Friday, February 27, 2009

Cell Phone Novels and Other Publishing Curiosities

So, off to school, but two things I wanted to link:
  1. A fascinating article on about how novels written on cell phones have taken off in Japan (Thanks to Brenda B. for the link).
  2. The new catapult magazine issue, which explores the connections between Ash Wednesday, Lent, and spiritual and physical health. If you look closely at yesterday's post here and one of the articles, you might find a few small similarities.
That's it. Enjoy and have a great day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ashes to...Top 3 Student?

So yesterday I got this delightful email declaring one of the conference papers I'm giving at the International Communication Association (ICA) conference in May has been awarded the status of one of the Top 3 Student Papers for the Mass Communication division. (One that I'd revised and sent off during that NaWriMo experiment last November.)

It was a surreal moment--here I was, sitting in a classroom a few minutes before the beginning of a grad class in which we were to discuss a cognitive view of how metaphors work. I was tired from the cold or allergies I've been fighting and mildly aware of the cross-shaped smudge of ashes on my forehead from the noon service I'd been to. I was feeling a bit ashes-like, particularly since I was trying to resist the delicious-looking chocolate cookies a lovely friend (who hadn't been aware I'd decided to give up chocolate for Lent) had just handed me.

And then I checked my email on my laptop, and there was this email telling me that I'd won this award, and I won't lie to you: I felt a bit less ashes-like for the moment. After all, beyond the fact that this would be seen to be a bit of a big deal in my discipline, it was encouraging that I was on the right track with my dissertation, since this was the first paper I'd sent anywhere outlining some preliminary thoughts in that direction.

So I was happy. And don't get me wrong--I still am. But on reflection I realize (the cold/allergies have been helping with this) that I am no less ashes than I was before. Sure, it's a cool thing and all, and I'm pleased that people like the paper, but I'm considering the award in the nature of a really cool gift rather than as something I somehow earned. (As Eliot says in Four Quartets, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.")

Which in turn creates the delightfully convoluted metaphor of me being a bundle of really excited ashes sitting under the Christmas tree (in February, no less) unwrapping this gift of this certificate I'll be handed in a few months.

It may be convoluted, but it feels just right.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Love-Hate Relationships: The Creative Process

As I think I mentioned earlier, a couple weeks ago I had a breakthrough on how my dissertation ideas might be introduced and how they may well fit together in a coherent whole, and ever since then I've been quite happily devouring my readings for this semester and writing in my journal about new dissertation-thought nuances when they emerge from said readings, often just before I go to bed.

So this morning after the alarm went off at 7:30 I spent an incredibly productive hour and a half lying in bed in that state between sleeping and waking letting my dissertation ideas churn in my head for awhile before I got up to get back to the reading.

All this is a strong counterpoint to my life with my readings before said breakthrough.

The point of all of this is that I've been realizing lately how much I both love and hate the creative process. I sometimes think if it and I were ever thrown on the Jerry Springer show together, it would make for some dramatic television.

I hate:
  • How much my emotions are affected during that time before breakthroughs when I believe it will never come together again
  • How little control I have about when those breakthroughs come, even if one subscribes to the "keep working at it until the inspiration shows up" philosophy
I love:
  • The part after the breakthroughs come and everything starts to come together
  • How mysterious the process is and that feeling that the creative breakthroughs are a gift, even if I'm involved in them
I'd like to:
  • Be more confident during the pre-breakthrough times of chaos and self-doubt
  • Learn to balance the "keep working at it until the inspiration shows up" philosophy with appreciating the mystery and learning when to let a project rest for a time
Anyone have any good stories or comments about their experiences with the creative process?

Friday, February 20, 2009

100 Books

Ah, the first Facebook meme I came across (thanks, Cindy!) that I thought would be applicable to this blog...if tangentially. :)

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
How do your reading habits stack up?

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
3) Tally your total at the bottom.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen x
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien x
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte x
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling x
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee x
6 The Bible x
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte x
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens x
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy x
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller *
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare * (made it about 2/3 or more through in high school and college)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier x
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien x
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger x
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger x
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot x
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell x
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald x
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens *
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy *
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams x
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh x
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky * (started it once)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame x
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy x
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x
34 Emma - Jane Austen x
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen x
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis x
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini x (not that I liked it)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne x
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell x
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown x
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez x
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving x
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins *
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery x
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood x
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan *
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel x (I liked the first third)
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen x
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens x
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley x
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon x (loved it)
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez *
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas x
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy x
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding x
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (used to use chapter 11 as a cure for insomnia)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens x
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett x
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson x
75 Ulysses - James Joyce * (I'm a glutton for punishment)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath *
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray x
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens x
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert *
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry *
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White x
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle x
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad x
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery x
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams x
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (tried to read it once)
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas x
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare x
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl x
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo x

Have read: 57
Want to read: 12
Unread: 31

Take that, BBC! Hm, I suppose that's what two English degrees will do for you, although I read a surprising amount of them in high school.

Snarky comments on the ones I haven't read welcomed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reading, Reading, Reading...and Speed-Writing, Academic-Style

After all the non-schoolwork-related submissions last week, plus a big breakthrough on my dissertation idea, I've been getting back to the schoolwork portion of the semester with verve.

One breakthrough of the week: I wrote 7 pages of (I believe reasonably coherent) academic papers for one of my classes in 3 hours the other night. This is a good sign, as I will have to write quickly when I get around to taking my Big Nasty Exams (otherwise known as prelim exams, comps, or The Thing that Keeps You from Starting Your Dissertation Thoughts in Earnest, depending on your discipline, department, and/or institution).

Speed-writing practice with theoretical concepts fully in hand=good. One could even say that preliminary exams are a sort of speed-writing contest, not that different from NaNoWriMo (with ours, you even have exactly a month to complete them once you've started). Hm....

Okay, back to more reading of theoretical works in preparation to discussing them in class before more writing of papers and presentations about them, leading to final course papers before those ideas get reconstituted into Big Nasty Exams and then the dissertation, with perhaps some conference papers and academic papers somewhere in there (all of which will have inevitable creative by-products). And so the PhD goes on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

22 Immutable Laws of Publishing

Okay, these are amusing, but don't take them seriously--after all, since I've seen publishing from both sides, I know they're only a quarter true, since they're half-true from each side. :)

Submitting (Oneself?) (to Editors?)

So I've ended up submitting a lot of stuff this week, oddly:
  1. My novel manuscript to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, as mentioned a few days ago.

  2. The National Communication Association conference deadline was Wednesday, and I submitted an academic paper idea as part of a panel proposal.

  3. The Purdue Literary Awards deadline was this Wednesday, and, figuring "why not?" I spent a couple of hours formatting, printing out, and submitting a bunch of different pieces, a couple analytical, the rest creative.

  4. I'm polishing up and about to send out our co-written academic book chapter which was accepted back in late fall in proposal form (now the whole chapter's due by tomorrow--mostly done except for that "final" polish).
In all this writerly submission activity, I've been thinking a lot about what it means that this process is called "submitting" and "submissions," words that are given very different (often negative) valences in other contexts.

The truth is, that submission of writing pieces involves submitting in some of those senses, though not in a completely negative way. That is, it involves submitting to at least one other person's evaluation of your work--a person that has some amount of power over whether it gets published and/or whether you get some sort of lauds and/or monetary compensation for it.

And that can cause anxiety, that vulnerability that this submission entails. Or we can remind ourselves that that person or persons, while their opinion is valuable, are only one example of an audience for the work. A good audience, and one to learn from if they give you feedback, but not the only one.

Keeping a broader perspective is everything, in some cases. Very helpful for sanity and such.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Definitions for "Writer" and "Author" (1)

Hm, not surprisingly, since we're writers (or are we?), authoring things (or do we?), people of my ilk tend to get in heated discussions about what defines a "writer" vs. an "author."

Here's the link to the wide-ranging (if somewhat repetitive) and long-running discussion--more commentary on my take on it later, after this insane day of longness on little sleep is over (I'm actually having a remarkably good day, but it seems a good occasion for whining).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pushing the Manuscriptlet Back Out of the Nest

So this morning I woke up, checked my email, and found an email from Amazon that was actually useful for a change. For once, they weren't trying to hock me titles like Microbiology Made Easy from the one time I ordered a few textbooks for my med student boyfriend. On the contrary, they told me about the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, which is a very legitimate contest (sort of like an American Idol for manuscripts) involving a grand prize of a lovely large advance and publication from Penguin Books.

The judges? Very respectable authors Sue Monk Kidd and Sue Grafton. The genres? The novel manuscript could be from any genre. Better still, there was no entry fee.

The only drawback? It seemed it was the last day of 6 that one could submit (deadline was midnight tonight or until 10,000 entries had been submitted), and one needed to submit not only the first 3000-5000 words of the manuscript, but also the full manuscript, and a 300-word pitch statement. Optionally, in case one got to the part where people voted on one's manuscript, you could also submit an author photo, synopsis, bio, and story about the experience of writing the book.

And Sunday is ALWAYS my day off.

But it was exciting--I figured, why not? I'd been a bad mama bird, not having pushed my 81,000-word manuscriptlet out of the nest for the last 6 months, but I had most of the elements sitting ready to be dusted off and relatively quickly readied for online submission. No time to re-revise the manuscript or the excerpt for the sixteenth time, of course, but when I re-read the opening excerpt, I was much happier about it than I'd expected from my recent negativity regarding it. So I spent my day quite delightedly revising the pitch and polishing up the other optional elements, just in the extremely off chance that my little pages stayed aloft long enough for the voting round.

And it's now submitted. I feel good about having sent it off again. I'll be extremely happy if the little thing makes it past the first round, in which all but 2,000 entries are pruned away on the basis of the pitches, to the second round, in which they actually read the opening excerpts to get it down to 500 quarter-finalists. No matter what happens, though, it's just nice to have it out there in the world again. It's so good to be creatively active.

Oh, and you'll definitely be hearing if it gets to the point where people need to vote for it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ah, the Facebook 25 Thing Bleeds to Writing Blogs...

It was inevitable (the leap from Facebook to writing blog articles with lists of 25 thoughts about writing for the week).

Quite nice, though. I don't mind the 25 lists at all, for similar reasons to the ones mentioned here (though I noticed the positive points sooner than the author of the latter article, particularly because of the similarity of the phenomenon to a typical writing priming exercise). Thanks to John for the latter link.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Creative Genre Hybrids, Web 2.0 Variety

I love it when people figure out how to hybridize the creative with what's usually considered to be perfunctory genres. To take something that could be ho-hum and create something zippy out of it that I actually have fun reading.

The product descriptions at (where they sell mostly one product per day and give you a good deal on it) are worth keeping an eye on.

Check them out. Beyond helping us as writers think more creatively about genre hybridization, they're often amusing and rarely take themselves seriously, something which is incredibly refreshing anywhere, but especially in the world of retail.

Oh, and check out the discussions over there on the products as well--the site has an incredibly dedicated community that's highly prolific in their commenting on the products, and so it can be quite entertaining to read the discussions.

(Plus there are good deals over there--I got an amazing deal on an expensive vacuum awhile back.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So True, So True...

"The two hardest things about writing are starting and not stopping."
--Stewart O' Nan, quoted in today's Writer's Almanac

Of course, that's particularly when it comes to writing big things that we have to write or things for which we think are big (i.e., writing a novel). Writing other things that have no pressure on them are easier, usually. Ironically, sometimes we won't consider that we've "written" anything unless it's got pressure on it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Inauguration Poem (2)

There's a great post on the Inauguration poem over at the Good Letters Blog. Here's my favorite excerpt, which is just applicable to the task of writing anything, I think:

"It’s very, very hard to write in language that transcends the moment and also serves the moment, and that has a sense of grandeur without overreaching for that grandeur....what I always learn when I read great poetry and when I embark upon each new poem [is] that you have to be very, very humble."

Most definitely.

Finding good language to both transcend and suit the moment is always difficult. And humility is always a fitting response to that task.

Wise words.