Monday, November 29, 2010

…There are days when I really comprehend the oft-repeated statement that, "Writing is a lonely endeavor." There are days when I feel the jagged spurs of that phrase all the way down to my black-nailed runner toes.
In fact, today is one of those days.
It's Monday. I am in my office. Christmas music plays downstairs, instrumental music, nothing too moody, jaunty keys and woodwinds. It is gray outside, but I have in front of me a lake with water fowl bobbing on the kerned waves. In back of me stacked thick and tight on every shelf are many, many books that I love. I have had three stories accepted in the last two days. I write full time. I have a wife who loves me and kids who love me. I have physical and cyber friends and yet
Today I feel lonely even though I have no excuse for such an emotion.
But don't cry for me Argentina, I will break out of it.
Here's what I will do:
I will change the music to something fun and upbeat, like Drake or OAR, and I will have another cup of thick, smolder java, and I will surf some of my favorite writers blogs and I will read great writing and that will center me in a contented happy place. Then I will get to work.
Until then, read this funny thing from Dave Eggers encouraging all the NaNoWriMo writers…

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,
Is procrastination a problem for you? Really? You think you have a problem?
Here's procrastination: The organizers of NaNoWriMo asked me three months ago to write this pep talk, and I'm only writing it now, after blowing three deadlines, after avoiding ten reminders. I was asked to write a pep talk for NaNoWriMo, and I'm actually writing it after the month started. So whatever procrastination problems you have, I probably have you beat. I'm the worst, and I'm getting worse every day.
It's a very strange thing, because we all think writing should be fun. That is, when I was temping through most of my twenties, wondering what it would be like to write for a living, hoping for such a life, I thought it might be pretty sweet. I thought if I ever got to write for a living, I would feel pretty lucky, and that I would be so appreciative that I would bound out of bed every day and, like a goddamned adult, I would write as much as I could every day, and get work done in a reasonable amount of time. Again, like an adult.
Instead, I need, on average, 8 hours sitting on my writing couch to get one hour of work done. It's a pathetic ratio. I stall, avoid, put off and generally act like someone's making me do some terrible job I never wanted to do. I blow pretty much every deadline I'm given.
Just like I blew the one for NaNoWriMo.
But then, when things are late, and I'm feeling like an idiot, and I feel like I'm letting down someone (like the people at NaNoWriMo, and you), I finally dig in and get started. And then I write, and I write in a fury, and I even, sometimes, enjoy writing.
And that's why I love NaNoWriMo. It gets you started. It gives you the impetus to finally start, and/or finally finish. Knowing there are thousands of others out there trying to do the same, who are using this ridiculous deadline as cattle-prod and shame deterrent, means goddamnit, you better do it now because you know how to write, and you have fingers, and you have this one life, and during this one life, you should put your words down, and make your voice heard, and then let others hear your voice. And the only way any of that's going to happen is if you actually do it. People can't read the thoughts in your head. They can only read the thoughts you put down, carefully and with great love, on the page. So you have to do it, goddamnit. You have to do it, and you can step back and be happy. You can step back and relax. You can step back and feel something like pride.
Then of course you'll have to revise it ten or twenty times, but let's not talk about that yet.
Write your goddamned book now. The world awaits.
Dave Eggers is the author of Zeitoun and What is the What. You can learn more about his work here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

…I had a good day yesterday--that story I told you I work specifically for "Negative Suck" got accepted. I ran 22 miles, a mile less that I was supposed to, but hey, at least I got the long distance in. And with that run, I've officially passed 2,000 miles for the year, something I've never done.

…I did not write anything today. I always feel incomplete on days when I don't write, as if my equilibrium is off, as if I have vertigo or sea sickness, as if my vision is spotty like just before a migraine. Tomorrow I will write and I will feel better. Yes, tomorrow.

…This article is on Phillip Glass from Esquire's "What I've Learned." I don't know a lot about Mr. Glass, but I like what he has to say and hope you will as well.

I always knew what I wanted to do and I did it.

A very interesting thing happens as you age. At a certain point you become older than your parents were when they died. My father died at sixty-five. I am now seventy-one. He would have lived longer — it was a mishap, a tragic accident, hit by a car. At this point, I am six years older than my father was when he passed away. I now look at my father as a younger man. It is he who is the young Mr. Glass.

When you become a parent, you begin to become sympathetic to your own parents. We begin to understand how much we owe to them, how much we're shaped by their vision of the world.

I work every morning without fail.

You practice and you get better. It's very simple.

I was not always the brightest bulb in the tree. I was a hardworking guy, but in my opinion I was not one of the most talented people at Juilliard. I didn't have that brilliance that some people really have, but I had a tremendous appetite for the work.

Motivation will make up for a lot of failings.

When I left the University of Chicago, I was nineteen. I went back to Baltimore and announced to my parents I was going to go to music school at Juilliard. They weren't thrilled with that. So I went to Bethlehem Steel and got a job at the steel mill for nine months and made enough money to go to New York and live for a year and work and study music. I didn't think of it as an act of courage; it may have been more of an act of desperation than anything.

When I struck out in my own music language, I took a step out of the world of serious music, according to most of my teachers. But I didn't care. I could row the boat by myself, you know? I didn't need to be on the big liner with everybody else.
Self-esteem comes from your parents. Somebody tells you that you can do whatever you want, and you believe them.

The question is: What's the mill? Not: What's the grist?

Collaboration is the source of inspiration for me.

When I was a kid working at the steel mills, when you stood in front of the furnace, the heat that came off was amazing. And I feel that in many ways New York was, for me, the furnace — the cultural furnace. Just standing in that heat warms you up.

When you hear for the first time the music you have composed, there is that astonishing moment when the idea that you carried in your heart and your mind comes back to you in the hands of a musician. People always ask, "Is it what you thought it would be?" And that's a very interesting question, because once you hear it in the air, so to speak, it's almost impossible to remember what it was you imagined. The reality of the sound eclipses your experience. The solitary dreamer is wondering: Will the horns sound good here? Will this flute sound good there? But then when you actually hear it, you're certainly in a different place. The experience of that is my god.

When you're really working, really playing tennis, lifting weights, playing basketball, or whatever it is — it happens in sports, it happens in music, it happens in everything — when you're fully consumed with the act, the witness just disappears. And for that reason, when someone asks, "What was it like?" you can't remember, because the person inside of you who does the remembering was otherwise occupied.

What I've noticed is that people who love what they do, regardless of what that might be, tend to live longer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

…I had a rocky time writing today, but I did come up with something I really like about a boy who sees his mother making out with a bear, or a man in a bear costume. The story is called, "The Costume Party" and of course it is tragic. I sent it off to Negative Suck. I was looking at their sight and the submission guidelines said, "I want writing that makes me feel like I've just been punched," so for whatever reason, this line came into my head, "The man kissing my mother wears a bear costume," and there it went.

…Tomorrow is a 23 mile run (well, 22 running, one walking at the end if I'm not too crippled.) I never sleep well the night before long runs.

…On the treadmill this morning I listened to Blue October. Do you know them? They have both the single most violent song ("Dirt Room") I've ever heard (way more than Em) and also the happiest song ("Jump Rope") I've ever head. I also listened to old Tonic and Third Eye Blind (there's not a bad song on that first album). I have new Kanye, Kid Cudi and Mumford and Sons, but haven't listened to it. Neon Trees is quite good, as is (don't be a hater because I love her) the new Taylor Swift. She reminds me of a Collie, all blonde and fluffy.

…As I've said, I'm not going to be a finished in the NaNoWriMo contest. Still I get the ocassional pep talk email. This one, from Lemony Snicket, is pure gold. Read on if you don't believe me:

Dear Cohort,
Struggling with your novel? Paralyzed by the fear that it's nowhere near good enough? Feeling caught in a trap of your own devising? You should probably give up.
For one thing, writing is a dying form. One reads of this every day. Every magazine and newspaper, every hardcover and paperback, every website and most walls near the freeway trumpet the news that nobody reads anymore, and everyone has read these statements and felt their powerful effects. The authors of all those articles and editorials, all those manifestos and essays, all those exclamations and eulogies - what would they say if they knew you were writing something? They would urge you, in bold-faced print, to stop.
Clearly, the future is moving us proudly and zippily away from the written word, so writing a novel is actually interfering with the natural progress of modern society. It is old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy, a relic of a time when people took artistic expression seriously and found solace in a good story told well. We are in the process of disentangling ourselves from that kind of peace of mind, so it is rude for you to hinder the world by insisting on adhering to the beloved paradigms of the past. It is like sitting in a gondola, listening to the water carry you across the water, while everyone else is zooming over you in jetpacks, belching smoke into the sky. Stop it, is what the jet-packers would say to you. Stop it this instant, you in that beautiful craft of intricately-carved wood that is giving you such a pleasant journey.
Besides, there are already plenty of novels. There is no need for a new one. One could devote one's entire life to reading the work of Henry James, for instance, and never touch another novel by any other author, and never be hungry for anything else, the way one could live on nothing but multivitamin tablets and pureed root vegetables and never find oneself craving wild mushroom soup or linguini with clam sauce or a plain roasted chicken with lemon-zested dandelion greens or strong black coffee or a perfectly ripe peach or chips and salsa or caramel ice cream on top of poppyseed cake or smoked salmon with capers or aged goat cheese or a gin gimlet or some other startling item sprung from the imagination of some unknown cook. In fact, think of the world of literature as an enormous meal, and your novel as some small piddling ingredient - the drawn butter, for example, served next to a large, boiled lobster. Who wants that? If it were brought to the table, surely most people would ask that it be removed post-haste.
Even if you insisted on finishing your novel, what for? Novels sit unpublished, or published but unsold, or sold but unread, or read but unreread, lonely on shelves and in drawers and under the legs of wobbly tables. They are like seashells on the beach. Not enough people marvel over them. They pick them up and put them down. Even your friends and associates will never appreciate your novel the way you want them to. In fact, there are likely just a handful of readers out in the world who are perfect for your book, who will take it to heart and feel its mighty ripples throughout their lives, and you will likely never meet them, at least under the proper circumstances. So who cares? Think of that secret favorite book of yours - not the one you tell people you like best, but that book so good that you refuse to share it with people because they'd never understand it. Perhaps it's not even a whole book, just a tiny portion that you'll never forget as long as you live. Nobody knows you feel this way about that tiny portion of literature, so what does it matter? The author of that small bright thing, that treasured whisper deep in your heart, never should have bothered.
Of course, it may well be that you are writing not for some perfect reader someplace, but for yourself, and that is the biggest folly of them all, because it will not work. You will not be happy all of the time. Unlike most things that most people make, your novel will not be perfect. It may well be considerably less than one-fourth perfect, and this will frustrate you and sadden you. This is why you should stop. Most people are not writing novels which is why there is so little frustration and sadness in the world, particularly as we zoom on past the novel in our smoky jet packs soon to be equipped with pureed food. The next time you find yourself in a group of people, stop and think to yourself, probably no one here is writing a novel. This is why everyone is so content, here at this bus stop or in line at the supermarket or standing around this baggage carousel or sitting around in this doctor's waiting room or in seventh grade or in Johannesburg. Give up your n ovel, and join the crowd. Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.
In short, quit. Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it. Blow it out, so our eyes will not be drawn to its power. Extinguish it so we can get some sleep. I plan to quit writing novels myself, sometime in the next hundred years.
--Lemony Snicket
Lemony Snicket is the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. You can learn more about his work here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

…I have a new story, "Postage" up at 52/250 A Year of Flash, and also two new poems, "Black Quench" at The New Verse News and "Listening Device" at GwI. All are also here under "Words In Print." People seemed to like "Listening Device" a lot. I do, too. It's funny though, how sometimes I'll send out a cluster of poems and the one I think is weakest will be selected and the one I feel is strongest gets passed over. Just shows how subjective this can be.

…I run long distances. I am thin. I probably obsess too much about being thin. But I ate a small mountain range today and the thing is sort of sitting like and upside down bath tub in my stomach now.

…I like having writer friends. Writer friends on the internet are really fun because you can swap thoughts and comments on each others stories and it feels safe because you know them but you don't really "really" know them.

…I got xTx's chapbook, "He Is Talking To The Fat Lady" and it was just as good as I expected. She's got mad skills. I also got Sam Pink's novel, "Person." So far so good. I wonder if Sam Pink is made up moniker. I'm thinking it is.

…I like this quote from Chuck Palahnuik: "No matter how careful you are, there's going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn't experience it all."

…My wife finished reading my novel. She said she liked it a lot and I think she meant it. I need to do some edits and then start querying agents. I sent the first 20 pages to two agents I met at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. That was back in late July, and I still haen't heard anything, so I'm taking that as a bad sign.

…This is from Writer's Digest

Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#1)
Posted by Jane

This is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It's meant particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on nonfiction book queries will come later.)

Every query should include these 5 elements (but not necessarily delivered in this order):
• Personalization (where you customize the letter for the recipient)
• What you're selling (genre/category, word count, title/subtitle)
• Hook (100-150 words is ideal)
• Bio (sometimes optional for uncredited fiction writers)
• Thank you & closing (plus any important notes)

What's in the very first paragraph of the query?
This varies from writer to writer, from project to project. You put your best foot forward—or you lead with your strongest selling point. This might involve:
• A referral from an existing client
• Met at a conference or pitch event (your material may or may not have been requested, but if your material WAS requested, you're not really writing a query any more; you're writing a cover letter)
• Compelling hook that matches what an agent recently expressed interest in
• Personalized intro that smartly and genuinely identifies why your work is a good match for this particular agent or editor
• Excellent credentials or awards (e.g., MFA from a school that an agent is known to recruit clients from, first prize in a national competition with thousands of entrants, impressive publication credits with prestigious journal or New York publisher)
Many writers don't have referrals or conference meetings to fall back on, so usually the hook becomes the lead for the query letter.

Other writers start simple and direct, which is fine: "My [title] is an 80,000 supernatural romance."

Does personalization really make a difference?
Yes, if it's done well. If you're vague in your personalization (faking it), then you'll appear insincere or lazy.

Remember, your query is a sales tool, and good salespeople develop a rapport with the people they want to sell, and show that they understand their needs. Show that you've done your homework, show that you care, and show that you're not blasting indiscriminately.

In a January interview with Guide to Literary Agents, you praised The Thirteenth Tale and indicated an interest in “literary fiction with a genre plot.” My paranormal romance MOONLIGHT DANCER (85,000 words) blends a literary style with the romance tradition.


I read about you in the July/August Poets & Writers magazine and found your comments encouraging, savvy, and full of brass tacks optimism that moved me. I hope you will consider representing my 82,000-word novel, BACK IN THE WORLD.


My YA paranormal romance, I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY, is complete at 95,000 words. I follow your blog and know you are currently looking for paranormal romances—without vampires or werewolves—and want to offer my novel for your consideration.

I’m seeking representation for my YA novel, SEND. Complete at 76,000 words, it’s a story about Daniel Clements, a former cyberbully trying to live with the consequences of his actions.


82 DAYS is a novel about a young man discovering that the Hollywood version of the Army differs from the reality of service.

The enclosed sample of my commercial fiction, THE SPIRIT OF ST. CHARLES (73,000 words) tells the story of a young woman overcoming personal tragedy to rebuild her community, ruined by a catastrophic hurricane. This story shows how a natural disaster changes a young woman from living like a victim to a person with determination and emotional strength. It is 73,000 words in length.

[I recommend cutting this descriptive line because it is repetitive, and delays getting to the real hook.]

Vampires are everywhere. They are in our books, on our televisions, at the movies, even on our breakfast cereals. We no longer fear them as the monsters we used to know. They are sex symbols and objects of envy and adoration. What if this is all according to plan? My novel, GRAVE SHIFT, is a 90,000-word dark urban fantasy.

[When it comes to selling fiction, don't talk about trends. Sell the story.]

“Wow! You guys have got to write a book!” is the hilarious outburst individuals have and continue to give to my sisters and me on a daily basis as we relate the adventures of being IDENTICAL TRIPLETS.

[Your query should never mention that your friends & family absolutely love your work–or told you to write a book. Never.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

…It's been snowing here. Things are white and plush, except the lake, which is that grape-purple color, bordering on black. Because it's early, everything is still and beautiful in an odd yet serene way. I have my fireplace on. I wish you could see what I'm seeing. You'd like it.

…Social networking is a strange thing. You can have lots of viral friends, but not any real ones. And people spout off online. It's difficult to sit back and let them be crass or idiotic, and then some other nit-wit will come along and agree with them. I guess things like Facebook allow us the chance to come face to face with humanity more often and more personally, even if it's all just words and images.

…I am enjoying this book by Miranda July called, "Learning to Love You More." In it, she's asked people to perform certain tasks, so to speak, like take a photo of an outfit you wore on some momentous day and describe what happened, or make an encouraging banner, post it in a public place and take a photo of it, take a photo of your mom and dad kissing, write your life story in one day, etc. It's very creative and fun and people make themselves very vulnerable. Oh yes, and one other I really like--drawn a constellation from the freckles on someone's skin.

…I've read Miranda July's short story collection, "No One Belong Here More Than You" a long time ago. It's good. She's clever and creative. I think she has a lot of groupies. She should, if she doesn't. Below are some terrific and witty things from her:

--"What a terrible mistake to let go of something wonderful for something real."
--"I laughed and said, Life is easy. What I meant was, Life is easy with you here, and when you leave, it will be hard again."
--"Some people need a red carpet rolled out in front of them in order to walk forward into friendship. They can't see the tiny outstretched hands all around them, everywhere, like leaves on trees."
--"Inelegantly, and without my consent, time passed."
--"But, like ivy, we grow where ther is room for us."
--"People tend to stick to their own size group because it's easier on the neck. Unless they are romantically involved, in which case the size difference is sexy. It means: I am willing to go the distance for you."
--"Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person's face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself,and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground; all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing."
--"That day I carried the dream around like a full glass of water, moving gracefully so I would not lose any of it."
--"If there were a map of the solar system, but instead of stars it showed people and their degrees of separation, my star would be the one you had to travel the most light-years from to get to his. You would die getting to him."
--"You always feel like you are the only one in the world, like everyone else is crazy for each other, but it's not true. Generally, people don't like each other very much. And that goes for friends, too."
--"I looked at other couples and wondered how they could be calm about it. They held hands as if they weren't even holding hands. When Steve and I held hands, I had to keep looking down to marvel at it. There was my hand, the same hand I've alwys had- oh but look! What is it holding? It's holding Steve's hand! Who is Steve? My three-dimensional boyfriend. Each day I wondered what would happen next. WHat happens when yhou stop wanting, when you are happy. I supposed I would go on being happy forever. I knew I would not mess things up by growing bored. I had done that once before."
--"He seemed to be waiting for me to move foreward. Weren't we all."
--"I cried in English, I cried in French. I cried in all the languages, because tears are the same all around the world."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

…I have a new poem, "Bulimia" up at Clutching At Straws and a new story, "Lips, Mouth, Heart" at 52/250 A Year of Flash. Both are also here under "Words In Print."

…I wish I was more witty. Do you ever do that, wish you were something you're not, or sort of crave a quality you consider yourself void of?

As a writer, I should be a lot more clever and funny, edgy and illustrative. At least it seems that way, or I feel that way. (This is me being raw and insecure now.) I get jealous and envious. I do. I never wish any other writer ill, but I can--and often do--wish I had some of their mojo or sensibility when it comes to off-the-cuff commentary.

There are writers I admire for sheer talent, and then there are writers who have mad story writing skills but can also blog as if they've spent their whole day coaxing out the words, pruning and such, when it's obvious they've just vomitted all that cleverness out in the time it takes the rest of us to blow our nose.

xTx is a great example. Okay, so I don't get some of her subject matter, such as a recent and rambling obsession with boil lancing (yep), but overall she's something of a--what? genius? no, not that. artiste? no, that's too gentrified in a francoise sort of way. relevant, hip pulse-point for modern day? yes, that. she's a pulse point. what she says matters, or even if it doesn't, it's always worthwhile reading, and it leaves you in a better (creative) place. and she does it with relative ease. i envy her. i do. (if, in fact, she is a her, which i'm pretty sure she it.)

There's also Roxane Gay. I love her blog. She just lets it all pour out and she makes herself vulnerable. A writer, stepping out of the shower stall naked on purpose is a very rare thing in (writer's) cyber world where tooting your horn is the norm. (I should tell Roxane that I admire her. The tricky thing is, people only know you cyberally, and so, if you give them a simple yet random compliment like a real (physical friend) would do, here (online) they might worry that you're some stalker nutjob.)

I think Meg Pokrass is very clever and funny and quirky in so many ways. Her posts are always risky, but they work (i.e., the photo of her leg with flea bites all over it) plus she has a legion of fans, of which one is me.

Anyway, enough self-therapy… I guess I'll be myself and see what happens. After all, it's not like I have a lot of other options.

…Here are some great quotes I like (I hate that word "quotes." I should say, Here are some great philosophies I like.)

--"Find a subject you care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style." Kurt Vonnegut

--"Successful writing inspires the writer to do better, to attempt the scaling of greater heights."
--"It is an intriguing fact that in order to make readers care about a character, however bad, however depraved, it is only necessary to make hi love somone or even something. A dog will do, even a hamster." Ruth Rendell

--"At the most basic level, I appreciate writers who have something to say." Daniel Alarcon

--"To be a good writer, read until your eyes swell, and take your time and follow your weird, even if it means being lost for intolerable stretches--your weird will guide you, it will deliver you to a place that will be worth all th suffering and disorientation." Junot Diaz

--"Before you can become a writer you must make it new and the only way to do that is to run a harrowing, fearless, rughtless self-audit. You have to take an emotional, moral inventory." James Robinson

--"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." Thomas Mann

Thursday, November 18, 2010

…I've been writing a lot of poetry lately. Reading Bukowski does that to me. Like all my favorite authors, he makes me want to write. I come up with most of my best poems in the bathtub. Actually it's a jakuzi. Whoever invented the jakuzi should win a Nobel Prize. It's even fun to say the word jakuzi. Try it.
Anyway, I am a tub guy. I love it. Suds, a book, and a glass of wine is the perfect set up for me. Since I have been stuck in poetry mode, I've lost traction on my new novel. They (people from NaNoWriMo) still send daily updates, encouragments and inspirations. Some are effective and impressive. Like this one from John Green. (I was pretty surprised it was "thee" John Green. He's sort of big time, a very successful teen and Y.A. novelist, having written one of my favorite books, "An Abundance of Katherines" which someone should hurry up and make a movie of.)
Here's John…

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

Way down deep in the dark archives of my hard drive, I have a folder called Follies, which contains an impressive collection of abandoned stories: There's the zombie apocalypse novel about corn genetics, the sequel, the one about the Kuwaiti American bowling prodigy, the desert island novel, and many more. These stories have only one thing in common: They're all about 25,000 words.
Why do I quit halfway in? I get tired. It's not fun anymore. The story kind of sucks, and it's hard to sit down every day and spend several hours eating from a giant bowl of suck. And most of all, like the kid who spends hours preparing plastic armies for war, I enjoy setting things up more than I enjoy the battle itself. To finish something is to be disappointed. By definition, abandoned novels are more promising than completed ones.
You have likely reached the moment in this insane endeavor when you need a rock-solid answer to the question of why, precisely, you are trying to write a novel in a month. You have likely realized that your novel is not very good, at least not yet, and that finishing it will be a hell of a lot less fun than starting it was.
So quit. Quit now, or if you're among the many of us who've already quit, stay quit. Look, we are all going to die. The whole species will cease to exist at some point, and there will be no one left to remember that any of us ever did anything: Our creations, all of them, will crumble, and the entire experiment of human consciousness will be filed away, unread, in the Follies folder of the great interstellar hard drive. So why write another word?
Sorry. I reached the halfway point of this pep talk and tumbled, as one does, into inconsolable despair.
Here's my answer to the very real existential crisis that grips me midway through everything I've ever tried to do: I think stories help us fight the nihilistic urges that constantly threaten to consume us.
At this point, you've probably realized that it's nearly impossible to write a good book in a month. I've been at this a while and have yet to write a book in less than three years. All of us harbor secret hopes that a magnificent novel will tumble out of the sky and appear on our screens, but almost universally, writing is hard, slow, and totally unglamorous. So why finish what you've started? Because in two weeks, when you are done, you will be grateful for the experience. Also, you will have learned a lot about writing and humanness and the inestimable value of tilting at windmills.
Something else about my Follies folder: It contains the final drafts of my novels Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. They are follies, too—finished ones. Whether you're reading or writing, there is nothing magical about how you get from the middle of a book to the end of one. As Robert Frost put it, “The only way out is through.”
So here's the pep part of my pep talk: Go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.
Best wishes,
John Green
John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns.

Monday, November 15, 2010

…I have a new poem, "I Can't Get the Smell of You Out of My Skin" up at Calliope Nerve and here under "Words In Print."

…It's raining slogs of gunmetal gray walls. The sound of it, like a million tapping toes, is rhythmic and soothing. If I'm not careful, I very well could fall into a trance, slap my head down on the keyboard and get the upraised letters (my keyboard is ergnomic) g h t y b imprinted on my forehead and face, and then relatives and strangers would wonder what message I was trying to impart with my weird tattoo. It could happen.
The deluge is picking up even as I write this. There's a sense of urgency to it. "Get out of my way.." Stiff arm to the face. "I'm in a hurry." All that frantic pitter patter code is trying to tell me something, or not. If you follow a certain swath of rainfall you'll see that it has a fog shadow behind it, a wispy sheet of cold air, flapping like laundry on a windy day.

…Sometimes I get sidetracked when I look out my window. Especially if it's raining. But then, you knew that.

…I'm out of the running for the NaNoWriMo competition. No way I'll get to 50,000 words in a month. Instead, I'm shooting for 75,000 in two months. I'll call my competition LoNoDeWriMoze or Local November-December Writing Months. I'll be the only one who knows about it. I kind of like the sound of that moniker -- LoNo-DeWriMoze. Not sure what language it resembles, but it's fun to say and would likely be even more enjoyable to say if one was a little sloshed.

…I don't know why, but I try to do too much sometimes. I like pressure because it makes me perform, but it can lead one to defeat and a sad sense of failure.
Here, I'll share some of my 2010 Resolutions with you:
1.) Write and complete an edited novel (Check. I'm actually 20% through the second novel.)
2.) Get 100th story published by year end (Check. I'm at 224 stories/poems accepted through yesterday.)
3.) Run a marathon (Check. I ran Cleveland in May and now I'm doing another, Tuscon, next month.)
4.) Read 100 books (I'm at 80 with five almost finished.)
Do you see a pattern? I set what's a pretty lofty goal, meet it, and then tack on an even loftier goal. I'm just never satisfied. That must be some kind of disorder.
Unaccomplished 2010 resolutions are these:
1.) Get an agent for my novel .
2.) Run a marathon with a time fast enough to qualif for Boston
(I was going to add "Learn guitar" again, but I suck and it's just another time-sucker.)
It's nice to be busy, but maybe it's better to achieve all of one's goals. I don't know--what do you think?

…I just ordered xTx's chapbook, "He Is Talking To The Fat Lady." That's a good title. She is good with titles. I wish I was. Her last chapbook was called, "Nobody Trusts A Black Magician." Clever, huh? xTx is one of my favorite writers. You can find her here under "Writers To Watch."

…I like these:
"It was on my fifth birthday that Papa put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Remember, my son, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm." -- Sam Levinson
"Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles" -- Frank Lloyd Wright

Friday, November 12, 2010

…I have a new story, "Bad Connection" up at 52/250 A Year of Flash, and also a poem, "Bukowski and Carver" at Calliope Nerve. Both are also here under "Words in Print."

…I've said how much I like Charles Bukowski. I'm currently reading his collection, "Love is a Dog From Hell" how's that for a title?) It's kind of a coincidence to be reading him and have a poem I wrote about him published in the same day. If he were alive, I doubt he'd be impressed.

Anyway, here's a poem of his--excerpted because it's long and also profane--that I really like. Enjoy:

"how to become a writer"

…if you have the ability to love
love yourself first
but always be aware of the possibility of
total defeat
whether the reason for that defeat
seems right or wrong--

an early taste of death is not necessarily
a bad thing…

get a large typewriter
and as the footsteps go up and down
outside your window

hit that thing
hit it hard

make it a heavyweight fight

make it the bull when he first charges in

and remember the old dogs who fought so well:
Hemingway, Celine, Dostoevsky, Hamsun.

if you think they didn't go crazy
in tiny rooms
just lik you're doing now

without women
without food
without hope

then you're not ready.

drink more beer.
there's time.
and if there's not
that's all right

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

…I have two pretty creepy stories, "Quilting" and "The Cost of Quitting" up at MicroHorror and also here under "Words in Print." My very first two stories were published by MicroHorror back in May of 2009. The publishing of these two stories brings my total since then to 218.

…About the two stories... People who've read them, people who know me physically and not just virutally, have said that not only do the stories scare them but me having written the pieces scares them. People don't say that to Stephen King, do they? I doubt it. Where do the stories we write come from? Who knows. Or maybe; it's different for each writer. Yes, sure, it has to be different. Sometimes a word or phrase or picture, a smell or sound or memory fragment will trigger something that makes me need to put it in print. It doesn't necessarily mean I've lived that experience or want to. If all serial killer novels were only written by actual serial killers, the planet would be one big slaughter house.

I admit that it's easier for me to write dark things. Do I have dark places? Of course. More than most people? Maybe, probably, but if you pry my jaws wide and are brave enough to look down my throat past my gullet to my soul, it wouldn't be complete blackness. There'd be patches of light, some of it sunny, walk-in-the-park radiance, even, not all, but some. Lots. About the same as in you.

My new novel is happy and funny (or so I think.) There isn't much darkness in it. Well, a little. This is the thing I'm writing for NaNoWriMo i.e., "Write a 50,000 page novel in the Month of November." I am massively behind as it requires an average of 1,700 words a day to keep pace. I will attempt to catch up as soon as I sign off from here, and then all day tomorrow. Already, however, it reminds me of those times when I've been in a (literal) marathon and start slipping off my race pace a few seconds on mile 12, then mile 13, etc., to the point I can't ever get it back. The good news, though, is even if I don't catch up to my word count, I'll still just about have the novel finished, which is better than if I'd not done NaNoWriMo in the first place.

…I no longer have a full-time job. I read about people like Matt Bell and CL Bledsoe and Roxane Gay who all teach, yet blog and do readings and run literary magazines, write reviews, read reviews, share reviews, write oodles of flash fiction or poetry and read every book and still write novels and I admire them immensly, but I am also jealous and envious. I have no excuse. I have other things I do that eat up my time, but I do not have that one big elephant called a career.

…Switching gears without the clutch…In the mail today, from my favorite place on the planet, I received the following
Florence and the Machine
Of Montreal
The Cinematic Orchestra
and books:
"Miracle Boy," by Pinckney Benedict
and "Lean on Pete," by Willy Vlautin

I love Willy Vlautin. His "Motel Life" is one of my favorite books. Read it, and it will be yours as well.

…I like these two quotes:
"Every story is a war." Richard Bausch
"Every book ever written started out as a flawed first draft." (Can't remember where I read that.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

…I have a new story, "Birthmark" up at 52/250 A Year of Flash and a poem, "Illustrated" at The Camel Saloon. Both are also here under "Words in Print.

…I am sore. My bones are sore, my skin is sore. Even my hair hurts. I ran 19 miles in the rain. I rather enjoy running I the rain but the problem on wet long runs is it's easy to chafe, because your soaked clothes drag across you like a rag wiping the counter, one rough swipe for each stride. I don't know how many steps there are in a mile let alone 19 miles, but let's just say I now look like I have leprosy and it was painful to take a shower--the water felt like steel wool. Yowzah. Why do I do it--run such long distances? What am I running from? Heck, if I know.

..I sure like Charles Bukowski. He looked like a cuss, a mangy old buzzard, but I love his poetry. He was incredibly prolific. Some of his pieces are stunning while others should never have been put in print. He likes to write about prostitutes and booze and betting the horses. I wish I knew him when he was alive.

...I found this article on tips for pitching an agent. I went to pitching sessions in July a the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. This would have helped, had I seen it ahead of time. Enjoy:

...Miriam Kriss is an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing commercial fiction and she represents everything from hardcover historical mysteries to all subgenres of romance, from young adult fiction to kick ass urban fantasies, and everything in between.

I go to a lot of writers’ conferences and the highlight of many of them for both myself and the aspiring authors who attend them is the agent pitch sessions. The format of these appointments varies from conference to conference. Sometimes they’re five- to ten-minute meetings between an agent and an aspiring writer, other times they’re speed dating style mini encounters. Still other conferences go with a group pitch model where a group of writers sit down all at once with an agent.

Whatever the format these are opportunities for writers to not only convey their excitement about their project to an industry professional but to also get some sense of who the agent is and if they would like to work with them. Often attendees put a great deal of pressure on themselves for these meetings and feel the whole of their future careers depend on this short encounter. I wanted to give some tips about what agents look for in a pitch to let you feel more prepared the next time you sit down across from your dream agent.

1. Know Thy Genre (or Sub-Genre)

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to with someone and asked them what they write, only to be faced with confusion. Knowing where your book would live in the bookstore is crucial to making sure the agent can evaluate it properly. Even if you’re writing something that has elements from several genres, it’s important to understand it can only be shelved in one place when in the bookstore, so you need to determine who your audience is and make that clear from the beginning of your pitch.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

This isn’t the moment to go into every intricate plot point. Rather, think of your pitch in terms of cover copy. What’s your log line? A logline, or one sentence pitch, is a phrase borrowed from Hollywood, where as Mamet’s character Charlie Fox said in Speed the Plow, “You can't tell it to me in one sentence, they can't put it in TV Guide." This is the intrinsic hook that will make people want to pick up your book. A common mistake I see is for people to try to use that one sentence to sum up every aspect of their story and then get frustrated when it doesn’t. This isn’t meant to be a synopsis of your plot, rather it’s bait to make people want to read it. Likewise, the body of your pitch should be more like back cover copy than a synopsis, meant to give the high points of the story, not a blow by blow account. Overall, remember, you know this story inside and out, after all you wrote it, so don’t be afraid to just talk about it, rather than feeling you have to keep to a scripted pitch.

3. Seize the Pitch Session

This is your moment. You paid for it and it’s yours. So after you’ve pitched and the agent has decided whether they want you to send them something or not, if your appointment time isn’t up you should feel free to ask questions about the market, the industry or the specific agency. Think of it as a one on one agent panel. Bringing a short list of questions in with you in case you have time to ask them can be helpful. And in a group pitch remember, if you have that question, odds are someone else in the group was wondering the same thing.

4. Follow Through

If the agent gives you specific instructions on how he or she want to get your material be scrupulous in following them. This is hard to do if you’ve completely forgotten what they were. I recommend that people write down what the agent wants and how he or she wants it because it’s easy in the excitement of the request to think you’ll remember, and then forget a small detail of it when you get home and sit down to send it out.

5. Breathe

People often come into these meetings very nervous, and I want to assure you really don’t need to be. This one meeting will not make or break your career, promise. It’s an opportunity to not only pitch your book but also get honest feed back from an industry professional. Keep in mind that agents come into a pitch session wanting to hear something fabulous and we’re looking to fall in love. Hopefully it will be with your story, but whether it is or isn’t, how you pitch will never be as important as what you put on the page.

And remember: If you're looking for a professional manuscript critique for a good cause, go to for more details.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

…I am struggling with NanoWriMo i.e., write a novel in a month. I'm behind. I need to keep my behind in a chair. I need to write. Fiendishly. Today, to catch up, I need to crank out 6,100 words. I think I can do that. I will do it. I will listen to Nike.

…I am reading Ned Vizzin's first YA/teen book, "Be More Chill." Ned is funny and clever. In this book, he writes about sex quite a bit. It seems like a cheap trick to use sex to keep an audience interested, but I like Ned nevertheless.

…More rules for men from Esquire magazine, in no particular order:
--Rule # 750 - The fist bump only if you're about to spar.
--Rule # 751 - The high five only if you just scored. In sports
--Rule # 752 - If somone looks as though he might be on steroids, he's on steroids.
--Rule # 753 - Skinny jeans only if you're skinny.
--Rule # 754 - The larger the beard, the gentler the man.
--Rule # 757 - A blazer with no shirt is never appropriate. Unless you're involved in some sort of exotic magic act.
--Rule # 758 - In which case the blazer should be sequined.
--Rule # 759 - No Magic
--Rule # 864 - A message delivered in person is 3.4 times more effective than an email.
--Rule # 868 - Rarely postpone a meeting.
--Rule # 869 - Never cancel.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

...I have a new story, "A Man and His Train" up at Troubadour 21 and here under "Words in Print." The story is a fable. Fables are often hard sells with editors, but I like them if they're smart and twisty. I think we can learn a lot from well written fables and parables.

...I just started reading, "Be More Chill" by Ned Vizzini. It's a Y.A. and teen novel by the guy that wrote, "It's Kind of a Funny Story." I also got Tara Masih's collection, "Where the Dog Star Never Glows" and Matt Bell's new collection.

...I started the new novel yesterday. I did not get very far. I am behind the game already, quite far behind. I'm not worried, though. After writing my other novel this year, a small 50,000 word book isn't quite as intimidating. Of course, that may change once we slide into week two.

...The new bruno mars cd is so catchy. close to cheesy, but catchy.

...I run. I run a lot. I have a marathon next month. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from long distance running. There are all kinds of parallels between marathoning and most tests of diligence, including noveling. Here's an excerpt from "Runner's World" about marathon racing specifically as it relates to those god-awful, final six-point-two miles. It's quite good:
"Why go through it all again? Because what lies between mile 20 and the finish line is the answer to that question asked by nonmarathoning spouses and friends: 'If it hurts so much, why do you do it?' I've never found the answer, so I keep running that final stretch with my eyes on the ground looking for it.
What I have found is that the last six miles separate distance runners from those who are merely obsessive or have a high tolerance for boredom. They are the crucible from which come molten, freshly recast marathoners, and each one of those miles is a distinct trial to conquer, and reason to train, and reason to boast, and as such, in truth, I love them, because though you'll never know exactly why you do them, it's over those last six miles that you finally find out if you can.
I'll tell you something, though: the last .2 miles is a killer." -- Peter Sagal

"The final third of most runs and workouts count the most. The first two-thirds gets you tired so you can work harder from there." -- Brett Gotcher, marathon racer