Monday, December 31, 2007

Big, Fun, Scary

I love the new year.

It’s like the morning -- or a new piece of writing -- that stands ahead, wide-open and welcoming.

The possibilities are infinite.

Wanna read about some possibilities? Check out what the NaNoWriMo folks have put together at The Big, Fun, Scary Adventure Challenge (read the overview here). Then read the list of challenges people have taken up for themselves. Guaranteed, some will resonate as ideas for your characters.

Maybe even for yourself.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

888 Challenge

I’m taking the 888 Challenge: "Read 8 books each in 8 different categories in 2008."

It feels big -- 64 books! -- since I’ve read only ~45 books per year in each of the last 5 years. But my choices are well-screened: every book (except four) in the first 7 categories comes from my to-be-read shelves -- books I already own and am so excited about that I’d buy them again in a nanosecond.

And the best part? I left a whole category open for books I discover in 2008!

I’ll be posting updates ... accessible through the link on my blogroll.


Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
Girl Sleuth by Melanie Rehak
I Could Tell You Stories by Patricia Hampl
Journal of a Novel by John Steinbeck
Letters to a Young Doctor by Richard Selzer
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes
Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire

I’ve Started and Want to Finish...
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Story by Robert McKee
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

By My Favorite Writers
Airframe by Michael Crichton
Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Holes by Louis Sachar
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

The Annotated Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Quantum Zoo by Marcus Chown
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Zen of Eating by Ronna Kabatznick
This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin

Short Stories
Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber
Stories of Anton Chekhov
The Best American Short Stories 2007
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

On Writing
Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri
Dialogue by Gloria Kempton
Fingerpainting on the Moon by Peter Levitt
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider

Discovered in 2008!
(all tba)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Number 1,014

At 8 a.m. one week ago, at a Marysville, Washington Starbucks, a woman paid for her drink and then extended season’s greetings to the next customer in line by paying for that drink, too.

That customer did the same, as did the next, and the next, creating a pay-it-forward chain that grew through Wednesday and Thursday and involved 1,013 customers by Friday morning.

For now, put a pin in whether you think this kind of cheer chain is spontaneous or a corporate PR tactic. Instead, imagine a writerly interview with Customer #1,014 … conjure the story that led him or her to break the Marysville chain at 6:20 last Friday morning.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Say Yes

"Scales fell from my eyes" … a couple years ago when I learned that, in good improvisation, the actors always say yes to one another. Not a literal “Yes” of dialogue, but a creative Yes -- an agreement to openness; that whatever is offered from one actor is accepted, built upon, pivoted on, by the other. Saying yes moves the improvisation forward; otherwise, it dies.

Yesterday, while marinating on Astrapo’s comment about how to construct ideas, improvisation came again to mind. But how could a solitary writer use it to develop a story?

A few hours later, a writer-friend handed me Ron Carlson Writes a Story. Discussing first sentences, Carlson writes that, disregarding (during the writing phase) whether it’s good for the reader, a first sentence is good for the writer if it creates...

What I’ll call inventory -- there’s something in it. The writer David Boswell says it perfectly: “ ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ is not a terrible sentence from a reader’s point of view, but it is a terrible sentence for the writer because there’s no help in it. ‘Lightning struck the fence post’ is much better because there’s that charred and smoking fence post which I might have to use later.” I’m constantly looking for things that are going to help me find the next sentence, survive the story.
Say Yes to your drafts. More scales!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Storytelling

It's worth taking 5 minutes each to watch these four video snips on storytelling from Ira Glass, host and producer of public radio's (and now, premium cable TV's) This American Life:

#1 Components of story: action and reflection

#2 Finding the story ... trimming the story ... and (sigh) sometimes killing the story

#3 Pursuing through the it's-not-as-good-as-you-want-it-to-be phase

#4 Finding your voice and including others' voices

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I’ll never again read about Hanukkah and be satisfied with a generic image from the term, “menorah.”

Nope, not since Dr. Dino shared photos of the literal works of art in his [my favorite!] menorah collection.

He defines the relevant terms and orders them from general to specific: candle-holder, candelabra/menorah, hanukiah. A writer always likes specific words best. But as Dino’s photos show, even “hanukiah” is far, far, far from specific.


Saturday, December 8, 2007


From the xkcd blog: "Wikipedia’s entry on blogs, with everything that is not the word ‘blog’ (or a derivative thereof) removed."

Exaggerated, maybe, but something to think about: What do you do too-much-the-same-of in your writing?

[For a fun side trip, click on the picture to get a larger view, then let your eyes lose focus and cross -- as with those Magic Eye pictures from the '90s -- until you see the words in 3-D ... until they pop like John Nash's hallucinations in A Beautiful Mind.]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Cluster Effect

In the first-season finale of The Gilmore Girls, a thousand yellow daisies were prelude to a marriage proposal.

What purpose might a cluster of something serve ... in your story?