kinda nice)

Herein, some unncessary updates (I know some people find blog life updates or “gone fishing” postings silly or irrelevant, BUT…it’s all I’ve got today ’til I upload some pictures…)

Short-Story-a-Week Challenge:
Still going, tho’ now three stories “in arrears.” That’s ok; formidable projects (taxes, production at work, general merriment) have come up and stolen time. Will catch up a bit today.

(Lent commitment) to A Writing-Exercise-a-Day is a tad behind.
Also picking up steam there today.

                                                                                 (this is journal about-to-be finished)

Have chosen new journal because now on the last dozen pages of present one.
(ah, this journal appears normal, perhaps mundane, but no! It will get painted, annotated, ribboned, decorated…”owned,” you’ll see!)

Have chosen “exercise” book: OLD FRIEND FROM FAR AWAY because I only got 1/3 way through it last Lent. And have two more to follow that: FRUIT FLESH (recommended by Becca, I believe, more than a year ago!)and CREATIVE JOURNALING (which I’ve owned for nearly 10 months but not had occasion to work with.)

Indeed, this leaves NOT a lot of time for blogging but will continue with the occasional photo and writing lessons learned during this exercise-intense stint.)  (I gave up chocolate and ice cream, too; perhaps not a good time to combine that with writing intense 40 days. Ah, well…)

Writing Lesson:
Ssshhhh!!!!! Sit down and write. Something. Anything. A bit of a goal will help: “I will write a poem; I will write a paragraph about green jello; I will write a thank you note.”  Something!  As you relax intot the (longhand) writing, some bit of story or some fine little anecdote will rise to the top, like cream. Mmmmmmmm. And who doesn’t love cream?

Pictured in prior posts over time, perhaps,  here are the books in my writing exercise “book” challenges to whittle away at (at least) ’til Easter.

A boxing we will go…and there’s a bit about a book here, too

April 21, 2010 § 26 Comments

Oh, the darn mirrors!  I realize they help observe “form” but egads…

Nory won an opportunity to take ten friends to a boxing class and asked me and we didn’t know what to expect other than we might be out of our comfort zones (totally) and one of my great friends came along (so I wouldn’t be the sole middle-ager) and we got there and milled around a bit, asking questions and waiting for the second trainer to arrive and then there were real training gloves to don which was very cool and immediately transformed my attitude and energy and then the music came on and our trainer began demonstrating and shouting out directions and there we were jump roping and punching bags (as pictured above) and scooting around aerobically and kicking and punching and cardio-ing and weirdly, everything started to get easier as we went along except for the fatigue part where you think your arms will fall off and then we were “on the floor” doing crunches and crazy planks on our sides and then we were back up to punch and kick and starting to get the hang of it even though turning to rubber at the same time and glad I didn’t have to do 15 rounds in a ring which I still can’t imagine, and then we were up and down and up and down with tips and encouragement along the way and then suddenly, we were done.

Forty-five minutes went like this (insert snapping of fingers) and then there we were all pathetically drenched in sweat and no one minded and no one cared about their hair and everyone felt lighter, relaxed, and very worked out.
So thank you Nory for opening another door!

Denouement: We’re signing up for class once a week. “Once a week will change your life,” said the trainer. 

Me, Nory and friends, post-workout!

The Pugilist at Rest
by Thom Jones has been on my shelf for years. I read it as soon as  I purchased it, read it all the way through, searching for why he was considered a prize winning story-ist (he won an O Henry for his title short story). I don’t think I “got it” at the time. I think I need to go back and read him now. Though there was a lot of pain as well as boxing and also the Viet Nam war in his stories, I am curious again about his style and craft and overall what caught Updike’s eye when he included Jones in a Best Short Stories anthology.

Granta me favor …

June 12, 2009 § 16 Comments


This arrived in the mail last week. I removed the plastic wrapper around it so that it could breathe. I left it on the kitchen table for a day or two. It looked nice against the flowered tablecloth. It was then moved to the bannister, meaning a move to the upstairs. How many people woudl walk by it, march upstairs without snagging it and taking it up?

The next stop was my dresser.  Then the TBR pile. It stalled there, got lost. 

And then, the other morning, as I dangled my arm over the side of the bed while trying to decide whether or not I should get up, but knowing that if I did, I’d start “doing things,” I knocked the pile over, grappled for a book without looking, fished it up and it was this one, this yet-another-precious Granta

I scanned the table of contents.
OMG, an interview with Mavis Gallant!
What?  I love her work.
Oh, you remark, it’s easy to say that. You say that about everyone.
I do? I don’t mean to. Or, maybe I do. But Mavis, an expat to sunny old France, is special, in part because she is an expat. To France.

I’m a francophile. I can’t help it. No cause for alarm. It only means I love things French and France and  the language and yes, I love Parisians, too, those “tetu” blockheads and I cringed when the US went through its “freedom” fries and “freedom” dressing phase.  (oh for Pete’s sake, of course I love it here.  I mean, I came home from France, time after time, didn’t I?)

I haven’t read her piece yet. I think it’s an interview. I love high quality interviews. I’m “saving” it. I will soon read it, bit by bit, but I did flip through the entire issue, too, seeing what’s in there, what grabs. (All of it “grabs.” OK, I’m probably over-touting it, but if you have occasion to buy a Granta at a garage sale or from the library for 25 cents, I’d say it’s a wise investment for a quarter. You will find something in it to love, the least of which is the spirit of the thing and the writers they include. Or, buy it fresh from the shelf at the bookstore. A good bookstore will have it.)

Back to Mavis: I have two of her books: one of essays and reviews, the other a novella and short stories. 

She’s a Canadian who’s kept her birth country and returned to it often while the City of Light  became her home actually. She is sometimes (often?) acclaimed as one of the penulitmate short story writing greats. Born in 1922, she married at age 20,  it lasted five years, and she left newspaper writing in Canada to pursue fiction writing… in Paris.  She has published more than 100 short stories, the majority for the New Yorker where she is still published. 

I love Granta. I save every issue. I read them out of order.  I collect them like books. I read them carefully, not cracking them open too far. Sometimes, though, I write in them with pencils.  They are a terrific timeline, a graceful marker of writing, how it grows and how it stays the same.

I’ve never aspired to be a Granta editor (though i am happy to say I no longer wish to take Anna Wintour’s place at VOGUE, either. Pshew.)  I’m thrilled when Granta arrives in the mail, five times a year.  There is always a photo story, too. Somehow, on its pages, pictures take on the thrill of actual existence: a picture of  a coal miner becomes a pinup; a terrier dog sleeping in the grass becomes worthy of hanging over the fireplace, doesn’t matter whose dog it is or who took  the photograph.  Granta takes everything and makes it more, by the nature of its package, its credit, its belief in writers.

The magazine was started in 1889 by students at Cambridge and named THE GRANTA for the river that runs through the town. It grew, it morphed in the hands of AA Milne and Ted Hughes and his tragic wife Miss Plath and many others. Then it dipped, nearly fell off the shelf ’til it was revived in the late ’70s.
The following is directly from its web site: 

“Since 1979, the year of its rebirth, Granta has published many of the world’s finest writers tackling some of the world’s most important subjects, from intimate human experiences to the large public and political events that have shaped our lives. Its contributors have included Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow, Peter Carey, Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, Bruce Chatwin, James Fenton, Richard Ford, Martha Gellhorn, Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jayne Anne Phillips, Salman Rushdie, George Steiner, Graham Swift, Paul Theroux, Edmund White, Jeanette Winterson, Tobias Wolff. Every issue since 1979 is still in print. In the pages of Granta, readers met for the first time the narrative prose of writers such as Bill Bryson, Romesh Gunesekera, Blake Morrison, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith; and have encountered events and topics as diverse as the fall of Saigon, the mythology of the Titanic, adultery, psychotherapy and Chinese cricket fighting.”The thrill of it is seeing new writers.  That’s the key now, since 1979: new writers. Granta has a good nose.  There is no hurry to read each or any issue. It waits, looking very tidy, very nice, each numbered , on the shelf, next to its counterparts, some thumbworn, some perfectly perfect, barely opened .  Each issue has a theme: Fathers, Celebrity, New Nature Writing, The Deep End, What Happened Next, Best of Young American Novelists, Best of Young British Novelists…etc.

So why is Mavis in this issue of Granta, NEW FICTION SPECIAL, with that terrible (as Yeats would use the word “terrible”) blue cover?
I will investigate and report back.

I suspect this one has been around the barn more than once … so I’m giving it more of a writerly-bookish answer approach …

September 2, 2008 § 3 Comments

1. My uncle once: gave me and my roommate a ride – we were hitchhiking home and he encountered us halfway. Oh, it wasn’t good. We wanted to suprise my parents by  just showing up. Thinking they wouldn’t ask how we got there. But Unc told them the story, shaking his head and tch-tching. Yikes.

2. Never in my life: have I read ULYSSES.

3. When I was five: I knew I wanted to write. Not just write ‘on” things with my crayons and markers, but actually write things that the adults would enjoy reading.

4. High school was: a good time and place to read a lot, waiting, waiting, to get out of town.

5. I will never forget: my first publishing paycheck. (It doesn’t count, really, not at all. WOMAN’S WORLD accepted a piece I wrote about my husband, also including his picture which I sent in. Egads- it was awesome feeling, and thus, the byline addiction began!)

6. Once I met: Diane Von Furstenburg. I had to interview her. I kept it blessedly short yet had no lack of detail to include in my article.

7. There’s this girl I know: who never shuts up. And she is not aware of it. But it’s ok. She’s just out there.

8. Once, at a bar: I got everyone to dance.

9. By noon, I’m usually: done with work at the office and ready to go outdoors, then read, then sit down and work for the rest of the day, on my stuff! hahahaha. my work day does not end ’til 5 (or later). But really, I have most stuff done by noon. America doesn’t have the workweek lined out very well.

10. Last night: What? I made a brilliant simple dinner, cleaned up, talked on phone, oh, blah blah blah, it all sounds so ordinary but it was lovely.

11. If only I had: earned an MFA.

12. Next time I go to church: the minister will point at me and ask “where have you been?”

13. What worries me most: is someone needing me and I don’t know it.

14. When I turn my head left I see: our bookshelves.

15. When I turn my head right I see: the hallway to the kitchen.

16. You know I’m lying when: I answer a question very quickly (unless you’re asking if I want ice cream). I am typically a very deliberate answerer, not too glib.

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: the music!!!! What? Am I the only one who loves the Cars, early Madonna, the entire Euro sound, the Thompson twins, flock of seagulls, WHAM!, Phil when he was with Genesis,  etc.?

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: oh geez, what’s-her-name in Taming of the Shrew. (It’s “Kate” in the modern musical).

19. By this time next year: I should have some short stories … finished!

20. A better name for me would be: I dunno.  My name is part of me, yeah, even tho’ plenty of other people have it.

21. I have a hard time understanding: the writer Beckett. Or, dada-ism.

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: get my MFA.

23. You know I like you if: I give you a nickname.

25. Take my advice, never: say “yes” to a writing project if you don’t mean it.

26. My ideal breakfast is: eaten at 11:30-ish. With coffee. At a cafe. With HM and some magazines OR the New York Times.

27. A song I love but do not have is: Mr. Brightside (the Killers?)

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: take me with you, to give you a tour.

29. Why won’t people: watch less TV?

30. If you spend a night at my house: you’ll have to say you’re tired and want to sleep or else I’ll keep you up talking about books and travel and drinking wine and finding out what you want to do the next day.

31. I’d stop my wedding for: a stampede of horses, or if I happened to show up on the wrong day (didn’t that happen in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD?)

32. The world could do without: ill-placed sarcasm.

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: throw out any of our books.

34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: Owen Wilson (not very literary of me, is it?!)

35. Paper clips are more useful than: staples.

36. If I do anything well it’s:  coach people on getting things down on paper. (as for coaching myself? ah, um … not so much. Strange, huh?)

37. And by the way: I am procrastinating right now.

Quick! Name some books that…

July 15, 2008 § 3 Comments

Without looking, without moving from your seat, without squinting at the shelves or calling out to anyone else in the house to check for you, name some books that have been sitting on your shelf (or nightstand) for at least two years (come on, I’m not the only one who has brand new books sitting here waiting) and tell why you haven’t cracked them open yet.

Yes, you know they are there. You look at them every time you’re hunting for something to read…and yet, you pass them over. What are their titles? Why aren’t you reading them yet? I was going to gather them up for a picture, but that would be mean, to get them off the shelf for a pic, then reshelve them. They are not bad books, not disapointing, not too this or too that. No, no, it’s just that I haven’t … well … picked … them …up … Or, maybe I do have “collecting” tendencies.

1) FRENCH WOMEN DON’T GET FAT – Mireille Guiliano
It’s a nice looking book; nice paper, nice feel; I bought it in order to review it for a magazine.  But I’m not in any hurry to cook or do wine like a frenchie, though I love doing so when there, in France.  I don’t know; this one has not moved me. Guess cause it’s not bedtime reading nor does it pique my (rather listless) culinary curiosity.

I’m saving it. What for? For a week at the beach. An Atlantic beach. Where there is nothing to do but read, and in so doing, stop now and then to level my gaze across the ocean in what I think is the direction of South Africa.

I have a definite tendency towards books about writing. I always discover some kind of nugget in them. But this one has yet to be opened and experienced. I know it’s good. I gave a  copy to someone as a gift and heard back that she really enjoyed it. I’m just waiting for some “right’ moment to delve in there and see what the author has to say about the different types of writers.

This one is the Forrest Gump of books. Everyone read this one. Everyone talked about it. Everyone loved it. Even non-grammar types. As thrilled as I am that a book of such a nature (apparently) hit the best-selling lists, I am happy to have it smiling at me from the shelf on my dresser’s hutch. I will pack the portable little thing in my giant purse one of these days and open it and laugh over it at lunch and wonder why I didn’t read it sooner. For now, though, it’s just one of those books I am content to own.

Ah, the Finn-ster. That brilliant little Huck of a lad!  The willy nilly feckless footloose fellow!  We even named our beagle after him. But no, I have not thrown myself into the several hundred page novel, not yet! Husband and both kids have done so, cover to cover. Not me. Even with living only two-days-on-foot from Hannibal itself, Huck and Tom’s hometown, I have not yet been overcome with Twain-mania.  There it is, in all its red leather bookcover glory, with gilt-edge pages. It can just wait ’til I lean up against the porchstep with a bit of haystraw in my yap and a hat on my head to begin reading.

Annie P…

June 12, 2008 § 1 Comment

A few issues ago, the New Yorker had a short story by Annie Proulx. It was a western, her specialty of the last decade or so. I do not cotton to westerns as a rule. Not the Louis L’Amour, or otherwise, type. But I love the smell of a saddle and the sight of cattle and green moutainside pastures.

Anyway, Annie P has a way of writing that gets me to read things I’d never otherwise touch. Like THE SHIPPING NEWS. She had me by the second page.

And so, with this “cowboy” story that ran for pages and pages in the magazine and included no less than at least eight characters, I was hooked. Had to see how it went. It was not the plot so much. It was an unfolding,  a very long look at the actions of the characters, including the overseer on a cattle drive that takes one of his ailing men to a doctor.  They both perish in a snowstorm, but neither of them ever questioned having to make the journey. Then, the couple whose daughter marries herself to a wrangler who leaves her to work miles and miles away in order to keep them alive; she manages alone, pregnant, unprotected on their scratch-in-the-dirt farm. She’s not beautiful. Her name is Rose. She never whines. Her end is mysterious to all others happening on the cabin. And there is a dog. And horses. And men with their range code. And the weather, one of the bigger characters in this chaptered short story.

I can’t explain it. Her story was a place, a time, that the reader watches, realizing that we’re all specks, good specks maybe, but specks in a huge place, a huge country on a tiny little planet in a ginormous universe.

It’s Proulx’s writing though. Her words like “scrim.” Her handling of the language like a master potter throwing a pot from a lump of clay. Brilliance, in spite of the reader saying “no, I don’t want to read about that, don’t want that to happen to the character” but continues in spite of himself.


And then, there I was driving to work one morning and there was nothing on the radio. I pulled a CD out of the visor and popped it into the player. It was Proulx’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It came with the movie; the CD was given to me (the giver kept the movie). I had never listened to it though I love listening to stories. I had seen the movie, though. 

So I listened to it. There was nothing else and I didn’t want silence that morning. How different to hear the words of the story. I could hear the writing. Proulx magic again, not so much in precise plot of the story but in the unfolding that she does. The land, the lives, the men and the horses, the women and the children, all unfold against the green and bold and moutainous backdrop.

I am glad to have heard the story, which was remarkably true to the film.  I would not have recognized that that story could so easily become a movie. Anyway, she did it again, Proulx did.  As I said, westerns are not my thing.

What to make of all this? Perhaps the western is returning, not because of Brad Pitt or Jake Gylenhaal (sp?) or Clint Eastwood but because good story and great writing use it as a tool, not as a focus.

Wonderful stuff. A writer’s writer, that Annie P.


April 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

It has been ages since I’ve read my way through a collection of short stories, a genre which I believe contributes greatly to literature however and is a difficult wordscape as well.  My last such book was Jennifer Weiner’s THE GUY NOT TAKEN which was somewhat uneven yet its title story being a movie (or so it was rumored) convinced me there was some value. I keep it of course; there are few mere guestbooks in this house, that is books that come in, can’t get comfortable and are destined to go out again. All are invited; most stay though some purchased from the remainder shelf hold iffy positions, only because HM and I love books we can go back to, dip in, have a nice read and a chat. (“Dorks,” I hear our daughter Laylou saying! Hmmm…romantic, I prefer to think.)

Anyway, I do get a weekly dose of the short story genre in THE NEW YORKER.  While I might forego a shiny page with poetry on it, I always push through the short story that’s offered. Always. Which is where I first met Junot Diaz and several other “moderns.”

Several weeks ago, EL Doctorow (with whom I fell in love way back at RAGTIME and stayed with him, collecting his novels and watching him write this way and that, always winning me) had WAKEFIELD in the NY mag. The story’s narrator was real yet odd enough to have me interested in his crazy suburban escapade and arrive at an ending I never saw coming though it was being based solely on a character trait (which I should have seen). (True confession: It’s not plot that gets me; it’s characterization.)

You gotta read it. Don’t tell me (or blame me) if you don’t like it.

What a different and opposite reaction I had to TC Boyle’s short story THE LIE that I read last night.  Again, it was all about character. And an excellent piece of writing for that. However, Boyle’s character ends in pain and confusion and the reader is saying…”um, wait…wait…are you sure? Don’t go in that bar, just go home…are you sure?” But Boyle’s character doesn’t hear you.

Doctorow’s character in Wakefield,  who is older, is unaware of his pain.  

A “sequel” to each of the stories plucks at the imagination.

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