Is There Ever an End to Writing Workshop Preparation?

I feel like I’ve read it all: how to behave at writing conferences, how to prepare the perfect sale’s pitch, what to say, what not to say.

Got my business cards with blog address on back. Getting my blog updated as I write. Have read the manuscripts of my writing intensive colleagues, submitted my twenty-page manuscript excerpt for review by a professional. Have the cash, checkbook, credit card to purchase books by visiting authors for signatures.

Am I ready?

I’d love to say yes, but the blotches on my face tell a different story. It’s like pimples popping out on a teenager’s face the morning of school photo day.

Stress.

I am off to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on Saturday, July 9. I have bought into the whole program: Saturday seminar all day, full morning sessions all week, afternoon fiction intensive all week, two professional critique sessions about my manuscript excerpt, open-to-the public writer forums and readings every evening. I hope to sign up to pitch my novel (said manuscript) Mermaid with an agent. All that and making connections and picking up tips from other attendees and facilitators.

Conferences were easier when I was a beginning writer with nary a story to my name, just aspirations. Now I am in the group that has that “lean and hungry look,” not to assassinate Caesar but to bring attention to my work. It’s great because I passed that critical dateline from wannabe-writer-but-I haven’t-written anything to a writer-with -a- completed-novel-looking-for-an-agent-and-a-contract.  It’s scary because now there is evidence for someone to tell me how good, mediocre or poor I am.

Nevertheless, I am ready.

Wait. Not yet.

I need another container of make up to cover up these red blotches.

“Crystal Love” Takes Third in Short Fiction Contest

At six, Jade knew that the best things were over her head. Candy in the top cupboard. Cookies on the refrigerator. Tiniest toys on her closet shelf.  Prettiest statues above the fireplace.

When she saw Grandpa’s step stool next to the armoire in his room, she had to have a climb.

“Be careful, “ said Grandpa. “And hand me that old light bulb.” He tossed it in the trash then sat on the bed, breathing heavily.

“Aw, Grandpa. You gotta dust up here,” Jade said. She sneezed a few times to show she was serious but giggled when she lifted an old framed snapshot of him and Grandma making angels in the snow.

“I make snow angels too,” she said. “Is that you and Grandma? She’s just a girl.”

“She’s the best girl in the world, honey.” Grandpa stared at the tremor in his hands. “I would have given your Grandma the world if she’d let me. But we weren’t rich and never traveled far. Still, we’ve laughed a lot and enjoyed our times together.”

Grandpa pushed himself back toward his pillows and leaned against the headboard.

“We loved to take long walks together, especially in winter. Grandma always wished she could hold winter forever in her hands. To her it was the most romantic time of the year.”

He shut his eyes and folded his hands across his stomach, waiting for his breathing to even out.

Jade put the photograph aside and reached for something else. It was larger than her little fists. And heavy. She knew she would drop it if she tried to carry it in her hands.

She got her fingers around its base and slid it to the armoire’s edge. It was a glass ball but so grimy she couldn’t see anything. She tilted it over and cradled it in her neck.

“Grandpa?”

“Jade!” Grandpa hadn’t moved so fast in ages. He was off the bed and grabbing the globe from her. “My god, child, you could have seriously hurt yourself. Now get down off of there. Go see what Grandma’s doing in the kitchen.”

Grandpa sat back on the bed and held the globe in the palms of his rough, steel mill factory hands.

“Grandpa, what is it?”

Balancing the globe on his lap, Grandpa reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a washed-out blue bandana. Like he was bathing a newborn baby, Grandpa cleaned the globe of its dusty film.

Jade waited.

“Grandpa?” she whispered.

“Honey,” Grandpa lifted it up. “This is a snow globe. Grandma has loved this globe more than anything. She brought it with her when we moved in here after our wedding. She said her father gave it to her. She keeps it up on that armoire. Once in a while, I see her pick it up and shake it. She gets a little misty-eyed then puts it back.”

“See?” Grandpa turned it upside down and right side up again.

Jade leaned close and watched snow crystals sparkle as they settled over a bare tree and a bench. On the snowy pond, a boy and a girl, both in skates, stand close together, about to kiss.

“Who are the skaters, Grandpa?”

“Nobody in particular. Just two young people in love. Grandma says they remind her of us. We never had skates and I once asked her, ‘Do you want to go skating?’ But she just called me silly.”

Jade had better eyes than Grandpa. To her the skaters looked a lot older and a lot like her grandparents. But she didn’t tell Grandpa that.

“Now let me put it back.”

***

   At ten, Jade stood in her grandpa’s room and stared at the snow globe.

Grandpa came in, drew her close and together they sat on the bed. “I miss her, too.”

He got down the globe and gave it a shake. “Look.”

The scene was the same, except the girl skater was gone. The boy stood alone on the pond, his arms outstretched but no one to hold.

“Oh, Grandpa.”

***

   At fifteen, Jade returned to her grandfather’s room.

“Jade?” Grandpa whispered from his bed. “That snow globe.”

No longer needing a step stool, Jade reached over the top of the armoire and carefully pulled the heavy glass toward her. She wiped off the dust and shook it, waiting for the snowflakes to fall. The pond and the tree were there, but the boy ice skater no longer stood on the pond. He sat on the bench, his chin in his hands.

She brought the globe to her grandfather’s bed.

“Take it” was all he could say.

***

   At twenty, Jade unpacked the snow globe from a box. She gave it a shake before placing it in her first apartment.

The boy was gone. Two pairs of skates, their laces undone, laid on their sides next to the bench.

***

   At twenty-five, Jade fell in love with Tony. When they moved into their home, Jade carried the snow globe up the stairs and into their bedroom.

Tony saw her give the ball a shake and watched with her as snow crystals floated around the two young lovers on skates. “Where did you get this?”

“My grandfather gave it to me.”

“Funny how they look a lot like us, Jade,” he said and he kissed his bride and left the room.

Jade’s eyes grew misty as she shook the snow globe one more time and gently placed it on the armoire. “He’s the best, Grandpa. The best boy in the world.”

Third place in Adult Short Fiction:                                                                                           Dayton Daily News/Antioch Writers’ Workshop Contest 2011

“I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay.” Edward Albee

S.E. Hinton’s classic young adult book The Outsiders is about guys, all guys. No notable parents. No notable girls. No notable teachers. Strictly teenage males. Susan Eloise Hinton wrote its first draft when she was 17 in Oklahoma. What could she possibly know about the male sex, let alone about writing novels? She had a great editor to help finalize  her novel. And she used her first two initials to take care of the doubt over the male sex part. She didn’t want potential readers, particularly the male ones, to shy away from reading her books because she was female. The Outsiders is timeless and probably the most-read book by male and female adolescents. I read Rumblefish, That Was Then, This is Now and Tex. All with male protagonists, all with plots focusing on the struggle to find one’s way in life without guidance by adults. All powerful stories.

Interviews about her work always include the question, “Why write about guys?” But I never recall a backlash remonstrating her for having done so. Why limit a writer’s imagination to her or his personal biography?

In late May 2011, playwright Edward Albee received the Pioneer Award during the Lambda Literary Awards for writers who have broken ground for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) in literature and publishing. His body of work, including the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the novel The Witches of Eastwick, does not reflect gay characters or gay themes because it doesn’t. He said he thought it “deplorable” that he, or any writer, should be expected or limited to writing according to his or her own personal lifestyle.

I agree with Albee, though when I was in my thirties I may not have.

My radical feminist phase occurred in my thirties. Actually how radical it was is debatable. For an obedient Catholic kid in a stoic, modest Slovak family of eight living in steel mill Youngstown, Ohio, I’d say studying for a master’s in women’s studies/American women’s literature at Antioch University and marching in D.C. for women’s freedom of choice is a radical phase.

I read my MS magazine from cover to cover. I attended women’s music festivals. I believed that men had no business using females as their protagonists. What did they know? I was all about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Ah, youth: headstrong, idealistic, anything-for-the-cause youth.

I love Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series whose protagonist is male with leprosy and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series about humans who ride dragons. Donaldson is not a leper and McCaffrey has never…you get the idea. Several male writers write darn good romance, though they write under pseudonyms. Unlike Albee, they know most of their readers will not believe men can write about women in love.

Albee stands by his beliefs. I applaud his statements and his defense of them. In this I-must-please-everyone-and-offend-no one society, I am impressed with his firm stance to what sounds true and logical.

But his age is in his favor.

I’d like to think that at one time, maybe during a radical gay phase of his youth, he may have wanted to write about homosexual themes and characters. I don’t know. But then those verbally abusive heterosexual twosome, Martha and George, from Virginia Woolf just wouldn’t shut up.

 

Who Says Slim Books Are The Popular Books?

I just finished reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It’s been on the best sellers’ list for a long, long time. Have you read it? It’s HUGE. My paperback edition is 644 pages long.

It’s not an easy read, especially in the beginning. The setting contains Swedish place names. The story follows a lengthy Swedish family tree.  The plot offers in-depth reporting of fictitious Swedish financial markets. The subplots are two, maybe three different novellas in themselves.

Why is this book popular?

Scenes of brutality, actions of suspense and titillation, whodunit mysteries, alternative-looking characters aside, what American reader has the attention span to get from Prologue to page 644 (page 650 if you read the prologue and first three pages of S. Larsson’s next novel in the series as a teaser at the end).

This isn’t a movie or a video game. No one’s giving away reward points or rebates for reading it. You have to sit with it, for hours and hours to finish it.

There’s a growing popularity in e-books. Such tech tools may replace hard copy books, they say. Quantity, thus quality, is being dumbed-down. Agents are telling authors to reduce narratives to less than 100,000 words. (Moby Dick-211,000 words; Gone With the Wind-420,787; War and Peace-590,233; Animal Farm-30,000). American readers want simple plot, quick to read books. They say.

Think back on recent hot, hot literary hits. Can you imagine the word-length of the complete Harry Potter series? Twilight series? I’ve talked with ten-year olds who have read both. Whether or not the content is suitable for the age group is not at debate here. My point is the avid readership for these incredibly long, detailed, sub-plotted books.

I was riveted by S. Larsson’s story. In my head, I made up my own pronunciation of the odd sounding and unusual spelling of foreign names. An illustration of a family tree opens the book, but I didn’t refer back to it after the story started. I sort of understood the financial picture, but only enough to appreciate the plot line.

I struggled in lots of places and I’m a good reader. Certainly, not everyone of the thousands of readers who sent this text to the top of the best sellers’ chart is as good at reading as I am.

So what does the popularity of a book like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have to say about American readers?

Give us a good story. No, give us an excellent story. The longer the better. And we will find our way from the beginning to the ending of it.

And we will ask for more.

We’re not dumb. We just like the best.

Backwards Evolution

I am at the end of a reverse order of evolution or the collective consciousness theory of the hundredth monkey. Thousands, millions of people have gotten it by the time I possess it.

I bought my analog cell phone after everyone had moved on to digital.

Been watching  eight cable channels until a year ago. Now it’s ATT U-verse (Thanks, Mom). Saw my first “Spongebob Square Pants” this past Easter. “Cash Cab” is brand new to me. And that Sy Fy Channel? Never knew it when it was called Sci Fi.

Haven’t caught Toy Story 3 yet.

Sadly, when I arrive at the experience, I want to share it. The result? A lot of yawning and the equivalent of the cliche, “That was so yesterday.” (That phrase is cliched by now, isn’t it?)

So here I am. Finally. My own blog. Getting a more substantial presence on the Internet besides FaceBook (I joined FB last summer).

I hope readers and bloggers will tune in.

Blogs are still popular. Right?

Hello?

Hello?