Looking Forward, Looking Back

This will be my last post of 2010. Last year, I spoke a bit about New Year’s resolutions. Namely, that I don’t make them. Instead, I like looking back on the year and seeing if I had left anything unaccomplished that I would have preferred to do before the start of another year.

2010 was a pretty transformative year for me, in both my professional life and personal life. I sort of loved this year. I added the word Agent to my professional title, took on some outstanding authors, and even made some serious headway on my own novel, which I finally started. For obvious reasons, I keep my personal life out of this blog, but I will just say that independence, self-discovery, and confidence had a lot to do with making 2010 loads better than 2009. Plus, I started watching Community. I mean, that alone made this year awesome.

I’m looking forward to 2011 and excited to see where I’ll end up by the end of that year too. Maybe it’s the fact that since I was about eleven years old, I’ve wanted to be a grown-up, but realizing I actually am one has been making every year better and better. Don’t worry, I expect this to taper off around age thirty-three, and if you check in with me again in ten years, I’m sure I’ll be way less Pollyanna about the whole aging thing.

My goals of 2011 are to work as hard as humanly possible for my clients, keep publishing wonderful stories on Glass Cases, and maybe (gasp!) finish my own novel. If you follow me on Twitter, you also know that I’ve resolved to “live outside of my comfort zone.” I expect that to last about a month, tops.

Tell me, writer-friends, what is your #1 goal for 2011 and what were you proud of accomplishing in 2010?

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

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Knocking on Carver’s Door

There’s an old story about short story master Raymond Carver that he’d write his real life distractions into his stories. Most notably of these is the “knock at the door.” Supposedly, while Carver was writing, a porter knocked on his door, and by the time Carver got rid of him and returned to his work, he couldn’t remember his train of thought. So, instead, the porter’s interruption became part of the story. I really want that to be true, so I will present it here as fact.

Last night, I had a dream in which a friend of mine from childhood was telling me a very long story about… well, something. I can’t remember the actual story, but thinking of it now, it makes sense that the story itself was beside the point. What I remember about the dream is that our location kept changing and her story kept getting interrupted by pretty banal things. In one scene, we were at my apartment, but she decided she was hungry, so we ended up in a pub. Then a bartender took our drink orders. Just when she started the story for a third time, we suddenly took a trip to the bathroom (the way girls do). It was bizarre and, frankly, would have been very boring had I not been so aware of what was happening.

I woke up with a number of questions; namely, why would I dream about someone who I’ve known since birth, but was never really close friends with? More than that, I wanted to know why my subconscious kept interrupting her narrative.

This got me thinking about life’s little distractions and how they influence the way we tell stories. How often have we sat down to write, only to remember that we need to take out the trash or make a phone call or, for those of you with kids, tend to a crying baby? If we, like Carver, can’t avoid real life, as unexciting as it could be sometimes, do we have no choice but to let “the small things” infiltrate our work?

You tell me: Have any of you been inspired by seemingly insignificant real life events while working on a project? As a side note, have any of you ever changed a story midway through writing as a result of something more significant?

E-Book Paranoia Is So 2009

Last year, I wrote a blog post about one of the many “books are dying” panels that went on in 2009. For the record, I also love the smell and feel of books and stand by my post. Real, physical books are not going anywhere! Anywhere, I tell you!

Now, some perspective.

If Nathan Bransford’s annual e-book poll is any indication, it looks like even more people are embracing this newfangled e-book “trend” than ever before. That’s right. Apparently e-books were not just some phase publishing went through in college. Something tells me that by 2012, that percentages in Nathan’s yearly question will reach more than half. And even when that happens, I will still stand by my 2009 blog post. Here’s why:

We all knew an e-book majority was coming. It’s what we’ve been preparing for. So when I saw this article this morning by Leah McLaren, I had to rub my eyes and remind myself what year this was. Are we really still anti-e-reader? Are we seriously, in 2010, lamenting over the still-hasn’t-happened-yet loss of physical books? This line, particularly stood out to me: “…the act of giving books as gifts – once the simplest of holiday rituals – has been perverted beyond recognition as a result of technology.”

Has it?

Among McLaren’s other “most alarming” concerns about e-books is that:
1) “It has robbed us of the ability to share, discuss and passive-aggressively communicate through our mutual gift-book choices.”
2) “Once e-books completely take over, it will become impossible to know who actually reads and who doesn’t”

These quotes make me think she’s winking at her own foolishness, but this article was still written and published, so it’s getting talked about. With 2010 now ending, it makes me wonder why this article was published in the first place. Was it written in 2008 and shelved? Has the author been out of the publishing loop for some reason?

No matter the reason, the point is that the whole e-book “debate” is still, in fact, a debate. Books still make the best gifts. They always will. Unlike CDs, tangible books are still the dominant format, so gift-give away!

Speaking of the music industry, which is the best and easiest comparison, we’re used to updating our music collection with the advent of new technology. 45s, 78s, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs were all viable ways to listen to music. So, the dawn of mp3s weren’t really that big of a deal. They were just one more evolutionary notch. When I get an iTunes gift card, I don’t think it’s impersonal or tacky. I just think “sweet, now I can buy stuff I like in the format that I usually listen to it.”

But books have been in the same bound-pieces-of-paper format since, well… since books were invented. So naturally, we’re freaking out that someone is trying to change them. I find it sad that people like Leah McLaren are still writing articles that fear technology, rather than embrace it. It’s also upsetting that people with that viewpoint need to be reminded that CDs are still around. People even still buy them regularly! Even the majority of people who now get their music digitally are buying them. They just use them differently now, which, ironically, are more for gift-giving purposes. Owning a special edition or boxed set of your favorite band’s work just isn’t the same when you can see the work put into the packaging and liner notes.

The only difference between books and music is that we have a romanticized notion of what a book means. Or, more specifically, that it has meaning at all. I count myself among those who have this view, by the way. But, for the sake of my job and for the sake of the future of literature, I must put my personal feelings aside. 

Books will eventually become novelties too, reserved only for the retro, the collector, or the die-hard. And yes, to me this is sad. There are those of us (let’s face, if you’re reading this blog, you are included in this group) who will always buy books the way music purists still buy CDs (and even records). But we live in a small world, us literary folk. Eventually the “rest” will win. How they buy books will determine how they are sold. As the minority, we’ll do what we can and adapt to the change, and hopefully through it all, we remember that the words inside the pretty covers are what ultimately matter anyway.

Method Writing

Last night I read a manuscript – not even a client’s, mind you – that made me cry. Well OK, technically I just teared up a little, but still! It was so true to life that I ended up empathizing with the character as if she were a real life friend. Or, more accurately, a real life “me.” It actually inspired me to return to my nonfiction roots and expand an old personal essay.

This made me wonder if the author had experienced her character’s ordeal as well. How many of you fiction writers become your characters by infusing real life emotions in your work? Are you a Marlon Brando and Daniel Day Lewis when you write? Or are you Cary Grant and Tom Hanks?

Personally, I think I’m a Cary Grant, or a “non-method” writer. (Note: I am in love with Cary Grant, but this is not why I chose him as my writing-equivalent.) Cary and Tom are both great actors (or, were, in Cary’s case); they say their lines, become a character when they need to get the job done, and go home at the end of the day as if they spent it in a cubicle. (Presumably.. obviously I have no idea how they’d go home at the end of the day after a shoot.) This is my approach to writing – to writing fiction, at least. It’s something I’m enjoying at the moment, but personal essays are, at least I’d like to think, what define me as a writer.

Method actors put their entire beings into a character, and in turn, the character fuses into them. There’s obviously great value in this type of writing too. Some might argue there’s more value. Both approaches work in acting, usually with the same results depending on how good you are (I mean, look at Tom Hanks). So, I wonder… is the same true for writing?

What are your approaches to writing fictional emotions? Do you think it matters whether an author experienced them in real life?

What John Lennon Teaches Us About Writing

No story this Wednesday because, instead, I want to pay a bit of tribute to one of, if not my absolute favorite, artist, John Lennon. Thirty years ago today, a man hid a gun underneath a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and murdered the man who brought us The Beatles, and some of the best written songs of all time.

I can remember listening to The Beatles since I was able to form memories. My parents played them so often in the house that it was like growing up in the ’60s. Then, I discovered John’s solo career. As someone who was influenced and inspired by a man who was dead before I was born, I know that John’s lessons are as relevant today as they were in the ’60s and ’70s.

From the words of a writer, here are some of my favorite, relevant quotes from John that will make you better writers as well:

“I’m singing about me and my life. If it’s relevant to anyone else’s lives, then that’s all right.”
– John said this to a fan who couldn’t believe, and was actually hurt, that he personally wasn’t in John’s mind when he and Paul wrote Abbey Road. Matter-of-factly, John told him all he thinks about when he writes is himself, and maybe Yoko “if it’s a love song.” Lesson learned: you’re the only person who matters when it comes to your own work. Forget the trends, what you think audiences want, and what emotions you hope to evoke in others. If it doesn’t come from you, it won’t work anyway.

“When I was a Beatle, I thought we were the fucking best group in the goddamn world. And believing that is what made us what we were. It was just a matter of time before everybody else caught on.” – If you don’t believe that what you’re doing is worth sharing, then no one else will. Next time you’re in doubt, just tell yourself that you are the fucking best writer in the goddamn world! And if audiences still don’t catch on, at least you’ll have produced something you’re proud of.

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”– This is one of the best lessons you can hold onto as a writer. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but good writing transcends agenda, always. If your writing is honest and is a reflection of the world you are trying to convey, then a message will happen naturally. You do not need to preach to anyone. They will see through you and reject your message out of spite.

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” – Not unlike the message above, remember to be honest in your writing. Whether you’re writing contemporary fiction or world-building fantasy, human emotion connects readers to your work. People are complex, and if your characters are just as dynamic, readers will find different ways to connect with them, leaving their own take from your story up for interpretation.

“There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.”  – Taken out of the context of John’s time, think of this quote as a “there’s nothing new under the sun” colloquialism. There will always be someone with your idea and there will always be those writing in your genre. It doesn’t matter that there are eight million novels out there about a rugged, just shy of retirement, detective who needs to solve this one last case. Or that there seems to be a never-ending supply of spies kicking the asses of terrorists. All that matters is how you write it, and that will make others want to rediscover “what is known.”

And finally…

“You’re all beautiful and you’re all geniuses. “

Thanks, John.

New Rule

Why is it that “Anonymous” comments are always the ones who completely miss the point of blog posts? I like to think of Glass Cases as a friendly place. I know my post yesterday was more political than usual, and I thought everyone’s comments were smart and clever and stayed on point. If you disagree with me, that’s fine as long as you stay respectful about it.

But then there’s always someone who has to ruin the fun, which brings me to my New Rule. Please do not use my – or anyone else’s – blog as a means to air your own grievances. If your “comment” becomes the length of a post itself, you will get deleted because clearly it is no longer a comment. Please get your own blog and keep your manifestos there. And please stop being “Anonymous!” There is no point to that other than acting as a warning (9 times out of 10) that your comment will be one I’ll need to remove.

Keep this is a happy place. 99.9% of you are amazing and wonderful, and I truly appreciate everyone who supports this blog, leaves comments, and starts conversations in a respectful, intelligent manner. You’re the best!

Here We Are Now; Entertain Us

I’ve been noticing something for the past couple of weeks. I was trying to ignore it, but now other events, that are just as strange, have made that impossible. Friends, on the streets of New York, I’ve been seeing… scrunchies. I’m not talking about the occasional sighting in tourist-ridden Times Square or on the ironically nostalgic streets of Brooklyn. No, these scrunchies are appearing on subways, in Greenwich Village, and in my very own neighborhood. In other words, they’ve hit the mainstream. I mean, what would Carrie Bradshaw say!?

I was willing to let this go. But then, last week on Twitter I saw that #why90srocked was trending, and Monday night on Conan, CAKE performed. Throw in the way-too-soon-and-downright-evil reboot of Buffy and the fact that teenagers all over the country think that being trendy means dressing like me in 3rd grade, and we have one viable conclusion – the ’90s are back.

This is sad to me for two reasons. The main reason is that, since fashion and trends are cyclical, this means that my generation is now the previous generation. This is depressing on an obvious level, not that we all didn’t see this coming. The other reason the ’90s being back is worrisome is because pretty soon we’re all going to have to re-learn, the hard way, that snap bracelets hurt!

As a ’90s enthusiast, however, I’m excited about the return to what I consider the most interesting decade in modern history (pipe down, ’60s fans, I got your back too). I won’t pretend I fully understood the cultural impact the ’90s had on the country at the time; I’m only now, in my late twenties, beginning to process what I had missed while I was busy growing up.

But, to me, the ’90s symbolized hope. Civil rights, including those of women and LGBT (an acronym, by the way, that started in the ’90s), were by no means where they needed to be, but it felt as if equality was finally on the way. Clinton started DADT, and while that was a bad decision (my blog = my opinion), it still managed to spark a national debate, one that is still very present in the news almost twenty years later. Yet, twenty years before that, I doubt anyone would have even noticed yet another government mandated form of intolerance. We probably wouldn’t have been told it was going on.

More than that, the ’90s, in retrospect only, represent the “before.” Better days, if you will, whatever that means. In the way that “post-war” became attached to literature, film, and even architectural structures after World War II, the phrase “post-9/11” infiltrated our culture in what we read, watch, and how we act. With that one morning, the economically positive, civil rights-defending, overall hopefulness of the ’90s came to a screeching halt. (I’m not, by the way, suggesting that 9/11 is the source of our current financial crisis. It is NOT. Just want to make that clear.) In the early ’00s, we managed to reinstate socially acceptable racism, only this time with a different face. We had a president who not only encouraged this, but he gave the racism a catchy name (“Axis of Evil”). Suddenly having a cowboy in the White House seemed more logical; I guess so he could play his role in the disaster film we were currently living.

The post-9/11, post-’90s world also created a wave of conservatism that, in addition to racial minorities, gays and women were back to being targets – with fewer voices willing to dissent this time around. The idea of two men or  two women getting married is an actual debate. This should say everything there is to say about the way we (America) feel is acceptable behavior. Likewise, a qualified, intelligent, and, yes, ambitious woman was thisclose to being president, and yet she is still, to this day, being denigrated for her choice in clothing, rather than being challenged on her policies. Likewise, I doubt Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell would receive even a fraction of “credibility” were it not for their darn physical attractiveness.

We live in a time of The Tea Party, a hate group that has not gained such national attention and support since the early days of the KKK. If the ’90s are coming back, I say bring it on. I’ll suffer through a Vanilla Ice comeback tour if it means returning to a time not dictated by fear and hate.

I don’t usually get so political here, so I’d like to state again that my blog represents my opinion only. Please respect it, especially in the comments section, and I’ll do the same for you.

Now, that said – what does all of this have to do with you as writers? Well, everything. Writers are the ones who get to dictate what’s remembered. We’re both a reflection of, and a cause of, what is happening around us.  The bestselling fiction authors of the 1990s do not differ too much from what we see today. It seems there will always be a Grisham, King, or Koontz novel on that list somewhere. Only now our terrorists and monsters represent different things than before. Will we see a return to Anne Rice vampires? Bridges over Madison, or other, counties? What about books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, that represented a decade so perfectly, the way Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis represented the ’80s? Books written “about the time” in the ’00s were automatically labeled post-9/11. It practically became its own genre. Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs comes to mind, but there are others.

Did you know that the New York Times didn’t even have a Children’s Best Seller List until 2000? Apparently they wanted Harry Potter to get off the “real” list, so they gave it its own place. Writers, this speaks volumes of the power you have now.

We’re lucky enough to have finally returned to generation that doesn’t need to be pre- or post- anything. And when the previous generation returns, it means one thing – a new one has just begun. Contribute to its discourse, write its history, and, most importantly, entertain us.