Category Archives: Writer Inspiration

The Hybrid Writer’s Life (Post-MFA)

I love this article from Paige Sullivan with Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog!

There’s a lot of pressure and uncertainty for writers around the question of whether or not to go for an MFA, and then, what if you do? What if you go for that MFA, graduate, and then…what? Do you get to say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what you do for a living (even if your writing isn’t what pays the bills)? And what if being a writer isn’t your career dream, but you know that writing is an invaluable skill that you want to further hone and develop? Or what if it’s like Rae Pagliarulo says in her terrific follow-up article to Sullivan’s, where you have no intention of shucking off your non-writer job, but you know that pursuing an MFA will feed your soul regardless?

In other words, what does a writer look like, and how can we as writers (whether professional, self-proclaimed, or otherwise) come to grips with this wild identity?

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz headshot.jpg Photo by Chris Marley

By Paige Sullivan

A newly-enrolled MFA student, my job as an assistant editor at my program’s top-tier, in-house literary journal was what you’d expect: reading the slush pile. The journal accepted both paper and online submissions, meaning each week I’d work through a stack of submission packets colorfully paper clipped together in addition to sifting through the online queue.

While the work was sometimes dull, it was crucial to sharpening my reading skills, and it afforded me an invaluable understanding of the spectrum of talent and skill that exists out there. Truly, we got it all: exceptional work, promising work, and strange poems that tried to compare love to meatball marinara.

My favorite part of reading the paper submissions were the more personal touches of the printed and hand-signed cover letters, which were sometimes accompanied by a business card. For me, these submissions became fascinating character…

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Writing Your First Sex Scene

So, basically, Delilah S. Dawson’s “25 Humpalicious Steps for Writing Your First Sex Scene” is now one of my new favorite On Writing articles — and I don’t even (usually) write erotica (*cough*thinking of you Tina!*cough*).

One of my great friends from my writing group first discovered this article while we were writing together at Red Emma’s here in Bmore — so we were already (unknowingly) breaking Dawson’s rules #1 & 2; I mean, #1 would come later (that’s what she said (OMG, why aren’t we friends, Dawson?)) — and right away my friend couldn’t keep herself from reading the entire article aloud to me, both of us giggling like grade-schoolers and looking self-consciously over our shoulders. Not only was this article a tremendous thing to share together, but it also sparked some great discussion about the hows/whys of writing sex scenes.

First, who could resist this intro?

I never set out to be a romance writer. When I was asked to turn a black-out scene into steamy hot sex, at first I panicked. Then I followed these 25 easy steps and panicked some more. And then I got a three-book deal for a paranormal romance series with Simon & Schuster, despite being a somewhat prudish Southern girl who’s been married to her college sweetheart since 2002 and has never actually seen a pair of assless chaps. And you can, too! Here’s how.

Dawson! Again: Why aren’t we friends??

But perhaps what I appreciate most about Dawson’s article, aside from her wonderful candor and sense of humor, is just how much of her advice had both my friend and me gushing, Oh my God, yes! Just take rule #7 for example:

7. Consider the lowly Jimmy hat.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a romance book neglects to take into account that most women (and men!) have very strong feelings about whether or not they wish to end up preggers after a sexual encounter. …

AMEN!

Anyway, if you’re still here reading this instead of at Terrible Minds reading Dawson … why are you?

8 Great Horror Movies for Writers, about Writers

I’m a woman deep in love with the horror genre—the films, the books, the art, the freaky mechanized sculptures crawling across the floor. For this Halloween, here are a few great horror movies (in no particular order) that star some unfortunate, powerful, tragic, bloodied-up writers.

  1. Hush (2016)

This movie is amazing. It takes a very classic, often problematic premise—lone woman in the woods, no cell service, a mysterious masked attacker—and makes it new again.

2. The Dark Half (1993)

A classic Stephen King story, classic movie, Timothy Hutton, yes, yes, yes. This one might not be “scary,” but it’s a horror film through-and-through, and a great watch for anyone looking to be thoroughly creeped out.

3. Secret Window (2004)

Another Stephen King story, this is one of my favorite film adaptations of his work. Writers haunted by their work … and more.

4. TWIXT (2011)

Francis Ford Coppola, Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Tom Waits, the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe for some reason … What more can I say? This is a (sort of?) comedy, (sort of?) horror movie, (sort of?) tragedy. Whatever it is, it’s awesome. An eerie surreal romp through some dark, dark woods.

5. Deathtrap (1982)

This movie may not be a “horror” movie per say, but it does have a good deal of murder, backstabbing, and writerly wickedness (not to mention some handsome young Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve).

6. A few other of Stephen King’s…Misery, Salem’s Lot, & The Shining (NOT the Kubrick version)

Because Stephen King is, first of all, amazing, and second of all, constantly writing about writers (I’m not complaining), I’ve decided to just throw in a good word for a bunch of his other adaptations. I’ll make a special note though about The Shining—forget Kubrick’s nonsense. Want an actually frightening film? Give the 1997 version a spin. It’s long—like, multiple disks long—but it’s absolutely worth it.

7. Sunset Blvd (1950)

There are few horror movies more classic or more unsettling than Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, a movie about actors, a movie about screenwriters, a movie about artists (aka wild-eyed, lonely, self-absorbed, control freaks).

8. Capote (2005)

An eerily beautiful, deeply unsettling look at Truman Capote’s work in writing and researching his genre-bending creative nonfiction book In Cold Blood.

 

Happy Binge Watching!

Editing Your Novel? Give Adaptation a Try

First, the inspiration behind this post: I am incredibly proud to announce that I sold the teleplay version of my fem scifi novel-in-progress, The Fire Eaters! Huzzah! I sold the teleplay (not the book; important distinction) to an indie book publisher that’s now in the process of shopping it around Hollywood. But, regardless if it ever gets picked up by a studio (wouldn’t that be a trip?), I couldn’t be more proud that my story and characters have garnered such sincere interest. It gives me a real boost of confidence about the prospects for the novel as a whole.

The idea of adapting my own novel was a daunting one at first, even though I’ve adapted plenty of other books in the past. This was partly because I wasn’t even sure I wanted a film/TV version to be made at all (the novel, after all, is still what’s closest to my heart), and also partly because I plain wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to divorce myself enough from the book-version to make the plot and character changes that are (almost) always necessary when adapting for film/TV.

In the end, though, I decided to approach the adaptation as an exercise in revitalizing my energy/creativity/brutality for editing the novel: What subplots and characters truly are unnecessary? Could certain characters be combined, streamlined, or better developed? Could certain symbols and themes be cut, added, or made to work harder?

Stripping the book down to an almost purely dialogue format was also helpful in getting me to reconsider different conversations and dialogue-heavy scenes throughout the book. It allowed me to zero-in on conversations that sounded unnatural, but that I hadn’t noticed before due to all the crowding narration. It also helped me realize when certain conversations weren’t contributing anything at all, just taking up space.

Bottom line: If you’re feeling stuck or uninspired with one of your longer prose projects, try adapting it into a teleplay or screenplay format (and force yourself to be diligent and honest with the genre shift; no teleplays over 45 pages or screenplays over 110!). You might be surprised at how helpful an editorial exercise this can be. Alternatively, you can try your hand at things like Bartleby Snopes’s 8th Annual Dialogue-Only Contest. Submissions end on September 15th, but the perks and usefulness of the challenge itself apply all year long 🙂

P.S. If you’re interested in trying out some screenwriting software, I would recommend either Final Draft or Adobe Story.

Keep Writing! Keep Reading!

 

 

Feature image owned by KC Mead-Brewer

5 Fabulous Author Interviews

As an author, one of my most favorite things to read are author interviews. Not only is it a terrific way to engage with the larger writing community, but it’s also a chance to learn about new reads to dig into, to discover new writing processes, and, of course, to fantasize about being interviewed myself. Here are five of my favorite, more recent author interviews (in no particular order):

author awesome

  1. Brian Beglin’s interview with Aimee Bender, The Missouri Review

I think that’s where a workshop can truly help—we can show the writer the work, in a way. We can say, “Look this is good, and that other part ain’t so good, even though it’s clear you think it’s brilliant.” I find that usually the parts I think are brilliant end up seeming strained to other people. Which is both humbling and liberating at the same time.

–AB

I’ve loved writing and reading all my life, but Aimee Bender’s is definitely the first voice I ever truly fell in love with — her stories are utterly transportive and I find myself reading them over and over again trying to figure out how she did it.

2. Justin Meckes’ interview with Anna Lea Jancewicz, Writer Blog

Above my desk, I have three framed photos, of Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and Kelly Link. Those three women make me want to write.

–ALJ

I definitely need a photo of Jancewicz to hang above my desk. If you haven’t checked her out yet…what are you still doing here? Her website: https://annajancewicz.com/

3. NPR’s interview with Kelly Link

…it’s a lot of fun to write a story in which everybody in the story already feels at ease with the strangeness — I think there’s a kind of useful dissonance, reading a world in which the people in that world are used to that place. And that’s because that’s true of real life; you often come into situations where everybody already knows what’s going on, and you have to sort of piece it together.

–KL

The first time I ever read Link’s short story “Stone Animals” (from her collection Magic for Beginners) I threw the book down and wanted to rant and write and cry and hug her all at the same time. It drove me crazy knowing that someone so talented was out there in the world and that I didn’t know them, that I wasn’t them, that they were writing the stories I’d always wanted to write. Jealousy quickly abates; immense admiration endures.

4. Juliet Escoria‘s interview with xTx, Electric Lit

At this point, yes, it bothers me that I haven’t been able to merge my ‘selves’ to the people that matter in my life. I’ve printed out select stories and given them to my mom to read and she loves them but it’s a small fraction of my work. She knows nothing about my books or the story award I received last year. Nobody does. I just feel like I’ve created work that I can be proud of and nobody in my life really knows about any of it. It’s stupid and I’m working on changing things.

–xTx

I first discovered xTx’s work while reading H.L. Nelson and Joanne Merriam’s anthology, Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good, and it’s been a complete googly-eyed fan-love affair ever since. She’s creepy, tough, funny, tragic, sincere, delicious.

5. Emily Pohl-Weary’s interview with Helen Oyeyemi, Hazlitt

I do not outline. I find it very difficult to write when I know what’s going to happen. I feel a bit trapped. In one of my other novels, White Is for Witching, the story is basically circular, so it begins with a disappearance and ends with a disappearance. It was very difficult and sad for me to write, knowing exactly what was going to happen to the heroine. It felt like I was trapping her, and I wanted my character to go free.

–HO

Stuart Evers, writing for The Independent, says it best: “[Helen Oyeyemi] cares not a fig for convention or the whims of critics or readers, just for the pleasures of writing something unexpected and astonishing.”

Check out these authors and their works now! Seriously — now!

Happy Writing & Reading!

Keep Reading Weird

A big thank you to Keep Reading Weird! for just plain existing.

I love these posts, reading lists, book clubs, and recommendations—the whole shebang, in other words. For everyone out there in love with the literary weird (like me!), this is absolutely a blog to follow, read, love, and send good vibes to (money, also? I’m sure they’d accept checks. Maybe also stories. Maybe also freshly killed mice if you happen to be of the alley cat-persuasion).

Read Weird

I may not want Meredith Alling to cook dinner for me anytime soon, but she can write me a story any day.

In “Ancient Ham,” a delectable morsel of flash fiction, Alling tells the story of a magic ham with predictive powers.  “Once a year,” we’re told, “the Ancient Ham crawls out of the sewer to sit on a curb and answer questions.”

People flock to the Ancient Ham to ask it yes or no questions.  How, you might ask, does a ham answer such questions?  Well, one simply pokes the Ancient Ham with sewing needles laden with offerings, and then the Ancient Ham bobs left for no, right for yes.

“Ancient Ham” is especially brilliant in the way the story’s heart emerges in the last few lines.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but just know that it has me bobbing to the right, just like the Ancient Ham.

Yes, you…

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