Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to school edition: Lessons learned

The UW has been WILDLY UNDISCIPLINED. Remarkably, breathtakingly so. Downright delinquent, my friends. And for that she is sorry. Her best excuse she can offer you is: life.

Sometimes life happens. Sometimes several of your close friends have babies, move to new cities, start chemo, start new jobs, leave old jobs, leave the country, and sometimes these things all happen within a six week period. This has been one of those sometimes. The UW would like to think, or better yet proclaim, she is one of those people who can keep a set routine when life introduces chaos. She is not. When things get nutty she stockpiles lean cuisines and non-wrinkle shirts so she can still feed herself and come into work not looking like she dove headfirst into her laundry basket and shimmied out an outfit.  Her multitasking skills extend only so far as snacking while watching television (for which she could compete for Olympic Gold).  So she has not juggled, she has halted.  A real writer, arguably, would still find a way to write.  This may be why you are not reading this post on the New York Times.  But for a lowly humble blogger, life can still get in the way.

She is back though (announced for at least the third time since starting this blog less than a year ago)!  Previously on The Undisciplned Writer, our heroine broke up with fiction in favor of a summer fling with personal essay writing, got rejected a trillion times (ok, 5), and then tried to get back on the horse (but kinda instead just watched the horse across the pasture while emptying her DVR of 'Burn Notice' episodes). And now she is starting over yet again.

It has become apparent to the UW, during her 'doing creative stuff' hiatus, that maybe her compass has been skewed incorrectly.  After grad school, she felt significant pressure (from herself only) to find a way to get published.  Mostly to justify why she spent money and nights away from her couch & handsome husband for three years, and because in idle chit chat people tend to ask you what you plan to do with your MFA degree.  So she tried to write with the specific intent to get published, tailoring work to what was winning contests, submission queues, and general attention.  This effort produced a lot of very mediocre work and an embarassingly bad piece about cats.  Horrifically bad, guys.  A lesson learned.

Recently the UW has started reading 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout (yes, Franzen is still on hold).  And she has fallen quite head over heels for this book.  Not just because it is well written and about her home state for which she will always hold a very deep fondness, but because it is exactly the type of story and writing she would love to do.  The UW has read lots of amazing books and been moved for sure, but often felt it was not something she could have ever dreamed up, let alone written.  This book, while clearly created by a FAR more capable author than the UW, somehow feels possible.  It is a very lovely feeling.  And has reminded the UW that there is tremendous value in just the act of reading and writing something that you yourself really enjoy.  And that writing a story whose process makes the UW as happy as as reading this book would be a very noble and worthy pursuit, even if no one ever publishes it.  And that maybe her aim should be more focused around writing things that excite her that may go nowhere, than bitchy crap about cats in hopes that it flashes across some snarky hipster's newsfeed for 20 seconds and maybe they read (and judge) it.

Things in the UW's life are shifting, outside of writing and working and eating and sleeping and watching "Parks & Rec" reruns.  It is a very wonderful shift, but has made her realize there is no great need for the fame and fortune that she kinda deep down has wanted since she was rehearsing award acceptance speeches into the hallway mirror she could barely see into on her tippy toes.  That there is just as much value to a quiet, simple, and unexamined by others life.  So she will still write (and blog), and now wait until she has written something she is proud of and believes in before she throws it out to the wolves.  And if it only ever amounts to a pile of shredded paper covered in wolf pee, at least she will have had fun in the process.

One final note: this fall the UW is actually doing something with that ding dang degree of hers.  She will be serving as a teaching assistant for her thesis adviser at her alma matter for two classes, including the Art of the Novel.  She hopes being back in a classroom and around young aspiring writers will help fuel many a blog post, and also her own writing process.  And her thesis adviser - whose new book is getting AMAZING press and glowing reviews (and made Oprah's Fall reading list people, its a big deal!) - will be headed out on tour and leaving the class in the UW's trembling hands for two weeks.  Gulp.  But she is also hoping being in such close proximity to literary success will also bring with it many a lesson as well. 

So to any of you left out there, please stay tuned.  As part of the UW's ongoing conversation about writing, she really appreciates that anyone at all is listening to her yell.


"Although I'd like to imagine that its publication ... has moved the editors who spurned it to smack their heads, fire their assistants, and rend their garments, I'm also pretty certain that none of them care," Bissell wrote. "Nor should they care. But the frequency of its rejection seems like a helpful thing to mention, given how many young and apprentice writers tear through ('Best American') every year, as I once did, wondering how one's work winds up so enshrined. One answer: Yell into a hole, and pretend as though you're having a conversation. Yell long enough, and suddenly you might be."
- Tom Bissell in the forward to his story A Bridge under Water  about it being rejected 15 times before it was published and eventually included in The Best American Short Stories 2011.




Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back to work


The UW is quite sorry for being missing in action for nearly two weeks!  She has been enjoying a lovely staycation with her family that just ended this week and managed to effectively disconnect from the internetting during that time.  But she is back.  Since her e-departure, she has received 2 more rejections (bringing the total to 3, if you are scoring at home).  So between vacation brain and some self pity wallowing, she is bit uninspired today.  But fortunately that is not the case for other people!  Today the UW will phone it in with some of the excellent entries she has read of other people's blogs.  She loves ALL the blogs she lists to the right, but here are some really top notch entries that have stuck with her.  I know some of the more clever bloggers do such things as blog awards, but the UW isn't quite that cool (she still rocks out to C+C Music Factory when no one is around).  So instead this is a general shout out to other people's recent writing she is thoroughly enjoying and that she thinks you might too.

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams
http://writinginthemarginsburstingattheseams.blogspot.com/2011/07/fifteen-dollar-mistakes.html

Atoll Annie and the Non-Specific Rim
http://annieboreson.blogspot.com/2011/07/no-return-policy.html

Lit Endeavors
http://litendeavors.blogspot.com/2011/07/smith-corona-typewriter-and-lifeline.html

Things Jill Likes
http://thingsjilllikes.blogspot.com/2011/06/best-of-90s-1991.html

Lesser Apricots
http://lesserapricots.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-now-you-know.html

Leah Kaminsky
http://leahkaminsky.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/horse-pride-and-rehydration/

Drunken Bee
http://www.drunkenbee.com/drunkenbee/2011/07/summer-babe.html


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Try, try again


This week the UW got her very first, official rejection letter for a piece she wrote.  And she knew this day would come, and everyone goes through it, and this is part of the business of trying to be a writer.  That said, it still stings.

Thanks to her recent paramour, the personal essay, she managed to fall into the pandering trap.  Having read a lot of publications she enjoyed, she tried to craft something that would fit perfectly to what they publish - in essence art by imitation in hopes of a short cut.  It failed.  And with some perspective she can say rightfully so.  Her piece wasn't great.  It wasn't worse than what's being currently published, but that's another matter.  She tried to cheat her way into getting out there, instead of writing something authentic and genuine and in her own voice.  She was that girl who decides to like everything her date does in hopes he will pick her to go steady.  This was an important lesson to learn first hand.

That said, you still just want to think what you write is good enough.  And you wrote it, so it's very hard not to take it personally.  A writer friend said, after he finished his Grad program, it was difficult to walk into a bookstore.  Because you have labored over a genius novel that you can't get any takers on and there in front of you is shelves upon shelves of sub par work that is being gobbled up by the masses.  It feels like that a lot.

In order to withstand the onslaught of rejections that still lay in front of her, the UW has had the realization that to stick with a piece and continually submit it, you truly have to believe it's good.  In hindsight, the piece in question was not (and has since been served up a brief, literary death at hands of the UW's filing system).  She has one short story that she does believe in, and has submitted several times and is sure she will do so several more.  Now she just needs to write more of those.

But in addition to laziness, the UW has a SERIOUS problem defaulting to giving up.  About all things.  She is, although you aren't supposed to be, kind of a quitter.  Being a 30 year old grown ass woman without a driver's license is proof.  If she fails at something, she is very lousy at getting back on the horse.

In the spirit of saddling up again, she put together a list of things that got passed over initially that went on to success.  Hopefully it helps you swing yourself back onto the steed as well.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell  was rejected by a letter saying ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov got the brush off saying ‘... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy.  It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’
  • Stephen King actually threw an early draft of Carrie in the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it.  
  • Just as The Help’s main protagonist found the publishing world difficult to navigate, so did the book’s real life author, Kathryn Stockett.  The number one selling book wasn’t an instant success. In fact “The Help” received an astonishing 60 rejections.  As Kathryn wrote:
"In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books."
  •  Ayn Rand has sold over 6.5 million copies of The Fountainhead. But before that happened it was rejected twelve times.
  • Madeline L'Engle completed the book A Wrinkle in Time by 1960, but more than two dozen publishers rejected the story before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally published it in 1962.
  • When they completed the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, it was turned down by thirty-three publishers in New York and another ninety at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California, before Health Communications, Inc., finally agreed to publish it. The major New York publishers said, "It is too nicey-nice" and "Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories." Since that time more than 8 million copies of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book have been sold. The series, which has grown to thirty-two titles, in thirty-one languages, has sold more than 53 million copies.  
  • Although The Giving Tree, was published in 1964, people said no before they said yes.  An editor by the name of William Cole sent Shel Silverstein a rejection letter, stating that it would never sell because it fell between the interests of children and adults.
  • John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill was rejected by a dozen publishers and over 15 agents before breaking into print and launching Mr. Grisham's best-selling career   
  • J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all which rejected the wizard boy. But then, upon the enthusiastic response of the CEO’s young daughter, a small London publisher named Bloomsbury, decided to print the book.
  • Dr. Seuss' first book, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times before he finally got a yes.  One of his most famous rejection letter excerpts read, “This is too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” 
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered to be one of the best American writers, wrote The Great Gatsby in 1922. While the book is now ranked #2 in Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, he once received a rejection letter that read: "You'd have a decent book if you'd get rid of that Gatsby character."  






Friday, July 15, 2011

Things to do while you wait for editors/contest judgers to respond to your submission

  • Work at your day job for, oh let's say 40 hours a week
  • Paint your nails with the full intention of chipping them off once they dry
  • Chip your nail polish off
  • Look up a recipe to make your own apple butter
  • Look up how to grow your own apple tree in your tiny postage stamp urban backyard
  • Laugh, laugh, laugh
  • Get the really spicy peanut sauce on your noodles so you can complain about the heartburn all afternoon on Facebook for attention
  • Make a Facebook profile for your pet
  • Delete it
  • Get depressed
  • Review your life choices to pinpoint exactly when you veered off the Noble Laureate track
  • Buy fancy dresses with excessive tulle online that you know are too short on you so that you will be ready when your life finally reaches that "wearing short fancy dresses all the time" phase you have been stockpiling for since you were fifteen
  • Choose names for all your future pets, children, & diseases you will be the first to cure
  • Read other blogs and websites that are really smart and funny
  • Get depressed again
  • Look up the nutritional information of a large Dairy Queen blizzard
  • Cry, cry, cry
  • Write something new
  • Deem that new writing total crap
  • Start to question if the things you are waiting to hear back about were the best writing you will ever do
  • Eat a pizza by yourself
  • Decide to take up photography
  • Take thirteen still life photos of the bananas starting to rot on your kitchen counter with your camera phone
  • Realize your talents are limited
  • Delete them
  • Change into yoga pants because wearing jeans seems too fatiguing
  • Read about all the additional uses for a paperclip in this month's Real Simple
  • Find a paperclip in your junk drawer
  • Clip two old grocery lists together
  • Take a nap from sheer exhaustion
  • Search IMDB for the name of that actor that you liked in all those mid-90's movies but now is in papertowel commercials
  • Buy papertowels
  • Try to assess whether you will hear back from said editors/contest judgers in the time it takes to birth a human, birth an elephant, or birth a nation 
  • Watch 17 hours of Law & Order in a row
  • Cut your own bangs
  • Fine tune your signature wink
  • Sigh
  • Remind yourself that even if all the editors/contest judgers in the world think your writing is lousy and unprintable, that you can always still post those homeless pieces here, on this fine blog, and that maybe one of the lovely and amazing readers out there will give a hip hip hooray about it and that will be just swell as well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'm just not that into you (right now)





Dear Fiction:

Hello!  I hope this correspondence finds you well.  I have been meaning to write you for several weeks now, but have not found the time nor the courage.  Fiction, we need to talk.

After careful consideration and much deliberation, I think we need to take a 'break'.  Not a break up, just a trial separation.  I think you are amazing.  I mean you are Fiction, god damnit.  What is better than Fiction? (answer: nothing, unless you are counting oreo blizzards).  You are smart, you are imaginative, you are lyrical.  You enchant, delight, horrify, and move thousands of people everyday on long commutes and the restless path to sleep.  You are amazing.  And always have been for the trillions of years you have been around.  You have your own Pulitzer Prize in your name.  You are the bomb.com.

Here is the thing, you are also wearing me the frig' out.  I have been trying to write you for quite some time now with moderate degrees of success.  You are complicated.  You require thoughtful plot, well rounded characters.  You need a clearly defined voice and engaging narrative.  You are looooong.  So long.  Even for a short story writer.

I also have to come clean.  I have been taken in by a foxy temptress.  One with cheap, easy thrills and a self-satisfying edge you never had.  Her name is Personal Essay and she is a vixen.  She makes it easy to write, quick to spill out ideas and characters and stories (because they all kinda happened already).  She can be trashy, I won't lie.  And she doesn't always require the same level of skill you do.  But she is fun.  And it's summer, Fiction.  The best time of year for fun.  I know you will argue that you offer up plenty of Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich for the season, but I can't write that kinda stuff, Fiction.  You know that.  My stuff is sad and weird and will never be what you are dying to curl up with under a giant beach umbrella as the sand sifts into the seams of your swimsuit and you slurp your lukewarm diet coke.

This won't be forever, I promise.  By the fall I will come crawling back, ready to snuggle under your densely worded prose and endless descriptions of dilapidated houses and well worn relationships.  I have loved you ever since I wrote that piece of crap story about a fountain in third grade that was such a horribly obvious rip-off of Tuck Everlasting.  You have my heart, Fiction.  And you always will.

But for now, I need a summer dalliance.  And this summer it is personal essays/David Sedaris impressions.  No, they are not great.  But they are easy.  And sometimes, when tube tops and flip flops abound, you just need easy.  So I am briefly trying to join the army of people already much more established on the interwebs writing bitchy snarky clever things about everyday real life to be enjoyed by the masses/lost in the chaotic traffic of the world wide web.  To that end, I have sent out two personal essays this week to actual factual online publications (which is why i have neglected you and the blog recently).  I know, when i get the obligatory "No thanks, silly Lady-who-thinks-she-can-write" rejections that you will have the urge to say 'I told you so.'  I will deserve it, but please be kind anyway.

Summer fling- don't mean a thing, Fiction.  But oh those summer nights...

hugs and kittens,
the Undisciplined Writer




Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rules of Engagement



There was a great article in The Guardian with a gaggle of writers offering their 10 rules for writing:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

These would be the UW's 10 favorites:

Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points. - Elmore Leonard

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine. - Margaret Atwood

Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea. - Richard Ford

It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. - Jonathan Franzen

Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. - Neil Gaiman

The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction". - David Hare

Proceed slowly and take care. - Annie Proulx

Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst. - Joyce Carol Oates

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied. - Zadie Smith

The first 12 years are the worst. - Anne Enright

Friggin' Franzen



So the UW lied about starting to read "Freedom". She borrowed her sister's copy and put it on the shelf. End of story.

Actually that isn't 100% accurate. After putting it on the shelf, a few weeks later the UW was at Powells (the coolest bookstore in existence) and saw a used copy of "The Corrections". So she decided to read them in chronological order. No, she understands this isn't "Twilight" and it's not a series. But there is something hopefully inspiring in seeing how a writer develops from earlier work to later stories. Especially when they had 9 years to do so. She would like to think her literary skill will also sharpen with age, but there is a fifty-fifty chance it goes the way of a decorative pumpkin come mid-December.

"The Corrections" so far is amazing. Which is a problem. Because A: she wants to reread every sentence and savor its awesomeness. (It's a 567 page book and the UW is lazy, so this could take her YEARS to finish.) And B: she is an 8th grade girl wearing a useless training bra in gym class when she reads great fiction- all self consciousness and self doubt, with mild chafing about the armpits. As evidenced by the wild success of torrid Troll tales, you don't have to be on Oprah's book club list twice to make it. But she is pretty sure you have to be better than she is now. And that thought makes her tired and crave a sleeve of Chips Ahoy cookies. And by sleeve she means an entire package.

F-you Franzen and your gifted, lovely prose.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Funny Girl(s)


Warning: Below is a rant. If you are anti-rant, have a lovely weekend and we will see you next week! If you are pro-rant, strap in.

There is a zeitgeist afoot, and it is that woman are funny. Who knew? (Actually, this lady did.)

Turns out women writers are funny on twitter: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/14/funny-women-twitter_n_849353.html#s264589&title=ruthakers

They are funny on the interwebs: http://therumpus.net/2009/09/funny-women-1-the-new-rumpus-humor-column-i-am-sorry-that-i-didnt-write-a-comedy-piece/

They are funny on the tvs: http://www.themarysue.com/female-tv-comedy-writers/

They are funny in your bookstores:






And they are funny at the movies:
(God did the UW LOVE that movie to bits and pieces. True story.)


But let's be honest, if we can speak off the record and under a shady bridge somewhere down by the waterfront: women have always been funny. They are just now coming into a spot where people are actually making money of their humor (yes you, Judd Apatow). And in our capitalist snow globe of an existence, that's when it matters.

This isn't a man hatin' rant, as Bette Midler has been known to say "Let's hear it for the boys." But rather the UW wanted to pause and give some credit where credit is due. And that is to these fab 4.


Go ahead, groan. Not again.

Here is the thing. The UW has a treadmill that she runs on daily (by daily she means more than monthly, less than weekly). When she runs she watches a wall mounted tv and plays dvds since the cable sucks in the office. Back in January she was recommitting herself to this endeavor and needed a new show to fuel her early morning burn. She sifted through her DVD library and came across the SATC entire series that her sisters had so wonderfully gifted her for her 24th birthday. She popped the pilot in and proceeded to watch the entire series plus the first movie over the course of the next 2 months.

The first surprise was the number of ridiculous 3 line cameos that big namers now made back then (Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Chandra Wilson, Jenny Aniston's newest squeeze managed to be on the show twice as different characters). It was fun little random trivia everyday to see who would pop up to say their short piece and then head off screen (and onto eventual stardom of their own). The UW was also amazed at how much had changed since then (out dated references to MCI phone cards and Carrie upgraded to a clamshell mac).

The real surprise though came one day when she was watching a snippet of commentary on the last disc. And in it the writers were saying how the topics they broached on the show were ground breaking. To which, in her head, the UW thought "really?" Surely that can't be true. Then she showered and went about her day. But the thought nagged at her and she realized she could not place another show that had been as frank and open and honest about dating, relationships, and lady life in general. Having been in her early 20's when it originally aired, she had grown to take for granted that anything was fair game. How no topic was off limits or too much. But racking her brain she could not think of another sitcom where you will ever have the storyline of a woman get her period mid-sexin' with a senior citizen. Where they talk so openly about impotence, infertility, funky spunk, trimming lady parts, neediness, independence, aging, and how challenging it really is to date (despite what e-harmony has told you).

The sad thing is that the show eventually succumbed to the trap most all successful series tumble into. In order to make a show realistic and plausible but also interesting, you start your characters in their late 20's early 30's. A time where life is fun and sexy, but people have their shit together enough to have decent looking apartments, some semblance of career and don't whine nearly as much as 22 year olds do (sorry 22 year olds). But if you are lucky and your show lasts 5-8 years you hit a tough crossroads. Unless you are Matt Groening, your characters have to age. And 35-40 is far less sexy and fun in TV land. It's a time of settling down and having babies and chaining yourself to all consuming careers with health benefits (some say the same is true of the real world, the UW says the jury is still out). And in the process, even the most edgy and interesting of shows become lame. Queer as Folk, arguably on of the biggest envelope pushers to date even fell prey to the baby/commitment trap in its final season (but GOD weren't you so excited to see Justin & Brian Kinney finally in love). Friends went there. And to some extent so did Six Feet Under. The UW still thinks her friend Michael Patrick King (jk, never met him) could have made that slow slide into schmaltz more tolerable by leaving out Mikhal and easing up on the melodramatic voice overs. And there is no real excuse for the second movie, as much as the UW secretly kinda liked it (minus the horribly offensive middle east jokes).

In the cosmopolitan snark that has trailed in the wake of the SATC franchise, it needs to be remembered what the show started off as - which is fresh, daring and funny. They had the fart, poop, and bodily function jokes that Bridesmaids is garnering acclaim for. Yes, the clothes were too much, the shoes were too much, the apartments and general lifestyle were far too much. Even the constant focus on men was too much (as Miranda would periodically remind us). But in the beginning it was sharp and tackling the things in real life that are actually funny (bad dates, awkward sex, messy post-it note break ups, weird hygiene, tranny neighbors, fleet week). And it gave a cultural context for a lot of things we weren't sure if we could talk about. In the sanitized realm of network television, we may not see it again soon.

The real equality that the women comedy 'boom' is seeking is not that we get to behave badly and tell poop jokes too. It's that we get dimensional characters with actual conflicts. We are not all Kate Hudson/Anne Hathaway/Katherine Heigl struggling with shiny hair and perfect skin. Within our own coven of chicas we have class issues, status issues, job issues. Our friendships with eachother are not cute, but complicated (well demonstrated by SATC and Bridesmaids). We struggle with getting married, with staying single, with being stay at home moms, with being staying too late at work moms, with not wanting to be moms at all. We struggle with eating (and not just in the tragic eating disorder way). We want jobs that are fulfilling and pay enough to be equal financial partners. We have politics. We read. We write. We dream big and want happiness in a million different forms. And we do not talk 100% of the time about men and shoes.

And the best part is, when we aren't flipping our hair and batting our eyelashes, we are damn funny.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why the UW wants to read your blog

(or status update, tweet, general electronic proclamation)


The UW is addicted to blogs (a problem she has yet to see Intervention tackle, so it can't be as serious an affliction as spray-can huffing). To that end, she is a HUGE fan of Google Reader. Get on it, people. Now. Basically you enter in the web address of any blog you like and everyday you check it and it shows you all the new posts from your blog collection for that day. GENIUS. (disclaimer - the UW does not work for google, but routinely wishes google was an actual person and consequently her bff).

So because she can read an aggregate of all her blogs everyday on ye olde public transportation with her smarty pants phone, she reads a TON of them. Fortunately some bloggers out there are as lazy as she, and don't post daily, so it's never too overwhelming and helps her pass the commute downtown. She reads blogs of people she knows well and people she has never met. She reads blogs about food, about working out, about dating, about living in cities she has never been to, about what somebody plans to do next Thursday after work. If YOU have a blog you write, or even just one you like to read a lot, please please send it her way.

So why does the UW spend so much time reading about other people's pets' farts and the amazing chilli mac they made last week? For the same reason she reads every tweet and status update from her friends that do not involve farm related mob wars. She likes you. Even if she doesn't know you that well. She likes people. She likes seeing what news articles you are jazzed about. She likes seeing the pictures from your week long trip to Michigan, even the really boring shots of generic trees. She likes hearing about your day. She likes telling you a little bit about hers. She likes thinking the planet is a small street corner where you bump into one another while running an errand at the DMV two blocks away. You catch up. You connect.

(She can't lie though - the UW doesn't really care when you checked into the gym or where you are having dinner and with what eight people. Sorry.)

Many moons ago, shortly before the dawn of Live Journal (what's up late 90's!) the UW had graduated college and was living in a two story house in Cambridge. She had 3 fantastic guy roommates, but they were guys and they had jobs. Most of her friends had left town post cap and gown, or were still toiling away at drinking a hole in their liver during their senior year. She was single and cobbling together a paycheck courtesy of a YMCA afterschool program and routine humiliation at the GAP. And she was alone. A lot. And she had a great window/fire escape combo for looking out of wistfully, feigning depression and lost-ness. And to make her feel less isolated in the big jumbled mess that is the "real world", she would occasionally send long email missives to her far away friends about mundane, everyday occurrences. The time she 'made eyes' at the handsome priest in line at the post office (in her defense, no visible collar), why she thinks you shouldn't eat turkey at thanksgiving, how she tripped and skinned her knee at the mall buying fake pearls. It was not literary gold, but she didn't write it to win the national book award. She didn't even write it because anyone cared about the priest or the pearls (because face it, they probably didn't). She really wrote those emails so someone would write back. With some story about their day. Tell her about the piece of strange they tried to pick up at the Whole Foods, how they handled spilling their entire venti coffee down their white linen pants, and how maybe they stare wistfully out windows sometimes too.

The UW eventually made many more friends, and married the love of her life, and she is thankfully rarely alone now. And even if she was, now we have actual factual blogs (sweet!) and status updates and tweets and flickr and pickr and tricked out ways to share our deepest thoughts. Which is really great, with no sarcasm implied. The UW is one of the few who do not believe social media and the interwebs will bring about a horrific collapse of the modern world and the end of bookstores and newspapers and all that makes us smart and happy. But she still really digs blogs. Because it feels like someone telling her a story. Just to her. About dog farts and heartbreak and organic dish soap and the beef stroganoff your mom makes whenever you come home to visit. And she feels lucky to log in every morning to a universe of people waiting to share with her about their day.

It is lovely to not feel alone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Love in a time of Troll-era



Today we talk about the internets.

First bit of housekeeping: The UW, being a 21st century tech savvy sorta gal, has created a Facebook page and twitter feed for this here blog (see right hand sidebar). Should you be so inclined to like the Facebook page or follow the twitter feed, it will let you know when there is a new post, if you are into that sorta thing. The UW likes her computer to tell her when to eat, sleep, breathe, and buy birthday cards for her inlaws so she is a fan of anything that can maximize her laziness. So no pressure to like/follow/validate her existence, but she will promise here and now to never spam or update you about the sandwich she ate for lunch or inundate you with videos of kittens playing the harpsichord. It will strictly be new blog posts and links to the New York Times coverage of when she wins the Pulitzer for 'A Farewell to Yarns'.

So, while trolling the internets last week, the UW found this article that proves that literary fame comes in all different unexpected avenues:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/magazine/amanda-hocking-storyseller.html

For those of you too lazy to read it (no judgement), the article is basically about this:

A 26 year old lassie in Austin named Amanda Hocking liked writing and hated high school. She tried a few different genres and then decided no one was writing enough about Trolls. So she did. She wrote a series of love stories involving trolls. She doesn't specify but the UW's guess is we are talking these trolls




And not these trolls.




Anyways, she wrote all these troll stories. And needed to share them with the world. And so, after several rejections from publishing companies, she decided to self publish her stories on amazon. For about 99 cents each. And this is the part that blew the UW away.

"The first day, she sold five books. The next, five more. “I took screen shots a lot,” she said. Then she uploaded another novel and sold a total of 36 books one day in May. “It was like: 36 books? It’s astounding. I’m taking over the world.”

Soon she started selling hundreds of books a day. That June, she sold 6,000 books; that July 10,000. “And then it started to explode. In January, it was over 100,000.” Today, she sells 9,000 books a day."

The UW must tread lightly on the mockery because some of you like Trolls, and even if you aren't a giant Troll advocate, they are pretty much a hop, skip, and a hogwarts away from your vampires and boy-wizards. And this girl has 2 million more dollars than the UW, not to mention a giant fan base and a book deal. Even if it is because of the trolls. Maybe the sweet smell of success has a bit more oaky moss and warty goo to its scent than the UW had always imagined.

The happy ending is that she landed a big ass book deal. Proving that perseverance, a good internet connection, and believing in yourself and/or mythical beings can literally pay off.

"And Hocking wants to reach as many people as possible among the 85 percent or so of the population who don’t have e-readers yet. “For me to be a billion-dollar author,” she would tell me later, “I need to have people buying my books at Wal-Mart.”

Sing it, sister.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I want my (M)TV


So one of the UW's emerging dream careers has become writing for or about television. As you have been able to gather from reading her blog, she loves TV. Arguably too much. Especially since literary writers aren't supposed to like TV. They aren't even supposed to have TVs. They are supposed to sit around rereading Kafka by candlelight and eating organic dried seaweed from Whole Foods on weeknights.

As part of the UW's thesis studies she took a class on writing for TV from a man who used to write for 'Designing Women'. He was obviously brilliant and awesome and came with tons of cool stories. He also really knew his stuff. The class was a great way to stretch beyond the UW's comfort zone, and as someone who is dialogue-shy, it really forced her to get better. Even if it was only marginally better.

So eventually the class reached the "pitch" session on the syllabus where they each had to pitch their show to the professor, with the rest of the class watching.

Also known as: "when the UW came to realize she is old and trashy".

Turns out, 70% of the class pitched sci-fi crime dramas (including "Angel Torn" about a forensic loving fallen angel stuck halfway to heaven). The other 29% of the class pitched 'just graduated from college and working in a coffee shop and/or living in my parents basement' coming-of-age-in-a-really-trite-and-worn-out-fashion dramas. And everything within that 99%, on some level and in one way or another, involved vampires.

This left the remaining 1% of the class- aka. the UW (who, by the way is about 6 years older than most of the class and one of the only grad students) that went a different route. More of the 'ABC network/10pm time slot/Shonda Rimes probably already pitched it somewhere' route. The UW, being the worldly sophisticate that she is (and believing that sex sells) pitched "Juxtaposition." A 'strip tease meets Cheers' hour long soapish drama about a pretty, young college drop out from Connecticut who stumbles unknowingly into working at a Manhattan strip club alongside Harmony (the stripper den mother in her 40's - see Susan Sarandon, circa the early 90's), Serenity (the tattooed tough stripper with a mysterious past- see Drew Barrymore, circa 'Charlie's Angels'), and Chastity (the hot blonde stripper from the south who loves Jesus - see Denise Richards, circa real life). All of whom strip in designer heels, bed hop with bartenders, can afford Chelsea lofts on their stripper salaries and go to the nearby diner after work to talk about 'life'.

And to make infinitely worse the shame of being the class cougar adrift in a sea of angtsy, young, unemployed Twilight fans, her professor misheard her initial introduction and thought the show's title was "Jugs to Position" and continued to refer to it as such during the entire presentation.

The UW's future as a successful TV show writer may be bleak. But she still really digs a well made, well structured, clearly thought out and well developed TV show (ie: not 'The Killing' finale. Fail, Veena). And to have that complete authoritarian control of a whole show, the way many creators do, is the UW's nirvana. Writing is fantastic, but being able to see your writing realized in a fully three dimensional form is kind of amazing (you are a lucky ass man, Matthew Weiner).

So to that end, here is:

a. A really stellar article interviewing 14 different show runners, that created pretty much the majority of her favorite tv shows (no, she is not looking at you 'Cougar Town' when she says that).

http://nymag.com/arts/tv/upfronts/2011/whos-running-the-show-2011-5/
.

b. An excerpt from the UW's pilot (NOTE: the UW shares this only in jest. Make no mistake.)

Juxtaposition
Back story - Eliza has been wandering all day applying for jobs after she was more or less kicked out of NYU for partying far too hard. This is about the third scene in - so far we saw her get kicked out, call her parents and get their WASPY-ass machine message, and inquire about a lot of help wanted signs unsuccessfully.

SCENE:EXT juxtaposition -- NIGHT

Eliza winds up in front of an unmarked door that leads to a nondescript bar, trying to dig a cigarette out of her purse to find that she is out. As she looks around for a convenience store, she appears like she may cry after such a long day. In her scan of the block she see Trigger, a large man with a barrel chest (think Vin Diesel), typical bouncer.

TRIGGER
Need a smoke?

ELIZA
Yea, thanks.

TRIGGER
No problem.

Awkward silence as Trigger lights the cigarette he just gave to Eliza.

TRIGGER

Tough day?

ELIZA

You could say so.

TRIGGER
Sorry to hear that.

ELIZA
Nothing a whiskey can't fix.

TRIGGER

I'm Trigger.

ELIZA
Eliza.

TRIGGER
Where you headed?

ELIZA
Harlem.

TRIGGER
This late at night? Well Miss Liza, a pretty girl like yourself shouldn't be headed to Harlem at this hour. I can't fix your day, but I work at this club here (gestures behind him), walk in and tell them Trigger sent you in for a whiskey. Ask for Willy.

ELIZA
(Finishing cigarette) Thanks, I think I will. My crap day can't get any worse.

Trigger swings open the club door, does a flourish gesture with his hand to direct her inside.

ELIZA

Thank you, Mr. Trigger.

Door closes, Trigger finishes his cigarette.


jump cut to:

Scene: INT Juxtaposition - NIGHT

Eliza, still frustrated and sad wanders into the dark bar. The camera angle is tight on her. She takes a seat at the bar, fiddles with a matchbook until Willy (Think Paul Rudd) appears across from her, behind the bar.

WILLY
What can I get for you?

ELIZA

Willy?

WILLY
Yes?

ELIZA

Jameson, neat. Trigger sent me.

WILLY
(smiles at the mention of Trigger)
Consider yourself taken care of.

ELIZA
Thanks. It's been a shit day.

WILLY
I would imagine if you wound up here.

ELIZA
(not registering the comment)
Just needed something to take the edge off.

WILLY
How do you have an edge? You're what, 19? Pretty? Life's gotta be rough in Chelsea.

ELIZA
I'm 22, not 19.

WILLY
A young 22.

ELIZA

I thought 22 was still young.

WILLY

Have another. (pours)

Peter walks up to the bar and takes the seat next to Eliza. He is tall, handsome, slick in an underhanded way. (Think a skeezier Taye Diggs) He wears a gold chain around his neck and a huge class ring. Willy instinctively hovers throughout the conversation.

PETER
And who, good William, is this lovely lady?

WILLY
Friend of Trigger's.

ELIZA
Eliza. Eliza Hammond.

Eliza holds out her hand to be shook, Peter kisses it instead.


PETER
And what brings you to our fine establishment?

ELIZA
Pending unemployment.

Eliza chugs several gulps of whiskey.


PETER
Pretty girl like you?

ELIZA

Yep. (takes swig from drink) Pretty girl like me. Can't find a job and can't go home. I covered most of Manhattan on foot today, only to find out no one wants to hire a unfinished history major. I was headed up to Harlem before I ran out of smokes.

PETER
Can you balance a tray filled with drinks?

WILLY
Peter...

ELIZA
Sure, I guess.

PETER

Do you like dancing

WILLY
Peter...

ELIZA
Yea.

PETER
Consider yourself hired, pretty lady. (Willy shakes his head)

Eliza

(shocked) Really?

PETER
Be here tomorrow by 6pm. And stretch first.

ELIZA
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Grateful and tipsy, ELIZA hops off the stool and hugs PETER, who slides his hand a little too far down ELIZA's backside while WILLY glares at him.

PETER
Glad to help, see you tomorrow.

Peter slides off the stool and disappears into the crowd.

ELIZA
I can't believe it, I have a job!

WILLY
(lining up several drinks) Drink up.

ELIZA

To celebrate.

WILLY
You could say that.

Eliza shoots two Jameson in a row, gives out a quick cry of excitement.

WILLY
Easy tiger.

Lights dim in the bar, colored lights begin to swirl.

ELIZA
Wait - what's going on?

Camera pulls back to reveal two women, VERY scantily clad, walking onto the stage that was previously cloaked in curtains. In five inch heels they begin to seductively circle the stripper pole which is descending from the ceiling.

WILLY

(over the screams and cheers of the crowd)
Meet your new coworkers.

END act one

Friday, June 17, 2011

Writing in Parks (without boys)*


Today the UW has a rare weekday afternoon off. This is glorious. And she is choosing to spend it with the homeless peeps, stay-at-home moms, and the highschool kids still keeping hacky sack a viable athletic enterprise. Yes she will be at a park. All afternoon. Attempting to write.

Now the UW doesn't do this often - writing outside of her house. During her whole thesispalooza she wrote in a coffee shop all of twice. Mind you it was WILDLY productive writing in the coffee shop, far more so then in her comfortable bed with Law and Order marathons blaring in the background and a plethora of snacks spread out around her Cleopatra style. But she is lazy, and it's more fun to write with one eye on Benson & Stabler and the other on a block of cheese.

But here is what the UW loves about "location writing". She totally gets to pretend to be a real writer. Like the kind that do this sorta thing ALL the time. The ones who have what she doesnt: discipline, motivation, funky meta-fiction narrative ideas that the New Yorker will love - and most importantly who go to a coffee shop to write on a daily basis. (Also probably the same people with trillions in debt to Creative writing programs who have to work at other coffee shops part time for the insurance.) In all honesty, the UW is waist deep in USA network programming and a bag of pretzels most week nights. So to pretend for the day that she is writing and being writerly in a public place where people might mistake her for the next JK Rowling (if her books were about loneliness and divorce instead of wizards and hot young british folk) is kinda swell.

She is also bringing along a copy of "The Corrections" in case the whole thing goes to shit and she can't think of anything to write. And then she can be a pretentious Franzen fan in the park, which is really the next best thing.

* Aren't references to Drew Barrymore movies from 10 years ago THE BEST.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Women Writers and Jane Austen's legacy



Recently - a giant ass of a man said these things: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers

For additional context of how much he disrespects women, this is from his Wikipedia entry:

"Naipaul was married to Englishwoman Patricia Hale for 41 years, until her death due to cancer in 1996. According to an authorized biography by Patrick French, the two shared a close relationship when it came to Naipaul's work—Pat was a sort of unofficial editor for Naipaul—but the marriage was not a happy one in other respects. Naipaul regularly visited prostitutes in London, and later had a long-term abusive affair with another married woman, Margaret Gooding, which his wife was aware of. Describing his physical treatment of Gooding, Naipaul told French, "I was very violent with her for two days. I was very violent with her for two days with my hand. My hand began to hurt." Of this side to their relationship, Gooding said, "Vidia says I didn’t mind the abuse. I certainly did mind."

Classy dude.

So the UW's remarkable thesis adviser fired back with this piece for NPR: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/03/136919974/from-one-writer-to-another-shut-up-v-s-naipaul

Isn't she fantastic?

Anywhoozle, while the UW believes that women are AMAZING WRITERS and this man is high on misogyny, the UW would also like to argue FOR sentimentality (We're going broad with this definition, be warned). Yes, there are plenty of kick ass women who write without a drop of it, so he is just dead wrong. That went without saying. But while we are arguing sentimental writing - please see Nicolas Sparks, Mitch Albom, and the dude who wrote 'Marley & me'. Guys do it too. The UW herself has been known to indulge in the emotional narrative from time to time for sure. So she asks - what in the hells bells is wrong with that??? Sure, maybe the Jodi Picoults make an art form out of the heart strings schmaltz (see My Sisters Keeper and all the other paperbacks in your mom's beach bag). But there has to be room in this world for the sentimental. Not to mention - it sells. We have enough war, we have enough hunger and terror and violence. Why write more? Why create something without heart? Why set out to write something that is not relatable. We need more love, more thoughtfulness, more literary moments of hope.

So the UW will continue to write her sentimental stories with the vain desire that someday the Nobel committee notifies her that they love her Cat Fancy chronicles and want to show the world that sentimentality and smart are not mutually exclusive. And are even prize worthy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Triumphant Return of Lady Lazy Pants

Remember how the UW made a bold proclamation (before God, you fine folks, and all the internets) that she would submit a story to an online magazine by April 1st?

Liar. Liar. Pants on fire.

But, she did indeed do it on June 9th. So only 2 months and change late...which should come as no surprise as the title of the blog is UNDISCIPLINED. In her defense, April she was just plain old fashioned slothin' it, and May and early June have been nutso for work. But she felt whole heartedly that she could not climb back onto the interwebs and blog herself silly until she had sent something out, since she had promised all you good people that she would. So (with a much needed kick in the pants from Mr. Juan Barkley) she did. Better late than never.

So last week she sent her tiny tale to a short story contest in the cheese-steak capital of the world. Where all the finest fiction is found.


Here are the two great things about sending something out –

1. The UW is still too scaredy pants to send out an actual literary magazine submission. Like a “Hi my name is (slim shady)” letter with her story, sent to people who did not ask to read her stuff and could care less who she is. She is not that ballsy yet, folks. But she is contest ready. Maybe because it feels less painful to be rejected alongside thousands of other eager applicants because the lit mag loved that one truly superior short story about a man retracing his familial roots in South East Asia as he battles some unknown strain of the bubonic plague and tries to raise his daughter alone since his wife was killed in a tragic seashell accident. Because that shit always wins. So the UW is okay being a loser amongst a sea of other losers competing for a prize. It’s a tad more painful when they read your regular eggular literary submission and decide it sucks, without a brilliant Cambodian counterpart to compare you to or cash money at stake. That’s the plan for next year though, regular eggular literary submissions to magazines without the glitz and glam of competition. Right now the UW is still working up to that level of gut punch.

So the cool thing about contests, is that they have a judge. The contest she sent her story to last week was judged by Steve Almond. He happens to be one of the UW’s most favoritest writers and has been for years. She used to cut out all his essay pieces from various Boston magazines and still has several in a folder. She loved his short story collection “My Life in Heavy Metal” and generally thinks he is rad. So while she is quite certain her story probably only made it as far as an intern’s cubicle, she would like to pretend Steve Almond read it. And thought: ‘Wow, this person is an awesome writer. I have to give the award to Mr. Plague-ridden single Dad, but this story - by such a great (yet undisciplined) writer - is really noteworthy.’ In the UW's head he also salutes her with a glass of scotch and goes back to smoking his pipe – because really, how else would one judge a writing contest other than smoking a pipe in an over stuffed leather chair, sipping scotch, and wearing a monocle. So the UW will pretend that he read it and he liked it. And while Steve Tyler probably will not pick her story to go to Hollywood, it still was cool to sing “Janie’s got a gun” in front of him.

2. But here is the cooler thing: it’s out there. The UW’s tiny little story, about some sad stuff in the South, is out in the world and no longer just something shared between her and her laptop screen. Yes, it may go no further than a pile on an intern’s desk, and could suffer a sad death of coffee stains and red pen. But at least it was brave enough to get out there and be doused in Dunkin Donuts house blend (they are interns, they can’t afford Starbucks). When the UW started writing in earnest, after undergrad, she kept the things she wrote VERY close to her chest. In fact the story that got her into grad school was only ever read by her husband, who has a legal obligation to think she is talented. She loosened the reigns slightly once in grad school, because apparently the point of workshopping is to share your work and not keep a giant padlock on your trapper keeper of stories. Even then, she did not like sharing. She probably will never like sharing. But the odds of Oprah stopping by her house, knocking on the door and asking for a short story collection she can add to her book club list sight unseen, are not good. They are even worse now that Oprah is off the air. And Random House – in spite of their name, has not been known to make random house calls to writers looking to publish their work. So the UW has to put it out there. Send it adrift in basket down the river and hope someday someone thinks its good enough to publish/part the red sea (oh, biblical metaphor). So she has found a contest for each month left in the calendar year to submit work to, and then next year will try to just straight up submit stories to Lit Magazines.

But you have to start somewhere, and here is where she finally began.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Processing Process

Since the UW is still trying to form a post-grad school writing routine (currently it consists of watching Law & Order reruns while folding laundry and casually pondering a story idea - not the most productive process), she found this article to be interesting:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703386704576186693849815886.html?mod=WSJ_Books_LS_Books_5

Having listened to and/or read many a published writer's thoughts on 'process', they are never ever the same from person to person. And the only universal trait amongst them all is the 'doing" - whatever system they have constructed to get to the sweet spot of cranking out story always starts by DOING something (writing by hand, type writer, scroll and quill).

So perhaps the UW should start with some 'doing'... Writerly friends out there who read this blog (are there any of you?), what is your process???

Friday, March 4, 2011

Oh, Canada: the UW's undying love of Alice Munro

Hello dearest loyal readers (all few but hearty of you)! So before launching into her unabashed obsession with Alice Munro, the UW wanted to briefly - in light of recent events- footnote her post about success and Charlie Sheen.

Footnote: wow.

The lesson is that commercial success for damn sure isn't everything. Although apparently "winning" is.

But for an actual example of actual success, the UW offers:
http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/03/04/tea-obreht-interview/

This girl is all of like 10 years old (ok, ok, she is actually 24) and was the youngest author featured in the New Yorker's Top 20 writers under 40 and was interviewed in Entertainment Weekly (which is embarrassingly pretty much the UW's primary news source). Clearly, the UW hates her (cut to the UW violently slathering on wrinkle cream while furiously pounding out rambling narrative on her laptop). Sigh. At least now the UW can focus her efforts on "out-olding" the very old guy (David Seidler, age 73) who won the Oscar for writing "The King's Speech." Everyone loves an 80 year old lady "overnight success" story.

Speaking of much older ladies who rule the school -
Enter: Alice Munro (age 79).

The UW spent last week in Canada for a work conference, which made her think of Alice Munro, her favorite Canadian. She is a brilliant writer and one of the definitive short story authors of our time (and other people's times as well). The UW's written exam that accompanied her thesis was basically a love letter to Munro's work. So do yourself a favor and check her out (and aboot)!

Here is the UW's favorite story by Alice Munro called "Fiction" (it is on 12 pages, so just keep clicking next after you read a page):

http://www.dailylit.com/books/fiction/1

Hope you enjoy, eh!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fanning the flames of love

So the UW is riding the coattails of Monday's holiday and writing today about writing about romance. It's friggin hard, peeps. HARD. No clue how the Austens, Brontes, and Shakespeares of the world pulled it off so remarkably. But with so many greats in their graves, modern romance it seems is even harder to craft. The UW is no Danielle Steele (can we agree that might be a good thing?), and the problem is that writing about smooshy (think kittens, not Jersey Shore), gushy romantic love is generally bubbly and frothy and sweet (see 'Chick Lit.') and has a super happy (and often contrived) ending. These adjectives are not in the UW's repertoire. As a character in a UW story you are looking at divorce, disease, or death at a bare minimum. So really good, non-formulaic (see 'Opposite of nearly all movie romcoms/fairytales/single women urban legends') romance is hard to write.

When going about her thesis, the UW felt compelled to adhere to some semblance of affirmative action. Henceforth, she made sure to write characters of different races, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, and parts of the country. In order to diversify the actual stories she was telling, this also meant she had to take a stab at writing a happy ending. And without reuniting long lost parents & children, the second easiest happy ending plot line is having a couple get together. So the UW did. It ended in UW fashion (housefire and applique kitten sweatshirt), but it was her most valiant effort at the art of romance. So in honor of the recent Lovey-Dovey day, here is an excerpt from the UW"s short story "The Love Letter".

(Key background info: Harry is a divorced probation officer (age: middle), Florence (age: 24) is his probatee (?) who is on the wrong side of the law for arson. They meet weekly at a diner, but for their first few meetings Florence has been less than cooperative. Harry gave her a copy of Emma at their last meeting to try to break the ice.)

_______________________________________

The following Tuesday Harry was ten minutes late to their appointment; having been caught in traffic after his previous case meeting ran long. He rushed into the diner but Florence was not in the usual booth. He approached the waitress to ask if she had seen Florence when he heard his name.

“Harry.”

He turned around to see Florence hunched over a stool at the far end of the counter, wearing her uniform of a black tee shirt and ripped jeans, with the book he had given her open to the last few pages. She gave a small wave. He had never heard her say his name, and something about the way she said it caught him slightly off guard. He lumbered onto the stool next to her.

“I was looking for you in our, in the booth,” his voice tripped over the word ‘our’, having not used it in years.

“The light is better over here for reading,” Florence answered, gesturing pointlessly to the book, and turning back to the pages.

The waitress brought over Harry’s coffee and he busied himself with the sugar and creamer.

“How’s the book?” he asked.

“I’m almost done,” she mumbled, focusing intently on the page in front of her.

Harry sat quietly, waiting for her to finish. She flipped to the final page, devouring the letters, her sea glass eyes darting line to line. With a sigh she snapped the book shut, and traced her fingers across the back cover before dropping her hands back into her lap.

“How was it?” he prodded.

“It was…” Florence fumbled for her words.

“Did you like it?” he pushed.

“Yes,” she answered, her voice laced with a sincerity he had not heard before.

“Well, I’m glad,” he said, stirring his coffee with a plastic straw.

A moment of quiet passed between them.

“I really appreciate…” Florence voiced trailed off to a mumble.

“You’re welcome, Florence.”

She nodded.

“So, how was your week?” Harry pulled out his notepad.

“It was fine,” she answered.

“And your job?”

“Fine.”

“And Morrisons?”

“Fine.”

“Florence, you have to give me something more than ‘fine’ that I can write down. We are going to have to talk about the fires you set, you know that right? You burned down an empty warehouse, an abandoned school, and three snack shacks. You are lucky no one got hurt.”

Florence sat in silence, her eyes staring at the book jacket in front of her, covered in sprawling calligraphy.

“Florence?”

She turned her face to look at him, her green eyes pooling into lagoons.

“Not today. Please.”

Harry sighed, closing the notebook and sliding his pencil back into his shirt pocket.

“Ok, not today.”

Relief flooded Florence’s face and she dropped her gaze back to the book.

“Can you tell me more about the story?” Harry probed.

She paused, as if searching her brain for the words.

“I….it was…it was beautiful.”

“What was your favorite part?”

Florence chewed on her lip, thinking.

“All of it. Every page.”

“Well I’m glad you liked it so much,” Harry said, discarding the plastic straw to the counter, trailing milky brown dots behind it. He had never read the book, but had heard general murmurs about it from the kitchen when Kathy’s book club discussed it several summers ago. All he remembered was a character named Harriet that he kept mistaking for his own name through the loud lady cackling. They sat quietly, both looking at the book.

“I wish I could write,” Florence said, breaking the silence.

“Me too,” Harry confessed. “The last great piece of writing I did was in the 3rd grade.”

“What was it?” Florence asked.

“A book report about baseball.”

“You wrote about a book about baseball?”

“No, just about how much I loved baseball.”

“Well, it wasn’t really a book report then was it?”

“I guess you’re right. Can’t really have a book report without an actual book.” Harry conceded.

Florence unexpectedly began to laugh, a sound that bordered on choking and singing. Harry wondered if she was out of practice. Harry started to chuckle with her out of compassion, and the sound grew between them until their howling echoed throughout the otherwise empty diner. The waitress glared from behind the register, which only sent them into a deeper fit of laughter. As Florence gasped for air, their voices dissolved into giggles, followed by snorts and heaves until they finally quieted to stillness. Harry wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes and steadied his breath.

Florence’s eyes returned to the counter.

“I bet it was magnificent,” she murmured.

Her voice sounded warmer and softer, and Harry studied her briefly, trying to assess the change. Before he could put his finger on it she dropped the book into her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She pulled her headphones from the bag, but didn’t put them on. As she spun off her stool, Harry called after her.

“Next week?”

She looked back before pushing through the door, her thin body framed by the diner entrance.

“Next week,” she answered.

Harry turned back to the counter to finish his coffee; a small, undiscovered part of him wishing she had said his name once more before she left.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hodge Podge from the internets

One of the perks about being writerly is that your friends send you cool things about writerly folks. Two such bestie friends sent the UW two such things this week.

Cool thing #1:

The UW's friend Dave Mawhinney sent her the trailer for this kick ass looking documentary about bad writing, entitled "Bad Writing." See the trailer here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raWLS2_PEfI

The UW's favorite quote from the trailer: "There's no rule that says you get steadily better."- Margaret Atwood

Cool thing #2:

The UW's friend Tracy Mendoza sent along this awesome article, a peek into the day of an unemployed writer. After which, the UW thanked all higher beings that she has a wonderful day job.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tara-dublin/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-u_b_819044.html?ir=Books

Also, in searching the wide and wacky world of the interwebs (and passing it off as researching what publications she will submit her work of art-ish to) the UW stumbled across this gem:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/ask/2008/12/questions-for-treisman.html

No, she is not crazy enough to be submitting her rinky dink tale to the holy grail of short fiction (the UW only applies "go big or go home" to the square footage of pizza she chooses to order from the 'Hut'), but it is interesting to peek behind the curtain and how and why they make their selections.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Fine Art of Charlie Sheen

(Warning, the following post contains some Carrie Bradshaw-esque soul searching monolouge-y kinda whiny rhetorical questions. You've been warned).


Man, it's hard to keep up with a blog.

So yesterday marked three months since Lazybones Mcgee defended her thesis. And in those 90 days she drank a bunch, ate a ton, and generally met any goal that could be completed while sitting on the couch watching hours upon hours of USA network programming. This does not include writing, reading, or editing the salvageable chunks of her thesis. She has done none of that.

But it's February now - just a hop, skip and a short month to spring. And for all the general slug like qualities of the UW, she actually responds quite well to deadlines. Mind you it all gets done the night before the deadline, but deadlines help. So here, before God, the Universe, Al Gore's Internets, and you fine folks - the UW is declaring that she will indeed submit one of her stories to some publication by April 1st. What publication, she shan't say (you will just have to keep watching the fiction pages of the Washington County Penny Saver, wink). Of the 10 stories that made up the thesis, there seems to be unanimously one that the committee thought was the best and most finished (sadly, it is of course the one that basically wrote itself and needed minimal editing...) so she will be sending that story out into the cold, harsh world to be rejected like an acne riddled chubby teen girl in high waist jeans at the homecoming dance. Can't wait.

So in planning how best to organize, catalog, or display one's rejection letters (a topic Martha Stew should really cover), the UW has come to that odd crossroads of trying to figure out what is "success" in the bizzaro, reason & logic-less world known as the arts. Enter, Charlie Sheen.

Charlie Sheen makes nearly $2 million an episode on a show that managed to score the top ranking this past monday with a rerun. It is one of the most watched shows in the country. Despite his ill advised personal choices (hookers, pornstars, blow, booze, Major League II), it is hard to deny - monetarily at least- Charlie Sheen's great success as an actor. And if you really want to stretch the definition, as an artist. But the show is AWFUL. It featured a line, during a conversation about the future of a relationship between Sheen's character and some hapless vapid gal, about "putting their pee-pees together." Terrible writing, overacting galore, and that really annoying chant of "men, men, men" makes we want to punch myself in the face (with the hopes of blacking out and waking up 30 minutes later to some ever-so-slightly better CBS tv show). And in the age of such brilliant story telling and compelling characters as Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Shameless (are you watching it? you really should be, people.), and such smart comedy as 30 Rock, Modern Family and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - why do people love Two and a Half Men with such a passion? And are these Two and a half men-loving people also the same ones who are buying movie tickets to sell out shows of The Expendables and putting Nicolas Sparks on the NYT Bestseller's list? Yes, yes they are.

It is, to some degree, a matter of snobby taste. And the UW is not above enjoying some great, crowd pleasing, mass produced entertainment. Sly Stallone did in fact get 8 of the UW's hard earned dollars for The Expendables. And she is sure there is something redeeming to "A Walk to Remember to the Last Song about Dear John" but even if she can admire Charlie Sheen & Co.'s success, she will never write a story that will be made into a movie starring Miley Cyrus. Her stories are small, sometimes weird, and not the current appetite for the bulk of American consumers. So where does that leave her? If you do not land on the NYT Bestseller list, if your story is never made into a movie, or chosen by Oprah's book club - what is success? Is it getting published in the New Yorker? Is it just getting published, period? Is it getting paid for your work? Is it a professional degree in your chosen field? Is it having a whiny blog about writing that you make your friends and family read (done, check!)? Is it having someone who is not a blood relative or legally bonded to you read your work and like it? Where do you set that bar?

Is a musician, who plays in their garage with friends or write mopey girl songs in their bedroom (UW's early twenties, check) but never performs live not a musician? If you perform live but only at a local bar and are paid in free beer, does that count? Do you have to have an album - does it have to be on itunes - does it have to make the VH1 Top 20 Video countdown (yes, the UW is the only person alive still watching every saturday). It would seem, as long as you make music, you are in fact a musician. That the art and the title are in the creation. But for some reason, it does not feel - for the UW at least - that just because she writes stories that makes her writer. She still feels the pull for some degree of validation, beyond the act of writing and her fancy degree, to feel justified in the title. But how much more validation? In a meeting with one of her thesis committee members last week, he asked her what she wanted to do with the degree. And she kinda fumbled the punt. She has a day job she loves and never envisioned writing being a legit source of income. She said to maybe get published. But it's kind of a weak answer- since the process of submitting work is rigorous and disheartening and soul crushing and the UW usually just nose dives into a family size bag of salt and vinegar chips when the going gets tough. So what does she need to declare she is indeed a writer?

And as her inevitable herd of origami swans made of big fatty NOs from publishers expands, what in the world keeps real actual factual writers still writing?

So...April 1st.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Short Stories are Swell: A Small, Good thing

You can't talk about short stories without talking about Raymond Carver. Because he is the man. And wrote a ton of amazing short stories and the UW more or less worships at his literary feet. One of his most famous stories is called "Cathedral" and it was the underlying structural premise for the UW's whole thesis. But the UW's actual favorite Carver story is "A Small Good Thing." It's simple and beautiful and storytelling at its finest. And like the other gems in this series, free to read on the interwebnets.

Without further ado, take it away Ray.

http://wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/english/courses/eng201d/asmallgoodthing.html

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Great article about day jobs

Courtesy of a facebook status update by the amazing Anne Thibault, her friend Paul wrote a great blog post about day jobs and the arts (which the UW would say also encompasses writing). So all you fellow struggling artistic types, read and feel a bit better about your 9-5 pencil pushing. I know the UW did.

http://near-earth.com/2011/01/05/on-fulfillment-the-noble-pursuit-of-10-percent/

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And we're back...

The holidays are the UW's favoritest time of the year. Because, amidst the baking and parties and gift wrapping, you are supposed to just relax - which the UW does with aplomb. Christmas and New Years are laziness at it's well-fed finest. But it's 2011, and it's time to dust the cookie crumbs from the UW's chest, yank off the fleece blanket (sending a cascade of People magazines to the floor), and get her arse off the couch and back to work.

So here is another thesis snippet to buy her a day or so to get her literary calisthenics on and have something new, shiny and hopefully not lame to share with you fine folks.

Excerpt from The Swift Soak

They laughed, an easy comfortable laugh as warm as the air hanging in the room. As their voices seeped into the steam clinging to the large mirror hanging above the sink, Stella lathered a bar of soap between her hands. Jon had seen her do it thousands of times in the fifteen years they had been together, but still loved to watch the concentration and focus she gave to everything. Most of all him. She slid suds between her fingers, where a wedding band would be if they were married.

When they had met, a lifetime ago, Jon had wanted to marry Stella. She grew up four doors down the street from him. A gangly little girl who was all knee caps but over time blossomed into a long legged poet. Jon would rush home from college every Christmas to catch a glimpse of her. After seasons of persistence, she finally agreed to go on a date. He drank four pots of coffee in the diner, stretching out every second with her. She twisted words together into a language he thought he knew but did not recognize, like street signs in French. She talked about writers, about paintings, about traveling and food. He pictured her naked, the curve of her back rising out of the bunched up sheets. When the conversation was eventually his, she perched attentively, taking in his ramblings about the market and index prices with mild curiosity. When he walked her to her front door, he trembled.

He had found a ring. It was nestled into the window of a pawnshop, a small diamond surrounded by ornate swirls and a simple band. He passed it every day on his way to work; always sure he would buy it the next day for her. Next days became a year. Then the divorces rolled in like storm clouds all around them, blurring the horizon. The weddings they had dressed up for, kissed drunkenly in the corner at, were dissolving memories. They lost friends. They helped moved half of what everyone owned into tiny empty apartments gasping for light. They lay awake at night promising each other it would not be them.

The pawnshop closed a few months later, the ring disappearing with it. Jon was promoted at work, a job that came with late nights and early mornings. Stella traveled more to fill the empty space at home, collecting photographs of the world she saw without him. She devoured the history of wherever she went. She took up cooking, painting; her first volume of poetry was published. Her brilliance expanded across disciplines. She would share about her work from the other side of the bed, but he did not always understand it. They spoke different dialects of the same native tongue. Over time they began to love each other in a familiar way, like rereading a book. They never married, agreeing it was smarter this way, no legal bonds but rather free will to stay. A decade came and went as they slowly grew into two branches of the same tree; apart in the air, entwined at the ground.