Monday, February 25, 2013


I can give feedbark at the drop of a tonsil, Mr. Crutcher. As you know, opinion is my middle name. And I will be sending you some of my flotsam for comment forthwith. I now have thirty pages of beginnings and I’m shuffling them. I can see I still don’t have the start I want but sooner or later it will sneak in like aliens in the dark of night. I love the process of starting a new book or a new story. So many possibilities, so many words, and every so often an agate in the gravel.

When I start a book I imagine the “world” of the story. Are these characters equal to the task that interests me? Is this setting effective for telling this particular tale. But I can’t live on thought experiment alone.  I have to get the feel of a situation, the feel of a setting, by writing about it. Can I find the voice we need to tell the story? Does one voice work better than another? Will this setting provide not only the backdrop but the tone I need. How else to explore that terrain than to start typing, write about it and learn what I like?

Fearing mistakes? That’s like memorizing the book How To Cultivate Writer’s Block. Teachers urged me to embrace “mistakes” and more than embrace them, cultivate the attitude that they are indispensable tools. As you say, the staple of learning. An airplane autopilot make thousands of mistakes flying between San Francisco and L.A. --- and it gets new information and makes adjustments as it goes.  Mistakes, fiddledydash! We wouldn’t have learned to walk without them. And besides, who are any of us? William Faulkner’s mother? No. We’re just women and men learning to write as well as we can.

And by the way, I, too, am working on a new novel where somewhat extra-normal or at least unusual rules apply. Years ago I worked with a parapsychologist in NYC who was fascinated how and under what circumstances different mediums (people with clairvoyant talent) got their information. -- Some claimed a spirit guide, --Some were embarrassed by their inability to understand how they knew what they knew, --Some needed to touch a personal object (comb or ball point or ring) in order to establish supra-normal contact. This parapsychologist believed that no one understood how this phenomenon actually operated, not the person with the ability or the researchers studying it. Now I get to play with that idea!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Nobody but Nobody

Nobody, but nobody casts an imaginary Humpy through anything.  And the operative word with your nothing-but-net jumper is imaginary.  But man I do get it about beginnings.  There are so many ways to start any given story and at some point we have to just go ahead and do it.  The beginning we start with may end up in Chapter 3, but we have to get going.  One thing I always try to get across to new writers is the value of so-called errors.  Humans are a trial-and-error species that refuses to celebrate errors.  We call them mistakes.  We call them sins.  We beat ourselves up for making them.  How crazy is that?  The staple for learning is vilified.  Those mistaken beginnings (as well as the mistaken transitions and the characters and plot lines that don't work) are what tell us the way to go.  Half of knowing what is, is knowing what isn't.  We have to try things to see if they'll really work.  That's also a reason to let a trusted reader, or listener, see or hear our works in progress.  We often need someone else to tell us the error of our ways.  I'm playing with a character for my next novel who simply appears on the scene in the first chapter.  Even he isn't sure where he came from or why he's in this place.  I love the character but I need rules for him and those rules will make themselves clear as I put him in situations.  You, Mr. Chuck, will have the honor, such as it is, to give me feedbag.  I mean feedback.  Feedbag is easy for you; feedback maybe takes a little more focus.

So drop everything you're doing and watch your email. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A dictionary won’t help since I make up any word longer than seven letters. Take fulminate for example. It’s the opposite of emptiminate. Now really, is that useful?

Lately I have been starting a new book and my computer is filling with beginnings. Tens of them. None the right one, but all valuable. Some beginnings will become earlier or later chapters. Some won’t get used at all but will help me choose characters I want to keep for the long run. Some will let me play with a scene I know I’ll want to include at some point.

This works great -- the writing itself -- as long as I’m enjoying the process. As soon as my left brainish “shoulds” wedge their way into my thinking, I’m cooked. Then the “this-isn’t-rights” and “you’re-wasting-times” stomp on my pleasure and grind my writing to bits of broken taillight. “PRIORITIZE!” My long-dead asholic uncle slaps his riding crop against his thigh and my writing pleasure dissolves in a pool of criticism.
            I sit back. I know better than this. I know that in creative writing this demand for order and logic and planning is no friend. Not of mine, anyway. No friend of inspiration. I breathe. I scour the house for a wheel of cheddar. I walk outside and feel the difference on my skin. I cast an imaginary yellow-belly Humpy through an imaginary riffle. I bounce a hard dribble and loft a twenty-foot jumpshot through an imaginary nothing-but-net. I guitarpick a tricky riff that my brain plays better than my hand. And zip zop . . .  ready again . . .  I imagine.
            Ready to look through my screen and type what I see. Ready to enjoy writing. Ready to trust the process. Hoo boy, I can almost feel it. Here comes another word!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Your opening paragraphs...

...Charles, leave me DUMBfounded.  I realize the operative word there is "dumb" but could you provide a dictionary definition for any word you use that's more than fifteen syllables.

That said, I've watched "Searching for Sugar Man" three times since my last post.  There is something so unbelievably pure about that guy - Rodriguez - that it makes me jealous.  I think every person who strives toward his/her creativity, myself included, could learn a lot from this man.  He took his best shot, seemingly didn't hit the mark, and went on with his life, while not abandoning his music, at least in a personal sense.  There are people who show us our better selves simply by the way they live, and Sixto R. is certainly one of them.

Just came back from Singapore, working in the American International School there.  Was treated like and king and the kids were wonderful.  It's a high pressure place, though, as are most of the American International Schools around the world, and I sometimes wonder if there's not a way to find a close-to-perfect balance between that pressure and a more laid back, creative approach.  But, what can I say?  Kids were great, teachers were great and I was grape. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Mr. Crutcher, 
My good friend and co-conspirahort, Mr. Webster, assures me that lunacy is but extravagant folly, and I for one . . . (if you use contiguous skin cover instead of avoirdupois as a measure) . . . will happily invest in wild foolishness at the drop of a Mardi Gras bead.
Searching For Sugar Man and its subject Sixto Rodriguez are amazing on so many levels. His music was singable and powerful, great to many who heard it, but it couldn't break through and become broadly popular in the United States. Dylan already occupied that niche, had already gathered that population of fans.
Instead, incredibly, Sixto’s songs, his CDs, catch on like wildfire in 1970s South Africa where people are suffering under the tyranny of apartheid. A large group of people there need a voice, a poetic rallying cry that symbolizes their frustrations and dreams, and Rodriguez speaks their language. He becomes hugely famous in that country and never knows it. As we watch, we find in Rodriguez a man genuinely worthy of admiration. A man able to live the values he espouses. Humanly holy. 
            And as writers, painters, singers, musicians, many of us hope to well-represent our values and the people we respect, the situations or events that inspire us . . . we want to do them justice. We want to place in public consciousness the vision we ourselves hold dear. 
When we write about the mentally ill, we want readers to see how admirable people can be who live productive meaningful lives in spite of their personal difficulties, in spite of social stigma. When we write about troubled teenagers who have no adult they trust and who have to more fully develop their own inner resources, we are hoping readers see how amazing and admirable at-risk youth can be.

Along with astonishment, the predominant emotion I felt watching Sugar Man was humility. An artist like Sixto Rodriguez is not that common in our hype-filled, image-conscious, publicity-hungry world. Makes me hope to write my talk and live my write.  
                As for you, to paraphrase Steve Landesberg, honesty may be the best policy, but lunacy may be a better defense.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Charles, you make writing sound like true lunacy.  Reading a passage to the wrong man standing in line could easily get you a bloody nose.  Your prescription for how to treat your mate could get you out there looking for another unsuspecting mate.

Yet all you say is true.

You have to love it.  You have to love story in many forms.  You have to read it or see it once, then read it or go see it again to find out how the creator of the piece did it.  Then again.  You have to make friends with embarrassment because you will be embarrassed exposing yourself in the way you have to do to be a writer.  (This is true for creativity of any kind, by the way.)

Speaking of movies, I have to give a shout-out to "Searching for Sugar Man", the riveting documentary about Sixto Rodriguez (which you turned me on to) who was and is true to his creativity in ways few artists are.  I've watched it three times now, and am finding characters among the real people in his life, and particularly in him.  He inspires me to imagine, and those imaginings are creating some fine, fine characters.  I'll say more about Rodriguez when you've weighed in on him.

Given your weight, don't weigh in on him all the way.  Or the weigh.