There’s goodness in this world, and there’s holiday cheer, we just have to do our bit to make it reach as far and wide as possible.
Here’s wishing you all a beautiful end to the year 2015, and an even better beginning to 2016. See you in the new year!
What are your plans for the Holidays? Have you sent out #love into the world this #holiday season?
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One of the questions I often get from those starting out on the fiction writing life is this: what if I piss off people with what I write? What if people recognize themselves in my characters?
Personally, I write what I don’t know a lot of the time, which keeps things interesting for me–so there’s little danger that some of my real-life friends, family, and acquaintances will recognize themselves in my writing.
I do use some people as models, taking either their physical, mental, spiritual or social characteristics and make them a hybrid. The characters who act on the page often do not have much to do with people I know, but the emotions they feel are sometimes informed by my own experience. This does involve vulnerability of a certain sort.
Vulnerability—in writing and in life—requires seeing the world around us and within us, lowering our shields in order to feel something, and then giving voice to whatever truths come out of that. Vulnerability has a lot to do with empathy—for the world, for others, and for ourselves. This exposes us to all kinds of danger (ridicule and rejection to name just a few). That’s why it’s scary. The protective device necessary when we’re making ourselves vulnerable is a rooted sense of self and worthiness—this “know thyself” impulse should grow throughout our lives, and as our identity is formed and solidified, so too is our confidence and security. With this intact, being vulnerable and the potential attacks affiliated with vulnerability won’t hurt as long or have as lasting of a sting.
The article goes on to include a few very useful tips on how to mine ourselves as writers. Check it out.
What about you? As a writer do you put yourself or those you know on the page? As a reader are you curious about how some your favorite characters came into being? Do you let yourself be vulnerable as a writer, use material from your own life? What are the pros and cons? What should writers be wary of? Who are your favorite fictional characters, and do you wonder where they came from?
A few weeks ago, a bunch of authors gathered for Books Are My Bag day at Barton’s bookshop in Leatherhead, Surrey. Inevitably, some customers asked for advice on writing and publishing. These were the five MFDs (most frequent discussions).
1 You are not alone.
This realisation marked an important threshold. The moment we all found other writers, online or in real-life groups, was like opening a secret door to home. For me, it was a revelation to be among people who treated writing as a routine part of life. Before then, I had a hoard of notebooks with scattered fragments, but couldn’t see a next step. Trying a book seemed a bit improbable, indeed ridiculous. After all, what would I do with it? Meeting other writers made it possible. Within a few months, I was sending short stories to magazines and searching for a grand idea that deserved to be…
As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, we recently heard from Pippa Goldschmidt, an author who introduced us to the lablit genre.
Today, it is my pleasure to welcome established author, writing teacher, and contributor to the Cooked Up anthology, Roy Kesey. He would be answering questions on writing, his career and his advice for those starting on the writing journey.
He’s given very useful, practical advice, some of which I’ve highlighted for you in blue.
1. You’ve lived in a lot of places, and written stories in varied settings, with very diverse premises. What are your tips on research for fiction?
Do as much as you can, and then do some more, and then keep on doing it, for the rest of your life. Really, there’s no other way to keep from producing the kind of thing that will have locals (and anyone else who knows how things really are) rolling their eyes. Also, it will give you access to so much material you’d never have come across otherwise. For example, no matter what kind of job you give to a character, that field has an extraordinary lexical wealth to it, and there’s no better way to give authority and texture to your writing than to have your character think and talk about his or her work in authentic ways.
Another thing I like to do is track down the names (and email addresses) of experts in the field I happen to be researching. They are almost invariably generous with their time and knowledge, and many consider sharing what they know to be a kind of public service. Talking to a top-drawer glaciologist, for example, will not only enrich your story set in the Arctic; it will also help the glaciologist to share good information about how our planet is changing, and what we might hope to do about it.
2. Your stories have been widely published and anthologised. To an aspiring writer submitting to magazines, what would be your advice?
I wish there was some magic formula I could share, but as far as I know, there just isn’t one. There’s only the work—always the work—plus a certain amount of bookkeeping savvy and diligence. Over the years I’ve developed a sense of which magazines are likely to be interested in a given kind of story, but there’s no way to get that except by reading those magazines regularly—if not cover-to-cover, at least the work on their websites. If you do that, and you follow their guidelines carefully, and you’re producing good work, it’s going to find a home. It may take a while—an unfortunately long while, in some cases—but sooner or later an editor will fall in love with it. I realize that’s not a particularly fashionable thing to say these days—you’ll hear others claim that it can’t be done without contacts and an MFA from the get-go—and certainly there are magazines that solicit all or most of the work they end up publishing, but there are also plenty of magazines out there with editors who love nothing more than pulling a gem from the slush.
3. Which of your books would you point to someone unfamiliar with your work?
If a given reader happened to enjoy “How Things End,” they might also like the collection in which it appears, Any Deadly Thing, and maybe the novella to which it is, in a way, related—my first book, Nothing in the World.
4. Who are your writing influences, the authors whose work has inspired you?
I think that most of the instincts that can serve you well as a writer are born out of your experiences as a reader, especially as a young reader. The electric current that surges through you when you happen upon an amazing plot twist or characterization or insight or line of dialogue—that’s where everything starts. A proto-writer is just someone who decides to break the sentence or paragraph apart to figure out how the author managed to produce such an extraordinary affect.
The stuff I read as a kid was pretty standard, probably. Tales of Robin Hood and King Arthur; Dahl and Tolkien, Bradbury and Costain and Rawlings; The Swiss Family Robinson and Watership Down. As for the work that I go back to now to be reminded of all the cool things that fiction can be asked to do, you’re looking at Donald Barthelme and Flannery O’Connor, Borges and Calvino, Cortázar and Gide, Anne Carson and Nathanael West, and lately an increasing obsession with Virginia Woolf.
5. When planning a short story collection, what factors do you keep in mind?
The factors differ from book to book, but my guiding principles usually involve variety and pace. Many collections consist of stories that are excellent when taken individually, but are so similar in terms of voice or plot movement or character type that they all start to run together in my mind if I read more than one or two at a time. My hope is that both All Over and Any Deadly Thing can be read start to finish—that each story is unique enough to stand apart from the others, even while preparing the reader in some sense for the next story in line. It’s often just a matter of paying attention to logistics. I like to vary from story to story especially in terms of length, setting, point of view, and diction. It isn’t always possible to ensure that a given story won’t share any of those elements with the stories right before and after it, but that’s what I’m aiming for.
6. What’s the latest book you’ve read that you would recommend, and why?
I’m crazy in love with all nine of the books I’m teaching this semester as the writer-in-residence at Washington College. The course is called “Non/Fiction,” and we’re working with Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate, George Trow’s In the Context of No Context, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, Renata Adler’s Speedboat, and Anne Carson’s Nox.
It would be an exercise in futility to try to choose a favorite from among them. The Carson and the Sebald were particularly overwhelming as re-reads. And the Fusselman text, while perhaps less well-known than some of the others, deserves a special shout-out. It’s novella-length nonfiction—not the most common of forms—and it’s wise and brave and funny and heart-breaking. Its two through-lines are interwoven and layered with etymology and parallels gifted by the world, each short section adding good meat. It’s really a very fine book.
7. Please tell us about your story in the Cooked Up Anthology, and what inspired you to write it.
“How Things End” got its start all the way back in the summer of 1990. I was in love with a woman who happened to be staying in a small town on the Adriatic coast, so I made my way down there from Lithuania, where I’d been teaching. The war in Croatia hadn’t begun, but you could feel it coming. And that summer I made friends whom I went back to visit during the war in 1992 and 1993.
The first bit of writing that came out of all that was an episodic, unsuccessful story, which later became an unsuccessful novel, which, several years later, became my first book, the novella Nothing in the World. Of the half-novel that got cut in the process, some of its bits still interested me, two of which happened to be based on episodes from the original unsuccessful story: one about a soldier’s funeral, and one about a badly damaged young man that I met in the course of a gathering in a village on the Cetina River.
“How Things End” grew out of an interest in bringing those two episodes back together. I’m glad that it finally found a home in the world, both for its own sake and because it serves, as I mentioned above, as something of a coda to Nothing in the World.
Roy Kesey‘s latest books are the short story collection Any Deadly Thing (Dzanc Books 2013) and the novel Pacazo(Dzanc Books 2011/Jonathan Cape 2012). He is the winner of an NEA grant for fiction and a PEN/Heim grant for translation. His short stories, essays, translations and poems have appeared in about a hundred magazines and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories and New Sudden Fiction. He is currently the Writer-in-Residence at Washington College.
Do you read or write short stories? If you do enjoy them, why? And if not, why not? Checked out the Cooked Up anthology? Find interviews with other authors from this anthology HERE. Do you have questions for Roy Kesey– about his work, the publishing scene or his experience and advice as an author? Drop them in the comments!
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In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, definitely go join rightaway!
My post today is about the writing process: I think I write inside of me most of the time while doing physical work. I don’t make things up, I just welcome whatever bubbles up within me.
Each morning, I try to write 3 pages, to start my day off, and that has helped me stay nimble. I don’t manage it every single day, but most days, it is like brushing my teeth–on autopilot: I wake up, grab tea and head to my desk, where I write by hand for about half an hour. This continues as I struggle with my back these days–I find I can write 3 pages before the hurt really sinks its teeth in.
The daily writing keeps me confident about churning out the words: I write 500-700 words everyday as a matter of routine.
What’s your trick to stay nimble as a writer? Do you write every day or only when the mood strikes you?
While blogging, one of my joys has been making friends. Over the years and despite the miles, someone on the other side of the world can become a real friend, in the truest sense of the term. Once such friend is, Guilie Castillo-Oriard, talented author, large-hearted dog rescuer, and awesome friend.
She’s recently had her book “The Miracle of Small Things” published via Truth Serum Press, and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to get yourself a copy, pronto! There’s something for different kinds of readers: for the lover of short stories, of narratives, of language. It is also a love letter to Curaçao. I’m thrilled to welcome her today on this blog. Take it away, Guilie!
Today marks the end of the MIRACLE tour. A whirlwind five weeks—actually, a whirlwind year. Plenty of firsts. Plenty of awesomeness. Plenty of lessons.
And one seriously unexpected surprise.
Don’t underestimate the post-contract / pre-publication revisions.
I expected revisions to be a snap—MIRACLE had, after all, already been published (in the Pure Slush anthology 2014 A Year In Stories)—so I agreed to a 30-day deadline. It took me five months to deliver the manuscript.
Chances are that, even in the last proof copy, you’ll find a mistake that’ll keep you awake nights wondering how you missed it in the previous tetrazapzillion edits.
2. Get a jump on author blurbs.
If you want fellow authors to provide blurbs, approach them well in advance. (No, it’s not the publisher’s job.) Nothing says inconsiderate like a one-week deadline—for a favor.
3. Are you absolutely sure every single word in the book is yours?
They sneak in when you’re not looking: song lyrics, lines of poetry. If they’re going to make it onto the published page, you better get your copyrights straight. A credit in the book’s copyright page will usually suffice—unless you’re quoting significant portions. Check it. Yes, yourself.
The greatest satisfaction won’t be what you expect it to be.
Getting published is validation, right? I’m an author. So it took me by surprise that holding my book in physical form, fabulous as it felt, wasn’t the highlight. No, the non plus ultra was the incredible generosity I got showered with. Even from perfect strangers. The launch in New York happened thanks to four people I’d never met, three of whom had never heard of me. Friends traveled miles, even all the way from Curaçao, to be at the event. They shared the book with their circles. Fellow authors wrote reviews and promotional blurbs.
And this tour! So many bloggers interrupted their routines to host me, they tweeted and shared and commented and visited back. So many in their audiences responded so warmly, even bought and read the book, and took the time to send me a message to say they loved it. To say thank you.
I’m the one who needs to thank you. All of you. Beyond any success MIRACLE sees in sales or reviews or awards, it’s the open arms and generosity I’ve received from you which feel like the Nobel prize.
Special gratitude to lovely Damyanti, for hosting this closing post of the tour on Daily (W)rite today.
What’s the most powerful lesson you’ve learned in your writing journey?
ABOUT THE MIRACLE OF SMALL THINGS (Truth Serum Press, Aug 2015): Mexican tax lawyer Luis Villalobos is lured to the tiny island of Curaçao anticipating a fast track to the cusp of an already stellar career. But the paradise we expect is so rarely the paradise we find.
ABOUT GUILIE: A Mexican writer and dog rescuer who moved to Curaçao “for six months”—and, twelve years later, has yet to find a reason to leave. Her work has been published online and in print anthologies. THE MIRACLE OF SMALL THINGS is her first book. Find Guilie on Facebook and Twitter, at Quiet Laughter where she blogs about life and writing, and at Life in Dogs where she blogs about life and… well, dogs.
I suspect that the support Guilie has received is definitely because the writers’ community is generous, but it is also in large measure due to the beautiful, open generous soul that Guilie herself is. I’ve been touched by her kindness and her writing; and I know, you will be, too. She’s a great friend to have, and her book is a must-read this holiday season!
Are you a lover of short stories? What’s the latest anthology you’ve read? Do you know Guilie? Buying her book? (I bought it for a few friends in the States!) What’s the most powerful lesson your reading/ writing/ life has taught you? As ever, the comment space is for you to talk, and Guilie is an excellent conversationalist. I’m sure we’ll all have wonderful chats if you talk to her in the comments!
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