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.