Vanitha Sankaran’s Writing Space

As part of Today’s TLC Book Tour for Watermark, Vanitha Shankaran offered to show us a bit of her writing space. Please give her a warm welcome (and be sure to click through to the blog, there’s a surprise new look and make sure this is the link in your feed reader: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/savvyverseandwit/YMAQ).

When Ms. Agusto-Cox asked me to share with her what kind of space I write in, I have to admit I was a bit perplexed.  As a writer with a full-time job, I’ve had to learn to write wherever I am, whenever I can.  Much of Watermark was written on the go, mostly in airports, often in hotel rooms, occasionally on lunch breaks outside or at night on the couch.  Part of my erratic ways, I’ll admit, are due to my own clutter and chaos—really, can you find my desk here?

Your browser may not support display of this image.

I do have a more serene work space but I find it’s a little too organized for me:

Your browser may not support display of this image.

Writing wherever I happen to be when I have spare time allows me both to maximize my work time and to focus on the world I am writing about, not the world I am writing in.  I don’t even need my laptop—just a pen and a pad of paper, and of course, my imagination!

Thanks again, Vanitha, for sharing your workspace with us.

Author Carol Snow’s Writing Space

Carol Snow‘s novel — Just Like Me, Only Better — hits stores today, April 6.  The protagonist, Veronica Czalicki, is a housewife who soon finds herself on her own when her husband leaves her for another woman — the love of his life.  She’s now a financially struggling single mother, but she has other problems too.  She just happens to look like a famous star.  Veronica receives some respite from her daily struggles when she’s asked to become the star’s double.

Check out WriteMeg!’s review.

Let’s take a look inside Carol’s writing space.  Please give her a warm welcome.

My office has pale wood floors, sage walls, and three big windows that look out to the street. It has two oak book shelves that I periodically (and futilely) attempt to organize, a comfy blue loveseat, and a really, really big oak desk.
Years, ago, when we were living in Park City, Utah, my husband found the desk through the local PennySaver. According to the seller, in the twenties the desk belonged to the President of Utah Power & Light; on the side there’s a little brass plague that says, “Property of UP&L.” As far as provenance goes, that’s not as cool as if the desk had belonged, to, say, John Steinbeck. (Granted, it’s hard to imagine Steinbeck’s desk making its way to Utah.) But I still like the sense of history. And, you know — power. (Sorry. That was uncalled for.) The desk has four very deep drawers and a file drawer. We’ve been shoving stuff into those drawers for years. I have no idea what’s in there.

I have a computer on my desk. I use it to answer emails, do research, and waste vast amounts of time. I do most of my writing on a laptop while sitting (slumping) on the comfy blue loveseat. It is terrible for my posture, and I keep thinking I should put the laptop on my desk and sit on one of those big balls that force you to sit up straight or risk falling over. Somehow, I know I’d fall over. Plus, I’d be so uncomfortable that I wouldn’t get any work done.

Mostly, though, I like sitting on the couch because one of my cats usually ends up on my lap. I like to think it’s because they love me and not because my lap is soft and the computer is warm.

Thanks, Carol, for sharing your workspace with us.

I’m not sure how she gets any work done on those adult and teen reads with those cats hanging out all over her desk.  It must be great exercise. . . for them.

The next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour are Janel’s Jumble and The Betty and Boo Chronicles.  Go check them out!

FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Peter Schilling’s Writing Space

Peter Schilling Jr.‘s The End of Baseball is his debut novel, new in paperback this month.  Set in 1944 during World War II and at a time when African-American baseball players were being integrated into the major leagues, the novel follows young Bill Veeck Jr.‘s foray into baseball team ownership and the obstacles he must overcome to use black players in the Philadelphia Athletics to get to the World Series.

I haven’t had a chance to review the book yet, but Schilling was gracious enough to provide a guest post about his writing space.  And I know how much you love these sneak peeks.  Please welcome Peter Schilling.

I work upstairs in my old, 1923 brick house. The upstairs attic was finished sometime probably in the 1980s, and has carpeting, as opposed to the rest of the place, which sports hardwood floors. The attic, or factory as I like to call it, is the perfect writing space. It’s the length of the house, its insulated from noise (so I can work even when someone’s downstairs watching television), has its own bathroom, futon, and all the space I need for all my clutter.  It is very quiet up here, which I enjoy. You can see down the block from my window and feel the house shake when a train goes by.

As you can see, I write on a white drafting table. I like the slight incline on the surface, and I like the way the surface reflects the light from the outside. Things stand out on that surface–my tchotchke’s, icons, photos, and notes. I have a piece of cloth in the center that I use to write on, which my father made and on which he used to perform slight-of-hand magic.

I write my first drafts in longhand, using a Mont Blanc fountain pen a friend gave me, in black journals. Then I pull out my MacBook and transcribe. Surrounding my desk, and in arm’s reach (it’s hard to get in and out), I have a dictionary, thesaurus, the Complete Film Dictionary (I’m writing a screenplay), other books for research, pen cartridges, journals, note cards, and, on the walls, various items that interest or inspire: a current tide calendar from where my wife and I honeymooned, photos of people I admire (Jackie Robinson, Bill Veeck, Alfred E. Neuman, Robert Mitchum, Mark Fidrych, my father, etc.) And a big poster of “Mulholland Dr.“, because I’m in awe of that movie.

The rest of the space is filled with eight bookshelves, filled with baseball books, novels and pulpy paperbacks, poetry, film biographies, comic books, you name it. There’s old train maps from the Milwaukee Line, vintage baseball pennants (Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Athletics), movie posters (Marty, Sullivan’s Travels, The Third Man), and even graffiti I wrote to try and remember the vocabulary of the Navy for my first novel (for instance, in giant scrawl is written “This is a HATCH” by a door).

Now and again I head out to the University of Minnesota’s Wilson Library to get out of the place (which at times feels like I’m in my own head), or to Bob’s 33 Cafe just for a change of pace.This is the space where I spend most of my life, a good six to eight hours a day from about seven in the morning to around three in the afternoon. Everything in here connects to the people and places I’m writing about–the books have inspired certain characters, or I’ve grabbed one or two and tried to figure out how another author managed to structure plot, etc. Surrounding myself with the work of these artists is fun, exciting, and very inspirational. It makes me feel like a part of this world, and it informs all my writing.

Thanks, Peter, for showing us your writing space.  Stay tuned for my review of The End of Baseball.

About the Author:

Peter Schilling has been a sportswriter, film critic, and freelance writer for over seven years, in addition to writing novels, graphic novels, plays and screenplays.  Check out his author appearances.

FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

The Writing Space of Nafisa Haji, Author of The Writing on my Forehead

I recently reviewed Nafisa Haji’s The Writing on my Forehead (click for my review).  Haji was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share with us a sneak peek into her writing space and writing life.

Please give her a warm welcome.

Cultivating a space for my writing was the first step on the journey to take myself seriously as a writer—something I had to do before anyone else could. 

Buying a desk that would be mine alone, not something I shared with my partner or anyone else, was important.  I remember brushing aside feelings of guilt at the expense.  It was the intention, the promise that I was making to myself, that was the real point of that investment.

Part of being a writer is reaping the fruit of what comes from having been a reader.  When I sit to write at my desk, behind me are shelves lined with the books not aesthetically worthy of display in the living room— the paperback classics and pulp fiction that I devoured as a teenager, the assigned college reading that left a mark, as well as some books I’ve never read but have kept, the ones that survive the purging I indulge in when I’m in procrastination mode, or when the shelves look like they can no longer hold their burden of past indulgences and good intentions for the future. 

The walls in the current incarnation of my space are a copper color—“pennies from heaven” was the name on the paint chip, a lovely fragment of poetry and music that caught my eye and inner ear and made me think of the people whose job it is to give tempting, marketable names to the stuff we brush on our walls as the background of our indoor lives.

Always at hand are baby name books, my favorite a book of multicultural names that is well-worn from handling.  Also, a couple of dictionaries, a thesaurus, several books of quotations, and a stack of nonfiction related to historical events that may have touched the lives of the people currently living in my head.  

There’s a window, but the blinds rarely go up, the slats slanted to let in light, but not enough to see out.  

The point of this room, whose only other use is for my daily meditation, is to go within, to get away from the distraction of the view outside.

My laptop and what I type into it are sacred, never subject to the social viruses that get passed around on the Internet.  I have to leave the room to connect to the web of the wider world, to check email and verify facts.

In the drawers at my side are files of stuff that I keep for no good reason—one, especially treasured, filled with rejection letters, painful to read when received, that I have learned to savor as gifts over time.

This is my space—one I am grateful to have had the time to occupy, glad for what has come out of it in the past, and eager to discover what grows here in the future.  

Thanks, Nafisa, for sharing your sacred space with us.

Writing Spaces and Other Forms of Solitary Confinement by Jamie Ford

If you’ll recall, I recently reviewed Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (click for my review).  Ford was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share with us a sneak peek into his writing space and writing life, along with some great shots of his dogs.

You know I love dogs, so this was a real treat to see that his dogs act like Charlee does when I’m on the computer.

I hope you enjoy today’s guest post.  Please welcome Jamie Ford.

I have a lovely home office, with a door and a lock. Which my children still happily ignore, despite telling them that when I’m writing they should only interrupt if the house is on fire or if someone requires stitches. Who knew that rides to the mall, and “I can’t find my iPod headphones,” would rival such emergencies? Nevertheless, this is where I get a lot of work done. 

The Desk. My neighbor is a chiropractor and has been steering me in the direction of something more ergonomic for months, but old habits (and writing desks) are hard to break. And yes, I’m a Mac guy. I bought an iMac, thinking the ginormous screen would be easier on the eyes, but still gravitate to my trusty MacBook Pro. Scattered about my desk are a Jenga-like tower of galleys I’ve promised to read, my new manuscript (tentatively titled Whispers of a Thunder God), my current itinerary, a photo of my parents, and an assortment of iTunes gift cards and desktop statuary made by my kids. The map is of the North Pacific, circa 1943.  

The Shelf. Actually, shelves. My office is filled with assorted knickknacks. Daruma dolls—you color one eye when you make a wish or set a goal and color in the other upon completion. I have two, you can guess what they’re for. I have a small urn with some of my father’s ashes—a morbid little paperweight (thanks dad), a snuff tin, used by my grandmother who actually chewed the stuff, and my gloves from when I used to compete in karate tournaments, with a tarnished silver medal. 

The Floor. My carpet is usually covered with an assortment of barely animate objects—my dogs, which are easily mistaken for throw rugs. There’s a doggie bed in the corner, but they still prefer the floor. They’re great to bounce ideas off of and they always let me know when the UPS man arrives. 

That’s my space in a nutshell. I’ve tried writing at the library, or the local coffee pub, or in the back yard on a sunny afternoon, but I love being surrounded by my notes and maps and such. Plus I don’t have to chase them all over the lawn when the wind blows.

Thanks, Jamie, for taking the time to share with us a sneak peek inside your writing space.

Ben Winters: Jane Is my Co-Pilot

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (click for my review) by Ben Winters and Jane Austen is another mash-up of classic literature with the paranormal.  Winters was kind enough to provide a guest post about why he chose to use Austen’s work.  Please give him a warm welcome.

Jane is my Co-Pilot: The Fine Art of Making Sense and Sensibility Totally Ridiculous
By Ben H. Winters
Since writing Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I’ve gotten a ton of feedback about how nice it is that I’ve made Jane Austen appealing to certain readers — meaning readers who previously suffered a persistent allergy to The Classics. I am complimented for taking the prim and decorous Jane Austen and making her, A) really violent, and B) really funny.
The first compliment I will gladly accept. Over the decades since Sense and Sensibility first appeared, it has been noted by scholars and casual readers alike that the book is sorely lacking in shipwrecks, shark attacks, and vividly described decapitations. I believe it was the poet and critic Thomas Chatterton who admired the novel’s careful plotting and social critique, but lamented the total absence of vengeful ghost pirates.
But I can’t take credit for making Jane Austen funny. As is well known by passionate fans of Austen — I have yet to meet any other kind — the old girl has always been funny. Take for example Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, a set of secondary characters in Sense and Sensibility. The periodic appearances of the Palmers comprise what any comedy writer will recognize as a running gag. Mrs. Palmer is chatty and trivial, while Mr. Palmer (a delightful Hugh Laurie in the Ang Lee version) is gruff and unaffectionate. What Mrs. Palmer labels “droll,” the reader — along with Elinor, our sensible heroine — recognizes as plain distaste for his wife, her friends, and everybody else in the universe. Every time those Palmers show up, we know we’re in for the next variation on the same great gag.
Note that Austen doesn’t do to the Palmers what Charles Dickens would: Exaggerate their core traits to the point of absurdity. (Also, she doesn’t name them something like Mr. and Mrs. Featherwit). The Palmers are funny, but they’re plausible, and their primary function in the book is to provide not laughs, but a corrective to Marianne’s rosy ideal of married life. So Austen makes them funny, but not ridiculous.
Making them ridiculous was my job. When the Palmers appear in my monsterfied Sensibility, I give Mr. Palmer’s drollery a murky, weird-tales back story, part of the preposterously elaborate foreshadowing of my H.P. Lovecraft-inspired denouement.
I play the same game, of comically amplifying what’s already there, in varying ways throughout the book. Colonel Brandon, stiff and formal and middle-aged, becomes a stiff and formal and middle-aged man-monster. Genial Sir John becomes genial adventurer/explorer Sir John. Had Austen made all her characters ridiculous in that Dickensian way, if she had been the kind of writer who is forever winking at her readers, my book would be (as they say in improv comedy) a hat on a hat. But because Sense and Sensibility is so eloquent and restrained, Sea Monsters gets to go way over the top.
This is true even on the simple level of vocabulary. Austen’s precise early-19th century diction is the textual equivalent of Eustace Tilly, the top-hatted, monocled figure from the cover of the New Yorker: Her writing simply oozes good taste. The trick was to appropriate that ever-so-tasteful and old-timey Austenian style to describe things she never would have:
In the profound silence that followed, their ears were filled with a low thrashing sound, as the corpse of the bosun’s mate was noisily consumed by devil fish. At length the captain drew upon his pipe, and spoke again. “Let us only pray that this is the worst such abomination you encounter in this benighted land; for such is but a minnow, when compared to the Devonshire Fang-Beast.”
“The . . . what?”
Even more fun to play with than Austen’s eloquent vocabulary is her universe of enforced emotional rectitude. The Dashwood sisters live in a world where one’s feelings are not blurted out — or, at least, they’re not meant to be, as sensible Elinor is continually reminding sensitive Marianne. It’s a constant struggle to keep one’s emotions hidden beneath the surface; all I did was literalize that metaphor in the most preposterous way, by adding deadly and dangerous monsters which appear literally from beneath the surface.
There was one factor above all that made Sense and Sensibility such a fun comic foil, and that is the place the book holds in the cultural firmament. One question I’ve heard a lot (or read a lot, as it’s the sort of thing that comes up on blog comment-threads), is “Why didn’t you do PersuasionThat’s the Austen book that actually takes place on the water!”
The answer is simply that Persuasion, unlike Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, may be a great book, but it is not a Great Book. It has not gathered around itself the unmistakable stink of importance.
Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, stands in the literary tradition as Margaret Dumont stands before Groucho Marx, as the Chairman of the Reception Committee in Duck Soup: Prim and proper and radiating worthiness — just waiting, in other words, for someone to hit it with a pie.

Thanks, Ben, for stopping by.  If you missed the global giveaway, please check out my review.  The giveaway ends Feb. 19.

Stacy Parker Aab Talks About Interning and Writing

(Photo credit: David Wentworth)

Stacy Parker Aab was a White House intern and staff member, who has written her first memoir, Government Girl.  I’ve reviewed the book, please check out my thoughts.

Stacy was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to write up a guest post about transitioning from interning in the White House and becoming a published author.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Growing up, I always felt that I was two kinds of things when I was supposed to be one or the other, be it black/white, citygirl/suburban, or politico/writer.  While I made peace with my heritage, and loved inner city Detroit as much as I did comfortable Troy, the poles of political and creative living have always tugged at me hard.
I think back to senior year of high school.  I literally sat there with my hands in the air, palms up, weighing my options back and forth: should I try to be a writer (and go to a nice tucked-away liberal arts college)?  Or should I study government and try to right the wrongs I saw all around me (meaning a school in DC)?  I decided on government, thinking that no matter where my activism led, I would have enough skills upon graduation to earn a living wage. The writing life could never make that promise.
So, I began study at The George Washington University.  I lived in a freshman dorm three blocks away from the White House complex.  Within months, I volunteered for the Office of Communications, headed by George Stephanopoulos.  A few months later, I was promoted to George’s West Wing office. I suddenly had a blue pass, giving me instant access to the complex and the ability to walk freely within the West Wing.  I was living my political dream.
Yet second semester, I enrolled in a poetry workshop.  The greatest happiness I knew was walking to class with a new poem in my folder, knowing that the professor would recognize it as a promising poem, knowing, even without her approval, that it was a good piece of work.  This made me happy, and this happiness came from the inside.  Organic.  And I wanted to feel it again.  If I thought I had chosen forever between “politico” and “writer” I was wrong.  I was going to be both.
I continued to intern for 3+ years, graduated, went to England on scholarship for a year, came back to DC and returned to the White House as staff in 1997. I was Paul Begala’s assistant.  While I loved helping Paul, it didn’t take long to figure out that I wouldn’t last as support staff—that the job didn’t challenge me enough, that I needed to hurry up and get promoted to more substantial work.  During that time I kept writing.  I read work by Tennessee Williams and Philip Roth that stunned me, showed me the true power of story.  I realized that if my biggest dream was to change hateful attitudes, storytelling could sneak over the heart’s fortress walls much faster than the effects of any law. 
Then Monica hit.  For months, we lived and breathed scandal.  I felt angry at the president for his role in the mess, but I was always angrier at the investigators and his outside detractors for I believed they didn’t really care about the rule of law, or perjury, or how a young former intern may have been mistreated—they only cared about beating down the president, and they’d finally found a stick they thought could deliver the fatal blow. As the president fought for his life, we staffers watched our words.  Stayed quiet, if possible.  Anything we said, or wrote, about our work, about anyone, could possibly be subpoenaed by investigators. I felt like we were all being choked.
During this time I was radicalized.  I’d worked in government and it was wonderful but it was time to give the other part of me, the part of me that wasn’t going away, the writer part of me, a chance for primacy.  I left full-time government service September 1998.  Ever since, my goal has been simple: full-time writerhood.  Not an easy goal, for it’s hard to excel, and even if you do, it’s hard to make a living.  But I’m still trying.  Luckily, I love teaching writing, too.  If I can keep up a life of writing and teaching, I will remain very, very happy.  And if I can sneak over a few fortresses and soften some hard places, then I’ll know I took the right path.
Thanks, Stacy, for sharing with us your story.  Interested in winning 1 of 3 copies of her book (US/Canada only, sorry), please visit this giveaway link.

Brooke Morgan Talks About Writing and Her Move to England

Brooke Morgan is the author of Tainted (click for my review), which is a suspenseful novel about love, loss, and familial bonds.  For a chance to win a copy of her book, please visit the review and comment.  The giveaway is international!  Also, for an additional entry, please comment on this post.

Please give Brooke a warm welcome:

Having moved to London, I’m slightly surprised to find that in many ways I have become more American than I already was. English people can sometimes be casually dismissive about Americans and their lack of history, which is irritating; but worse, I can guarantee that in some point during a conversation with an English person, that person will always say “Americans have no sense of irony.” To which I always reply, bristling, “Go watch an episode of Frasier.” 

Writing Tainted as I sat at my desk in my house in Hammersmith was an exercise in time travel. Because I set the novel in a Cape Cod town not unlike the one I used to spend every summer in; I admit I wallowed in the feeling of being back home. And to help me, I hung pictures on my study wall — watercolor paintings and  aerial photos of that area of the Cape. Plus old snapshots of my family on the beach.  

These were visual aids, definitely, but I could also close my eyes and just plain remember. And that nostalgia trip was part of the pleasure of writing Tainted. 

Henry, one of the characters in the book, is modeled on my Uncle Sam. Which was fine until Henry gets into big trouble – it was such a real scene to me that when I finished it, I had to pick up the telephone on my desk and wake him up at six in the morning his time to make sure he was all right.  

When you relocate to another country, you lose your past. It’s impossible to turn to someone and say: “Remember when?” because they don’t. One of the great advantages of being a writer is to bring that past into the present and live it every day as you  write.  It’s a great cure for homesickness and a lot cheaper than a whole load of Transatlantic airline tickets.

Thanks, Brooke, for taking the time to share with us your writing and cultural experiences.

Deadline for the giveaway is Jan. 29, 2010!

FTC Disclosure:  Clicking on image or title links will lead to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

Jennie Shortridge on her Writing

Please welcome Jennie Shortridge, author of When She Flew (click for my review).  Today, she’ll be talking about her writing and her inspiration for her latest novel.

Here’s the thing. I am an organized, neat person when it comes to the vast majority of my life. My car is always clean (on the inside), my house is always relatively picked up and presentable. So why does my home office look like a paper recycling plant exploded all over it? 

I’m a piler. I have piles and piles of very important things to do. Some day. I have piles that represent the current book I’m writing, the last book published which I’m usually still promoting, ideas for future books, contacts I need to save and really should do something about, book events coming up, events that I’d like to do, friends’ pages I need to read, students’ work I need to read, complete strangers’ work I will never read but feel I need to at least consider before realizing that’s ridiculous and I really need to concentrate on what’s most important: writing. 

I wrote my first book in a nice home office in the foothills near Denver, where I looked out my window at a brown dusty landscape. I wrote my second book largely in bed on my new laptop, in Portland, OR, where we’d recently moved. I wrote my third book in a home office in Seattle, where we’d again recently moved, because I’d hurt my neck writing my second book in bed. I wrote my fourth book, When She Flew, in same said office, but also on the train between Seattle and Portland, where I went to do research into the true story that inspired it. 

In 2004, Portland police found a Vietnam vet raising his daughter in the woods. I was fascinated by the story, and not just of the man and girl. One of the police officers chose to help the two in an unconventional way, possibly putting his job and reputation at risk. I contacted this police officer and spent the next year and a half visiting him in Portland, asking him questions, listening to his stories, hiking in the woods, and dreaming my fictional story. The result is When She Flew, the story of an Iraq war veteran raising his 13-year-old daughter in the Oregon woods and a single mom cop is on the search team to find them. Told in the alternating viewpoints of the female cop and the young girl, it’s my most action-packed story yet, and my least personal, yet it touches on themes that are very personal to so many of us: how we raise children, the connections between parents and kids, and issues of safety and security in today’s society. 

And now, I’m writing my fifth book back home in my messy office. I thought I’d clean it out between books, but I never did. Maybe it would feel too sterile if I did, and dampen my creativity. Um . . . yeah. Let’s go with that. I don’t have time to clean.

Thanks for sharing your writing and your inspiration with us.  If you’d like to win a copy of When She Flew, follow these guidelines.  This giveaway is US/Canada only!  However, if you would like a copy and live abroad, email me!  The first one to email me will receive a copy of the book.

1.  Leave a comment on this guest post with an email.
2.  Leave a comment on my review for a second entry.
3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. about the contest, and leave a link here for a third entry.

Deadline is Jan. 3, 2010, 11:59PM EST

FTC Disclosure:  Clicking on links to titles will take you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

John Amen on Writing, Revision, and Submitting Work

Please welcome, poet, musician, editor of The Pedestal Magazine, and guest blogger John Amen, author of More of Me Disappears and At the Threshold of Alchemy (click for my reviews).

Serena was kind enough to invite me to write a guest-post for her blog, suggesting that maybe I could offer some thoughts regarding the submission process and my own experiences with editing The Pedestal Magazine. A couple of basic things to start with: it is really important, I think, to read a journal’s guidelines. Pedestal, for example, accepts work via a submission form; throughout our guidelines, we mention that we don’t accept submissions via regular mail or email. Still, though, we receive quite a few submissions by both mail and email during each reading cycle. We always respond to the person, asking him or her to resubmit via the form, but this is time-consuming for everyone involved. Also, with some issues we are looking for specific work; for example, we tend to publish only flash fiction in one of our summer releases. We’ll post this in the guidelines, but sure enough, a few submissions will be full-length stories. So, again, it is really important to read and comply with a journal’s guidelines.

Beyond these basics, the real question is not so much a matter of protocol, but rather a matter regarding writing itself. I mean, the mechanics of actually getting published in a journal are not that complicated: write, find the proper magazine to submit to, adhere to various guidelines, and submit your work; if the editors resonate with what you’ve sent, the work will be published. So the real issue has to do, I believe, with one’s relationship with one’s own writing. I’m not a fanatic about revision: I think each piece needs to be approached on its own terms; some pieces need more revision than others. Universal mandates or prescriptions are not the way to go, in my opinion. However, I do think it pays to be patient, studious, reflective, contemplative about one’s writing. 

People say, “At some point, you’ve got to just let it go, quit revising.” Well, if you’re reading the piece and something clearly isn’t working for you, then why wouldn’t you want to continue editing? It often occurs to me that editing is really just observing one’s reactions and responses during the reading process. While I’m reading, is the experience fluid? Or am I hitting bumps, so to speak, points where I get hung up, where the language doesn’t flow? Are there spots that undermine the “blooming” of the piece? Is something missing? Is the piece as a whole being compromised in some way? If so, how? One can practice conscious editing by reading one’s piece and simply making notes about the experience. As you read your work, simply note where and when you have reservations, where and when something seems unclear or ineffective for whatever reason, where and when you become aware that something seems to be missing or lacking. Don’t necessarily try to revise on the spot, just makes notes. Then you can come back and begin to address these areas; you may repeat this process several times. Developing a sense of neutrality and objectivity with one’s own work is quite helpful. Sometimes things fall into place quickly; sometimes the process can be prolonged. I do think that it’s often a good idea to postpone attempts at publication. It’s easy to be results-oriented; i.e., wanting to see the piece “out there.” But all said and done, the process of writing is really what’s important; and revision is as much a part of the creative adventure as a stimulating first draft or the sweetness of publication.

Thanks, John, for a wonderfully informative guest post.  I hope that writers will find it useful when they feel uninspired or that they haven’t made any progress.  Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with John Amen on my D.C. Literature Examiner page as well.

FTC Disclosure:  Title and image links will bring readers to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary, but are appreciated to cover the costs of international giveaway shipping.

Karen White on Writing

Karen White recently published The Girl on Legare Street (click for my review).  And she graciously agreed to compose a guest post about her writing habits and routines.  

Please give her a warm welcome.

      I just yelled at my husband for stepping on a pile of papers on the floor in front of the printer.  Our brand new printer isn’t working and he’s checking the serial number so when he calls India for technical support, they’ll know which model we’re discussing.  That kind of made me laugh because I’m supposed to be writing about my organizational methods when writing a novel, and a pile in front of the printer doesn’t bode well.

      In real life, I’m pretty much of a neatnik.  In fact, friends and family have compared me to the anal-retentive and super-organized protagonist Melanie Middleton in my book The House on Tradd Street and the sequel (November 2009), The Girl on Legare Street..  I actually think that’s a compliment.  I’m the mother of two teenagers with a dog, a guinea pig, and a husband who travels all the time–and I’m in charge of all things minute.  Everything is scheduled on my Palm Pilot–I even have an alarm set every month to remind me when to give the dog his heartworm and flea medication.  I do laundry every Thursday without fail, and grocery shop every Sunday.

      But somehow, all bets are off when I write a book.  I don’t outline.  I don’t do heavy plotting.  I don’t do character sketches.  In fact, it’s not all that unusual for me to not know exactly how the book ends when I start.  

      When I get a story germ that I think is good enough for a book, I don’t write it down.  I let it stew and simmer into something bigger–usually a couple of months or more.  I’ve found that if I write it down–or worse, tell somebody about it–it grows stale.  Then after the idea has finished simmering (or when I realize how close my deadline is and I need to get started) I sit down and start to write the first three chapters.  I don’t write in drafts, but clean up as I go so that by the time I’m finished writing, it’s pretty much a clean copy.

      However, with writing two big books each year for the last two years, I’ve refined the process.  It’s what I call my ‘soldiers and generals’ technique.  My first go of my chapter I’m the general looking at the big picture and deciding what needs to be done.  I put the bones of the story down, setting the scene, moving the characters around.  Then I send in my soldiers on the second pass–I add the pretty stuff like descriptions and emotions.  Sort of like adding flesh and hair to a skeleton.  That way I don’t obsess as I sit down to write–I just get the story down.  Then I can relax and have fun with it–sort of like Michelangelo and a block of marble.

      To go to contract, my publisher requires some sort of synopsis so, after writing the first few chapters, I jot down my ideas for the book and turn it in.  Luckily, I’m at the point in my career where my editor (who should be sainted) realizes that my book will bear little resemblance to the synopsis.  Because after I turn that synopsis in, I don’t look at it again.  I’m driven by the characters and their story, and whatever unfolds on each page.  If I come up with an idea for a later scene or dialogue, I skip to the bottom of the manuscript and take notes or write the bits and pieces to be used later, then go back to what I was doing.

      The only thing about my writing method that’s semi-organized is my research area.  Even though I have an office in the home (where I am right now), I use it strictly for the business side of writing.  For my creative side, I use my pink Mac Airbook and write either outside on my screened-in-porch (when the weather’s nice) or in my sitting room.  This room has huge windows, bookshelves, a fireplace, a coffee bar and a refrigerator (for those Diet Dr. Peppers).  

      When I finish a book I clear out and file all of my research materials and empty the low-lying shelf next to my writing chair (big enough so that my dog can fit next to me).  Then I start acquiring books on whatever subject I need for the next book and fill the bookshelf.  I take notes in no particular order, on the backs of other notes or on scraps and hope I can find them later.  But they all get put on that shelf so that I have a good chance of finding it later when I need it.

      Right now, I’m heading toward the end of my next book (On Folly Beach, May 2010). Half of the book takes place in 1942 and the other half in 2009.  You can only imagine the amount of research this book has required to get all of the 1942 details straight.  Notes are everywhere (hence the pile by the printer–I haven’t brought them upstairs to my shelf yet).  I wish it weren’t such a mess!

      Yet, when I’m writing a book all I want to do it write. I just can’t be bothered with filing stuff because it takes away from my writing.  Maybe one day when I’m not chasing my family around, I’ll have more time to be more organized about my writing.  But for now, this method works for me.

      I’ve got to go sort laundry now (tomorrow’s Thursday) and then get to bed a little early because my Palm Pilot just sent out an alarm to remind me that my dog is scheduled for his annual vet checkup tomorrow morning at eight am.  If only my writing life could be so simple!

Thanks, Karen for sharing a bit of your writing life with us.  What do you think about Karen’s methods and her cute refrigerator for Diet Dr. Pepper?

***Giveaway Details***

1 copy of The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White for U.S./Canada reader

1. Enter a comment here about what you thought about the guest post.
2. For a second entry, comment on my review, here.
3. Become a follower and receive an additional entry.
4. If you purchase The House on Tradd Street by Karen White through my Amazon Affiliate link and send me an email with the invoice or receipt information, you can get an additional 3 entries.

Deadline is Dec. 7, 2009, at 11:59PM EST.


A Maryland Chick-lit Writer’s Inspiration by K.L. Brady, Author of The Bum Magnet

Michelle at GalleySmith started this great blog craze about highlighting local authors on The Literary Road Trip.  I’ve been a bit lax in participating, but I do have some of these great local authors lined up with guest posts and interviews.  I’ve just been slow to post them.

K.L. Brady, author of The Bum Magnet and a local Maryland author; you can check out a list of her appearances or read her latest blog posts.  Today, she’s here to share her inspiration, with some local flare.  Give her a warm welcome.

As a “chick lit” author—which by my definition means I write about female characters and their relationships using heavy doses of humor—my experiences while residing in Maryland and D.C. have certainly inspired my writing. I lived here during my childhood and for most of my adult life. From Hillcrest Heights in Southeast D.C. to Forestville, Fort Washington, and Cheltenham, Maryland (which is Upper Marlboro with higher real estate taxes), I’ve seen this area through the 1970s gas crunch, a major hurricane, mayoral sting operations, planet-sized potholes, two recessions, political turmoil, a terrorist attack, and the first African-American president. And through it all, one thing has remained constant: women still outnumber men. This condition makes for a, shall we say, “unique” dating experience for the women in the area and  provides me with more writing material than I can feasibly use in one lifetime.

If we want to be modern women, we eventually have to adapt to the new times–but I refuse. Unfortunately, I’m a child of D.C’s 60s and still have old-school leanings when it comes to love and dating. I believe men are supposed to call first – and no, a text message that reads “whatchu doin 2nite?” does not constitute invitiation. I believe men should ask you “out” on real dates. “Out” means not “in” the house – microwave popcorn and a DVD do not a date make. And no, dinner does not guarantee that you will get “dessert.” When women like me stay committed to our rules, the selection of women is so plentiful that men can quickly and easily move on to the next target, many of whom don’t impose any rules. So, for men in the Maryland-DC area, dating is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. For women, it’s more like a rice cake—dry and unsatisfying.

People often ask me where my sense of humor comes from and why I incorporate so much into my writing. The answer is simple: I laugh to keep from crying. When you haven’t had a decent date since Jesus was a carpenter, you have to laugh to keep from crying. When you’ve reached level of financial success such that your blip on a man’s dating radar reads “sugar mama,” you have to laugh to keep from crying. When your heart’s been stepped on so many times that it can double as a Dance Dance Revolution Mat, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Some might consider such a dating life depressing, sad, or lonely. For me, it’s entertaining and replete with writing material. Without experiencing another relationship, I could write for eternity based on the life I’ve lived until today. And I view that as an enormous blessing–because if I write a hundred books one of them is bound to be a bestseller.

Ahhh, but fret not single ladies in the metropolitan area, there is a small glimmer of hope at the end of the grim, dark tunnel of DC dating. It’s called “relocation.”  However, until your big moving day comes, stick to your rules, persevere…and laugh through your tears. 

Thanks again K.L. Brady for a great guest post. If you have enjoyed this guest post, stay tuned for my review of The Bum Magnet.

About the Author:

K.L. Brady is a D.C. native, but spent a number of her formative years in Bellaire, Ohio.  She says, “I know, you’ve never heard of it. It’s famous for three things: The House That Jack Built, New England Patriots wide receiver, Joey Galloway, and the home of Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt.”  She’s also an alumnus of the University of the District of Columbia and University of Maryland University College, earning a B.A. in Economics and M.B.A., respectively.