Wednesday, June 30, 2010

20 Signs of Addiction


I'm usually not a fan of mass-media health advice, but this article from msn.com on 20 Secret Signs of Addiction delivers some important goods. Accurate, timely stuff everyone should know.

And from Scientific American, sleep aids help put addictions to bed. Blocking orexins in the brain might stop cravings for two of our worst scourges -- nicotine and amphetamine abuse.

Peace, Linda

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Mutterings...

So. Been unexpectedly quiet around here -- having to pick up a wi-fi signal in the library parking lot tends to cramp one's blogging. My MIL doesn't have internet (she does have cable, though - whew!), so we've been wonderfully tech-free for a few days while mixing business with pleasure here in balmy Boston. We drove 7 hours from Baltimore last Wednesday, kids and cat in tow, to visit my husband's family (lots and lots of siblings, cousins, fun), then I trekked up to the AcademyHealth conference to present my research on chronic disease and medication use in Medicare beneficiaries and to soak up other cool research methods and findings. And network, of course. Which is fun and often involves liquids with a decent alcohol content, most excellent food, and ice cream. So.

Missed #fridayflash -- had a piece but couldn't load it. If so inclined, take a look at SECOND-HAND VIDEO-CAM and check out all the other fine responses. Theme this week -- 'broken camera'.

Also this week my hint fiction piece LIFEGUARD OFF DUTY is out in BLINK-INK. Quite a few wondrous ditties by talented folks like Robin stratton, Kristin Fouquet, Walt Conley, Sal Buttaci, Michael J. Solender, among others, edited by the awesome duo Lynn Alexander and Doug Mathewson.

PURE is about three scenes from a completed first draft. Feels good to be so close. Not that I've had much time to write this past week.

Just finished reading... The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Wow. the opening, envisioning Virginia Wolf loading her pockets with stones, dragging herself into the river. Wow. A must read. And... White Oleander by Janet Fitch. What a voice in the narrator -- so precocious, so hurt. Also a must read.

Now that summer's here -- whatchya reading?

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why Humans are Different from Other Species...

And it has nothing to do with opposable thumbs or standing upright. Take A Peek

Throws evolutionary conventional wisdom on its head. So to speak.

Peace, Linda

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Miscellany

I've been editing flash and shorts over at jmww for about a month now. Interesting to sit on the other side of the desk. What I've heard editors and agents say is true -- you can tell in the first few sentences if the story's a tanker or a keeper. Learning so much about first impressions, the hook, the opening.

First there was slow food... now there's slow information. I'm not the only person suffering from social media fatigue. Academic presses are having a tough time trying to figure out how to condense a scholarly treatise into tweet-size bytes. Maybe I'll start tweeting my dissertation... now there's a market!

Mark Kerkstetter -- poet, essayist, flasher, artist, philosopher... heck, just call him AMAZING -- graciously invited me over to his blog The Bricoleur to pontificate on BIRTHING BEN and all things writing. Check out the photo of my notebook taken by my son Will.

Where's the beef? In my freezer. Any ideas on what to do with a quarter of a grass-fed cow? I just bought one. Hamburgers for life. Yum.

Heading up to Boston for the annual AcademyHealth conference. I'll be scarce on the web, grooving on the latest and greatest in health services research whilst chowing in some of the best joints in the country. And my old stomping ground. Of course, I'll be writing in my down time -- Beantown's Ben's home, too.

Peace, Linda

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ghost in the Machine

Sometimes I call mom when I know she’s out just to hear your voice on the answering machine. She hasn’t erased your message yet, even six months later. I love the hearty matter-of-factness in which you announce, “We’re not here right now, please leave a message,” and I want to leave a note so you will call me back. I play old videos, not so much to see you – your face is indelibly ingrained in my heart – but to hear you. Sometimes, the question troubling me gets answered by your response to some other conversation a decade ago, a weird sort of time-traveling Ouija board, guiding me, listening.

I only wish I could hug something more substantial than your voice, ephemeral in air and time.

Happy Father’s Day…

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Cutting Edge

Today my head’s at war: good versus bad, logic versus emotion, high versus low. I’m in the middle of my raging melodrama when Patty opens our session with a cheery hello.

The others squeak back, reminding me of those sunny Happy Face stickers. Everyone “checks in” with what they’re feeling, doing, thinking. I slouch in my chair, transport myself to some other place, any place but here. I conjure up my kitchen, my trusty Wusthof. An excellent knife, an eight inch, ten/twelve carbon steel forged blade. Perfectly balanced. In my mind, the blade flashes bright and swift, decimating whatever lies underneath.

“Earth to Ben.” Patty interrupts my daydream. I open my eyes. “How are you today?”

I dismiss her with a wave of my hand. Laurel someone yammers about her depression. Everyone offers support. They’re so freaking chipper it makes me sadder, lonelier. Isolated in my melancholy. I continue rambling through my apartment to the bathroom, an ideator’s paradise: the hard surfaces, the mirror, the razor blades, the scalding water. The medicine cabinet: Motrin, aspirin, antihistamines, cough syrup, and lithium. If you take enough of it, lithium will kill you, though not very nicely. Inside the box of Trojans, a stash of benzodiazepines. Not enough to do me in, but taken with a glass or two of Dolce d’Alba, a hot bath, some Mahler, and the knife, they’ll make for a pleasant evening.

My dark mood lifts. Yes, I think to myself, this is how I will do it.

***

Response to the theme = The Balance of Terror, and a modified excerpt from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You Say Goodbye...

This morning I put my son on the bus, dressed in long pants, a button-down shirt, and a tie. The long pants was a big deal -- he wears shorts all the time, even on snowy days. But he understood the importance of today. Will clambered aboard with his younger sister, and as the bus took off down the road, sadness swelled over me, the same sadness I felt six years ago when he left for his first day of kindergarten.

The last bus to elementary school. The last pitch in the minors. The last stroller ride, the last diaper, the last breast-feeding.

So many lasts yet to come -- and so many firsts.

How time flies.


Peace, Linda

Sunday, June 13, 2010

#2 - START LATE

"A movie should start as late as possible and occur over the shortest reasonable span of time. A film that uses too much time setting up the ordinary world of characters or that spreads over three weeks a story that can be told in three days will feel slack." (101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau with Matthew Frederick)

Same applies to novels. Three pages of backstory, an over-described setting, protracted getting to the action will lull a reader to sleep -- and an agent or editor to toss in the can.

But jeesh, where does the action start? We need to trust our readers' intellect and curiousity enough to not bore them with everything that happened 'before' so they'll understand what's happening 'now.' Sink the reader into the drama as it unfolds in a manner that is compelling and unique. Along with Starting Strong, the first scene should, at a minimum:

>> Introduce the 'inciting incident', an event which denotes a point of no return for the main character and which poses the significant problem for her

>> Introduce your main character as flawed and malleable (remember, your character must undergo change over the course of the story)

>> Launch the plot of your story

>> Have a strong and memorable opening that alludes to theme (e.g., loss, betrayal, redemption)

Finding out where the action starts is tough. But once you find it -- even if buried thirty pages into the manuscript -- that's where your story begins. Kill everything before that, saving it for insertion later in your story, and voila! A new beginning.

Something to keep in mind: EVERY scene in your manuscript needs to have a true entrance. Don't waste time getting in and out of scenes; this isn't a party where you have to thank your hostess or tell her you've arrived.

Just arrive. Then leave.

For PURE, I hacked an entire first scene of really good stuff (my darlings, my darlins!) before finding my opening sweet spot: Even before I pushed open the door, before the acrid sweetness of cedar and urine assaulted me, I knew. No usual scurry of mice swarming to greet me, their provider of food, water, and amphetamine.

Where do you start? What's your memorable first line or two?

***

In other news... my son Will graduates from 5th grade on Wednesday - where did the years go?... tonight we MUST win the Little league game or we are out of the playoffs... summer begins this Friday!!!!... July dedicated to another run through BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT so I can start sending out queries this fall... heading to Boston for AcademyHealth, friends and family at end of June... the daylilies are starting to strut their stuff, and berries galore in the garden (currants, blueberries, strawberries)... check out the latest issue of 52250 - theme is lovelies on the beach life is good...

Peace, Linda

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BEACH BOD

Nothing jiggles. Not a hair out of place. Skin a perfect bronze, museum-quality. The bather stoops to the warm water, buttocks tight mounds. Water dribbles down the flat back, outlining hips and an ironing board stomach. Liquid crystals reflect sun and sky, almost blinding me. Jealousy surges, stronger than the languid swells lapping the beach’s edge.

I lean back on my elbows. Kids kick up sand as they run past the faded whales of their suburban hoi-polloi parents. I feel more than see Sam flip on his back, watching me behind polarized lenses. I turn towards him. Already red streaks his shoulders where he’s missed with the sunscreen. Sweat glistens on his forehead which, suddenly, looks higher than this morning. His head swivels to the shoreline, to the Perfect One, joined now by another taut body.

“He’s not so great,” Sam says.

“Who?” I say.

“That guy in the blue thong,” he says. “I mean, look at that gut.”

As if on cue, the man turns in profile. A small, very small, roll of skin flubs over the speedo’s top.

“Oh,” I say. “Yeah.”

Sam stares towards the horizon. I carefully push up from the sandy blanket, pulling down on my top. I look down at the fleshy mountains straining against spandex. Still perky, still firm. I suck in my stomach, clench my ass muscles, and make my way to the water, to better compare the competition.


***

This in response to the theme lovelies by the sea at 52/250, a group blog. We aim to produce a 250 word flash every week for an entire year. The responses to the themes amaze in quality, versatility, and interpretation. Check out last week's catalogue on Cartography.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

TWENTY STORIES by Kristin Fouquet >> Debut Author Review


Reading TWENTY STORIES (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) by Kristin Fouquet is akin to sitting down by the Mississippi, eating twenty beignets, lightly fired and dusty with sugar, and sipping a cup of chicory-infused cafĂ©. Because that’s what her stories are: short, sweet, sharp, a tinge of bitterness on the swallow. Each story easily digested on the first read, yet on the second immersion, new layers and levels of complexity emerge, and you understand you are reading the words of a gifted and nuanced writer.

In The Congregation Next Door, Fouquet presents what seems a simple story: a Catholic congregation bereft of its church due to its closing by the diocese, gathers in protest in a neighboring non-believer’s yard. A slice-of-life sort-of-funny read. But then I spent much of the remainder of the day musing on the role of church in our lives, on the role of worship, and whether God could be caught in a stone building or could be found on a neighbor’s porch. Similarly, The Painters made me question the tangibility and permanence of art, and whether something beautiful and profound should be preserved for posterity, or allowed to be fleeting, appreciated by just one other.

Kristin generously agreed to let me interview her about writing and living and the creation of TWENTY STORIES. In her own words…

How did your 20 stories come to be birthed? The stories were written sporadically over a four year span. I honestly didn’t expect to have a book out as soon as last year. I was concentrating on improving my writing and wasn’t thinking beyond that. Then I met my editor in January of 2009. He read some of my stories online and liked them, but knew they could be strengthened. We started working together and by June, he suggested it was time for a book. Twenty Stories was published in August.

What is your favorite story, and why? What inspired the story? Maybe because of your use of the word “birthed” in the preceding question, I feel like the mother of my stories. Asking to name a favorite is a bit of a Sophie’s choice. If space permits, I’ll mention a few that are meaningful to me.

I feel The Painters at only 483 words, conveys much despite its brevity. Someone told me a story about an artist who painted a mural in a rented house and later it was painted over when he vacated. I thought it would be interesting if the two painters met and shared a mutual respect for the work. I believe artists can create in any field if their work is transcendent. Also, the mural painter in the story is not emotional about losing his painting because the real task was the creation. Having the other painter appreciate the art only makes it that much easier for him to walk away from it.

As for the longer stories, Blue No More is a favorite inspired by a past relationship. I love the last story The Depreciation of The Darbonnes for several reasons. The characters were strong and I felt an obligation to them. I changed the ending three or four times before arriving at the current one. I learned a lot about writing with editing that story, so it’s special to me.

New Orleans figures prominently in these stories. What do you love best about living there vis a vis your writing? What do you like least? From a very young age, I knew I lived in a special place. New Orleans has a mystique which continues to intrigue me. I grapple with the notion of being a provincial writer, though. I don’t want to rely too heavily on my city as the setting of everything I write, but it is always in my mind. Unless a story is set in suburbia, of which there are two in the book, I think of traditional New Orleans architecture. Even if I choose not to describe the setting, it is New Orleans. I’m a very sensitive person, especially visually. I love the aesthetic of this city; the beauty is comforting and inspiring.

However, there are distressing aspects of living in New Orleans. Crime is an ongoing concern. I find it creeping into my recent writing. With our vanishing wetlands and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, we are geographically vulnerable. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf is exacerbating this and threatens to rob our city of much of its culture.

When did you start writing, and why? I learned how to write in the first grade. I was a secretive kid and kept a diary for a few years, then moved on to a notebook. Some painful childhood experiences led me to become more introverted and I discovered solace in making up stories. So, the fiction writing started about age nine or ten. When I was twelve, I wrote a novella about a romance in the fashion industry. I think my mother still has it, no doubt saving it as blackmail material. As a teenager, a good night for me was staying in and banging away on my Underwood typewriter. My friends would go out and later visit me in my room, raving about their experiences. I don’t think I really missed out on much; I enjoyed my private time writing.

Is that you on the cover? Ha, you caught me. I shot that self-portrait two years ago. The plume in the hat reminded me of a quill, so I thought it would make a nice writing photograph. At the time, I had no idea it would be a book cover, least of all my own. [Kristin is an amazing photographer --> Check out some of her architectural B and Ws HERE].

Tell us about your publisher. I was really fortunate to be invited for publication. Working on the manuscript for Twenty Stories with Rank Stranger Press was certainly one of the most rewarding times in my life. The editing process was new and exciting.

What are you working on now? I’ve written several short stories in the past year. I’m working on a novella which I’d like to finish by the end of the summer, but that may be too optimistic a time frame. I’m still learning and hopefully improving. As long as I’m writing, I’m happy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kristin Fouquet writes and photographs from lovely New Orleans. Twenty Stories (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) is her first collection. More of her work may be found at her website Le Salon and updates at her blog Le Salon Annex.

ABOUT THE PRESS: Rank Stranger Press is an independent non-profit publisher operating out of Eastern North Carolina. Since 2001, it has brought forth over 20 books that include poetry chapbooks, longer poetry collections, novels, and short story collections. The editor/publisher is Charles Whitley. Submissions are by invitation only. Unsolicited manuscripts will be neither read, returned, nor acknowledged. The writers and poets published by RSP are from all across the United States. Currently, Rank Stranger Press is bringing out two books each year. Authors previously published include Jim Chandler, Tim Peeler, S. A. Griffin, Ron Androla, and Jennifer Bosveld.


Get your copy of TWENTY STORIES while they're hot. You'll be happy you indulged. Peace, Linda

Monday, June 07, 2010

It's All About Sex

I’ve been pondering censorship, and what it means to be authentic to our characters when they commit sexual acts which might lead to censorship. Where does one draw the line when it comes to deciding what is ‘appropriate’ for publication? How slippery does the slope get once that line is marked? For material considered appropriate today may be deemed worthy of a banning or a burning tomorrow.

Like most things, offending material is largely subjective. Some readers take orgies in stride while others flinch at the baring of a shoulder. Editors – and the government – have the power to deem what is ‘appropriate’ for publication – or not. One of the beautiful things about America is that, for the most part, we have freedom to write what we wish – and editors have the right to publish what they want.

But that’s external censorship. What about internal censorship?

Sex is one place where are characters are naked – literally and figuratively. Sure, the myriad acts of sex are interesting – how to do it, with whom, in what positions – but what is really important is what lies underneath: a character’s motivation, his emotional reactions, history, hurts, joys. A character’s hang-ups and desires get writ between the sheets, and her insecurities and ego. Sex is often about power, conveyed in the positions taken, who initiates, who accedes, who orgasms. Thus, the importance of a sex scene in all genres – even erotica*-- is not in the sex, but in what the sexual act means to the characters and how they respond.
It’s our job as writers to get to these nuanced levels, get beyond the physical descriptions only.

It’s rather a squeamish endeavor to write sex scenes; they elicit all of our own fears and misgivings. Well writing about sex does that to me. The prude in me quavers when I write ‘cock’ or ‘fuck’ (even now, I almost wrote the ‘c’ and ‘f’ words). But, it is rather inauthentic of us to dance around sex with blinders and bathrobes on if our character has a sexual life, and it’s one central or important to the story. It’s disingenuous for us to pretend our characters are not sexual, to not write about their sexual lives in a way they would not describe it. In other words, we should not internally censor our words to be inauthentic to our characters’ intentions and voice.

I struggled with this in deciding to post the prior post (The House that Tien Built), and then in further discussion with a fellow writer whom I consider a friend. Yes, the scene is graphic, but I am so proud of this excerpt from PURE – I got honest with my character’s feelings and voice. This was a most difficult scene to write – I’ve spent hours on it – but felt, at last, this was Ben’s story. I have no regrets posting.

So tell me – where do you draw the line when it comes to writing about sex? About violence?

Peace, Linda



*erotica is NOT necessarily pornography, which is an entire different kettle of worms and not of interest in this post.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The House that Tien Built

WARNING - explicit content...

***

That night, in the house that Tien built, she fed me Viagra -- I couldn’t get it up otherwise, because of the olanzapine. I was one huge hard-on, from the drug, from the anger simmering below the veneer of my skin. But she was wild, happy with her power: her promotion, her house, me fucking her silly; I was the only one who ever made her orgasm, or so she said. That night, she only let me penetrate her from behind, not seeing me, or blind-folded, so we used scarves, lots of them, over the eyes, around wrists and ankles.

We fucked like feral cats, for hours, her yowling like a banshee, but despite all the wetness and touch and stimulation, I didn’t come. I didn’t ejaculate until I rubbed myself between her breasts, her holding them close together around me, facing me, the tip of my cock just reaching under her mouth.

I had to see her face, you see. Eyes wide open, both of us. But she kept hers closed. All I smelled were the orchids, scenting the room, scenting us, marking me hers. I came all over her chest, and she made me lick her clean, like a cat.

She curled into me, also like a cat, drowsy and warm. It was three in the morning.

“Marry me,” I said again to her as she drifted off. “Let’s have children. A boy and a girl. The girl will be just like you, beautiful and strong. Powerful.”

“And the boy?” she asked.

Not like me. I didn’t reply.

Her laugh muffled in the pillow.

“I love you,” I said.

“Good,” she whispered.

Night settled between us, uneasy. I disentangled my legs from hers, rolled to the other side of the expansive mattress. Her hand touched my back.

“Don’t leave,” she said.

“Why am I here, Tien?”

“Because I trust you,” she said. “Only you.”

I waited for more, for her to echo my earlier words. I wondered who else she trusted. Stan? Her periodic amours? I wondered if trust was strong enough glue.

“And I can only love those I trust,” she finally said.

Her fingers trailed down my back, then were gone. The cold of the room brushed up instead, making me shiver. I pulled the blanket around me, around us, her already sleeping.

When I woke, it was still dark. My pillow was damp and my eyes burned. In the thickest part of the night I listened to Tien sleep, her breath steady, soft like cat’s feet padding through a thicket before pouncing on a bird. I laid there, complete in my loneliness. Early in the morning, I woke again. I crept down the stairs, crashed on the unmade futon in my room, and dreamed of Phoebe.


***

Excerpted from PURE, a novel well on its way to completion. I pieced together the ENTIRE story today -- 91 scenes (80 written), 81,000 words, a beginning, and ending, and, at last, a middle. Aiming for a FULL solid first draft by the end of this month.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

PINDELDYBOZ BYE-BYE

Best thing I've read all week >>> THE DYING MAN, a short story by Ben Stroud featured in Pindeldyboz's 7th and final print journal. The author handles with tremendous sensitivity and beauty the fear, the taboo, of discussing death with someone sliding inexorably in that direction. Spare but evocative writing, I cried at the end, then returned to the beginning.

But there's lots of other great fiction and non-fiction in the 136 pages of this amazing and FREE edition. Check it out, and patronize the Pindeldyboz Website, which is going nowhere soon.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

START STRONG

This is what Neil Landau, screenwriter who brought us such television and movie gems as Melrose Place, Doogie Howser, MD, and the Magnificent Seven, says in his book 101 Things I Learned in Film School (with Matthew Frederick). I won this nifty treasure in a contest run by the good writerly dudes at 3 GUYS 1 BOOk. I'm no screenwriter, but this book applies to novelists as well. So well I am going to innundate you with tips for the rest of the year in hopes you'll pick up your own copy HERE.

Start Strong.

For movie makers, this means open with a strong image, one that suggests the film's main theme and prompt intrigue as to where the movie is headed. For storytellers, starting strong means engage the reader in action. So ditch all the stuff that drags -- Ditch backstory. Ditch dialogue. Ditch waking up on another rainy day or driving aimlessly to some numbfuck destination or telling us about all the purty scenery while driving to numbfuck.

The first page must introduce us to the protagonist, give us his peril, tell us his stakes and thus, his quest. Make the beginning full of trouble, and give the protag a dilemma from which his choice at this opening moment dogs him until the end. The front page is where to establish theme. But most of all, the front page sucks us in.

Of course, the beginning is always the toughest to write, one reason why I pretty much write it last.

June marks new beginnings, too. I want to start summer STRONG, and make leftbrainwrite part of my sea change. So I'm gonna switch it up a bit here, commit myself to a schedule of sorts:

>>Mondays: Open mic -- I'll write on whatever moves me
>>Tuesdays: A snippet from a book or reading that addresses the art, craft, and science of writing
>>Wednesdays: REVIEWS!!!!! INTERVIEWS!!!!! Books, chapbooks, and fav stories from small and indy presses by fabulous authors!!!!!
>>Thursdays: What's new in science of the mind
>>Fridays: An original story or poem from YT for your weekend reading pleasure

Peace, Linda