Saturday, May 31, 2008

Big night

Just got back from seeing Sex and the City. I'm surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but go see it w/ your best girlfriends. In the meantime, I'll tell you the story of the time I met Chris Noth.

I'd first "met" him when I watched the old Law & Order reruns on A&E back during my undergrad days. I liked his character, liked his acting, liked him. When SATC came out, I used to watch it in secret, without the company of my roommates. I knew it was a sensation back then, and I'd written several essays on my own relationship to it, which was love-hate, at best (and "love" may even be too strong a word -- infatuation, maybe?). In fact, it partly inspired my first novel. Furthermore, my male character was more or less a younger version of Mr. Big, as far as looks and charm went.

Anyhoo, in 2000, Chris Noth was starring in a play on Broadway, Gore Vidal's The Best Man. A bit of unintentional art imitating life, it was about a presidential election that ended in a stalemate. My mom and sister and I attended a Thanksgiving weekend matinee. He was very good in that, too. At the end of the show, they announced that the actors would be in the lobby collecting money for a charity.
My mother and sister excitedly nudged me: "Now's your chance, Leese!"
"Nah," I said. "He won't be there-- they'll get the supporting actors to do it."

Sure enough, there he was: tall and towering and standing right smack in the middle of the lobby, holding his bucket. Since I only had dollar coins dispensed from the ticket machine at the train station, I was afraid he'd think I was cheap, only dropping a few quarters. Nevertheless, I plinked them in, touched his arm, and looked up (way up) at him.
"You were really terrific," I said. "Thank you so much."
He looked right at me and smiled this incredible, electric smile. As if he'd just met the love of his life, me, wearing a heavy parka.
"Thank you!" he said.
The power could've gone out and the sparkles in our eyes could have kept the room lit.

I wish I could end the story there. But the truth is that I spoiled the moment by hanging out, waiting for the rest of his fans to leave, and as he tried to hurry out of there, I blocked his path and asked him to sign my Playbill. He obliged, but was clearly impatient and this time didn't even look at me. It ruined the moment. I ruined the moment. And it meant nothing afterward to me that I had a Playbill autographed by Chris Noth. Big deal.

I vowed at that moment never to bother a celebrity for an autograph ever again. Don't get me wrong -- I've attended readings and waited on line for an author to sign his/her book, and I cherish those. But should I ever have the opportunity to meet someone in a similar way that I met Chris Noth, I'm simply going to thank him/her for his/her work, and maybe shake a hand. That's it. Because really, that's worth more, to them and to me. And they're just people like you and me.

So Mr. Noth, if by some miracle you happen to stumble upon my blog and this post, please accept my sincere apology for getting in your way that day. And keep up the good work.

Next post I'll tell you about the time I saw Jon Stewart in the Sag Harbor drugstore.

Say good night, Gracie...

Friday, May 30, 2008

should I just count them myself?

Good grief, my head is spinning.

More and more agents have blogsites now, which prove to be very helpful, since many them are answering specific questions about what they will or will not accept. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read these blogs and these websites from cover to cover, metaphorically speaking. It's the one regret I have about querying my first novel -- I didn't do enough of this kind of focused research, and I think if I had I'd be blogging about the pending release of my novel right now instead of this. I went more for volume than content (the more agents the better, along with the generic cover letter), which is ironic considering how I'm constantly telling anyone who will listen that I do very poorly with high volume- high content.

But, as usual, I digress.

Anyhoo, I was looking for possible agents to query for my nonfiction book. In the course of my research, I stumbled upon an agent's blog in which the subject of Word Count came up.

I am more confused than ever.

It seems that when agents figure out word count, they are calculating the number of pages of your manuscript multiplied by 250 words, the average count for a page w/ 1-inch margins, courier font. I've been using the Microsoft Word word count number. And so far the number one comment from agents regarding my novel is that it isn't long enough.

So I did a little test.
For my first novel, MS Word has my count at approx 64,000 words and 275 pages. When I put it into Courier, it comes out to about 350 pages. Mulitply that by 250 words and you've got....... (drum roll, please).... 87,500 words.

Shit, man!

So, does that mean that all along I've had a decent word count?

It gets better. Because you should have seen the discussion following the post. Commenters say that in Times New Roman, you've got to multiply by 350 words because the font size is so much smaller. So, 275 pages x 350 words = (another drum roll).... 96,250 words.


What should I do?
Should I stick w/ the MS word count? Should I average out the two and say it's at 75,000 words? Should I specify on my query letter? ("At 64,000 MS Word ct, 87,500 traditional count, 75,000 avged, my novel is just too fabulous...")

Unfortunately, the blogger-agent didn't clarify beyond that, except to say that she uses the formula and not MS word. So now do I have to ask every single agent?


Anyone have any insight or experience w/ this?

Dilemma #2: Many of the same agents who look for chick lit fiction also look for self-help/spirituality non-fiction, which is what my non-fiction book falls under. Trust me, the subject matter of my fiction could not be more different from my nonfiction. I'm afraid to query these same agents for this nonfiction book because I'm afraid of pigeon-holing myself as just one type of writer. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot when it comes time to query for sarah's and my current novel (which, given the way things are going, will likely happen by the end of the summer). And given a choice between the two, I'd much rather hold out for the novel.

Is this foolish thinking? Is my inexperience w/ all this showing itself again? Again, I ask: does anyone have any insight or experience w/ this?

oy vey!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Last week I downloaded a program called Audacity. For those of you who attended the QRB panel on May 17th, Stacey and I both talked about this during the discussion for those interested in podcasting. I'm finally getting a chance to play around with it.

For one thing, I'm at quite an advantage because I have a brother in NY who has been a professional audio recording engineer and producer for about twenty-five years. He's got the gold records to show for his talent, too. Before he made money from it, he and my other brother used to record their demos from their studio in our basement. I used to love sitting in on the sessions and watch (and listen, of course) them put together a song track by track. These days, recording is all digital w/ much higher end programs than Audacity (and yet, my bro said he heard good things about Audacity, so coming from him, that's a solid recommendation for me). But I've watched him in his present-day home studio as well, so I came in having just an inkling of an idea of what to do and what to listen for.

And yet, I've been telling people that Audacity is also the 21st century equivalent of playing w/ your dad's tape recorder (although you can't leave it under the bed and tape your sister and her friends w/out their knowing...). Up until this morning, I haven't done much more than "testing one-two-three-four" or reading a few lines from a story.

So this morning I decided to try recording the first chapter of my first novel. It took well over an hour to get four pages done. That's right -- four pages! And it wasn't just manuvering through the program and my cheap mic, but also learning to read, so to speak. I have newfound respect for audiobook readers. (My respect for my brother, of course, still hasn't changed -- it's as high as ever.)

Pretty cool what you can do w/ a laptop and a mic though, for starters...

My intention is to put together an audiorecording of my novel and then make it available either in podcasts or podiobooks, or even through my own web domain, which is on my Get Aggressive list. I realize I've taken on quite a task -- most authors get actors to read their work. I don't know if it's a control issue, a money issue, or a learning experience issue (or d: all of the above?), but I've always imagined that my books would be Read by the Author. Why not give it a try?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

getting aggressive

Ever since I finished Nancy's book, the words "Get agressive" have been replaying in my mind. So today I brainstormed a list of things to put into motion this summer in terms of giving my writing career a swift kick (in a good way, of course), and just making the list empowered me. But I've got to make sure I follow through. I think I'm going to put the words on a post-it and stick it on my bathroom mirror.

In terms of writing, today was one of those days when everything went right.
When my characters told me what they had to say.
When my writing partner and I were thinking the same things faster than we could tell each other.
When I had no choice but to write more because I was dying to read more.

And sorry to bug you w/ more Duran Duran news, but I learned today that former guitarist Andy Taylor has written a memoir about his time in the band. It's called Wild Boy (of course!) and it comes out in August -- I am so on it!!!

(and is it me, or did it turn into summer overnight?)

Monday, May 26, 2008

your favorite words

One of my all-time favorite assignments from my Stylistics grad class (that I have since stolen and passed off as my own brilliant exercise) was first to make a list of 100 of my favorite words, and then somehow whittle it down to ten.

I don't remember all of them, but the top ten included

(what can I say? I have a thing for the short "c" sound).

Others that likely made the cut:

In my first novel, I inserted these when protagonist invited her love interest to make a similar list. I added one of his to my own: lacivious. I also added a former student's all-time favorite: boob.

The other part of the assignment was to make three-word clusters from our 100-word list, choosing seemingly random combinations, although we all seemed to try to find ones that made meaning. I recall one classmate's:
gelantinous buddha belly.
One of mine caused the class to erupt with laughter, moreso because the way I said it than the words themselves, my Long Island accent still thick at the time:
maniacal pompous rat-bastard.

At the time, I argued that rat-bastard was one word rather than two -- certainly I said as one word. However, if one of my students attempted to pass such off as one, I'd probably argue otherwise. (The unfortunate result of this is that I became known to my classmates as the rat-bastard...affectionately, of course...)

Of course, I don't have my students come up w/ 100 words. For some of them, it's tough enough to come up w/ 10. I remember having a hard time paring down to 100, much less 10. Few of my freshman students, 99% of whom are not English majors, have ever given thought to words, or the role words play in writing. For them, writing is so rote, so unconscious, that thinking about why they like a word, why they would choose one over another, is baffling to them (baffle is a good word). But sometimes one word makes all the difference in the world. There's a world of difference between ired and irked, for instance. Or at least there can be. Between cogitate and think, between died and croaked. And part of the fun of being a writer is playing w/ every last word, trying those combinations, seeking meaning, soaking in all the etymoligical (is that a word?) delight.

And so, blog readers, please share your top ten favorite words (at least for this given day). You could be like Willie Clark in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys ("Words with a 'k' in it are funny") or you could choose it because of what it is or means (I've heard a lot of actors on Inside the Actor's Studio say their favorite word is yes), or how it looks on the page: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (oh, come on, you didn't think I could leave that one out, did you?). And so on.

Have a go. I look forward to seeing what floats your boat.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

patience is a pain in the ass

Now it gets hard.

We know where the novel is headed, even have an idea of how it's going to end. We're about 35K words in.
And yet, I'm struggling to get from A to B, much less all the way to Z. It usually happens around this time for me. The flow slows from gusher to trickle. What's more, PIC not only has school to contend w/, but moving (ick!). But given the progress we've made on this novel in less than one month, I am by no means complaining.

In the meantime, I've finally started reading Nancy Peacock's book A Broom of One's Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life. Read it! You'll recall that I attended a reading by Nancy at Quail Ridge Books last month, and really enjoyed it. She signed my book, "Get aggressive!" I've been thinking about that statement for the last few days as I mentally plan ahead for June. I'm not much of an organizer, and so far this month I've worked on what I've felt like working on (or don't work at all, if which is also just as important to my writing process), but I'm thinking I might need some sort of plan from here on in. I just hope June goes as slow as May has gone.

And now, I must get back to the novel.
Any minute now.
Yep, I'm doing it.
Let me just stare at the screen a little longer...
Damn, thought I had it there for a minute...
(anyone for tennis?)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

new words, old friends

I wrote approximately 3000 words for the new novel yesterday, plus inserted a scene that my PIC wrote earlier this month. We're close to hitting the halfway mark for this novel, and I wish first draft could be final draft so we can start querying agents right away. I'm just so excited about this work, and can't wait to start getting it to the masses.

Meanwhile, last night some friends from Massachusetts are in town this weekend and it was just wonderful catching up w/ them last night. I filled them in on my writing projects (the nonfiction book was inspired by a talk I gave at a retreat weekend four years ago that they had attended w. me, so it was nice to finally spill the beans on that one), and they laughed out loud when I told them the title of the novel -- good sign! But we spent most of the night talking about the differences between NC and MA. And while I do wish I could magically make the distance disappear from the two states, it was very clear that life here is very, very good, and I wouldn't trade that for the world. Of course, I've been on a mega high this past month, and I'm sure to crash eventually, but that doesn't change the big picture. My life is friggin great -- no getting around that. and if I start complaining otherwise, someone please remind me of this post. :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

a case for ignoring audience

So, I just read last night's post...
Stink bomb.

Dead skunks stink less than that post.

Why? I was trying too hard, man. I was thinking too much of my audience and not enough about what I wanted to say. I was thinking, oh, let me write something warm and meaningful and full of sentiment, something dripping w/ pathos that will move my readers. Let me write something good.

I was trying to justify using this space as the forum to write about what was in essence a kick-ass concert. Because I did have something to say. I should have just come out and said it. If I could, I would do it completely different. For example, in an email to a friend this morning, I wrote this: I feel like I've been up all night partying, and in a sense I was, just w/out all the bad stuff. High on love, as they say. If you want to go to a concert to see the best musicians and the best music performed to perfection, go see Brian Wilson perform Smile of Pet Sounds. If you want to have *fun* however, go see Duran Duran. This is not to say that Duran lacks musicianship or good music. Brian Wilson is to be appreciated by sitting back and entering the musical experience. Duran Duran is to be experienced by getting on your feet, dancing, singing, screaming, the whole nine yards. I don't know how anyone can sit through a Duran Duran concert and not move.

Better, yes? I wasn't thinking about which words to choose, etc. It was just conversation. It was honest. Not that last night's post wasn't honest. It was a forced honesty, though.

Incidentally, if you want to read a good blog, go to and read the band blogs. It's really fascinating to see the daily life of a pop star-musician who's been around as long as they have, writing about performing in places I could only dream of visiting: Jakarta, Korea, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, etc. They're very detailed (good writers, those guys...) and fun, and fandom really is a phenomena when you have such a one-sided intimacy w/ someone who doesn't know you exist. I mean, there I was waving my hands in the air all night last night, and it occurred to me that I was waving to them. A kind of "hey, I'm back here!" so that they can squint and go, "is that Elisa back there? Wasn't she in New York last time?"


My point being that sometimes ignoring your audience produces better writing. If you want to read an excellent article about this, go to JSTOR (or Google Scholar, maybe) and find Peter Elbow's "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience" (hence my cribbed title).

In the meantime, I'm going to go to my other blog, the secret one, and write a blog entry about the concert that would make John Taylor proud. If only.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

friends of mine: my night w/ Duran Duran

I just got home from seeing Duran Duran at the Koko Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, NC. Tonight marks my seventh Duran concert.

I know. Duran Duran. That British boy band from the 80s with the cool videos and white capezios and blonde bangs. They made mullets look cool. Moussed mullets, that is. Some people are lifelong Beatle fans. Some are Deadheads. I've been a Duran Duran fan for twenty-five years. (Duran Duranged, as my best friend and I used to say.)

This was also the first concert I'd spent in my stocking feet. This is an outdoor venue, and aside from a limited section of regular seating, the rest is "lawn seating" -- that is, bring a blanket and/or some chairs and you're all set. My friends D and M brought a tarp and blanket for the three of us. Thus, we kicked off our shoes and kicked back. Until the band came out, that is. Then we were on our feet and stayed there. (Well, I stayed on my feet when I wasn't jumping up and down like a fifteen year old...)

The band is aging like a fine wine. Not just physically, but musically. This is the band that many thought would fall into obscurity like most teenybop bands of that time. And while they did eventually get their own Behind the Music episode, they never completely faded away (although I was worried for a time...). And while I miss Andy Taylor terribly, the way one misses their parents still being married on special occasions, I danced, I sang, I screamed, I pledged my eternal love to Simon, Nick, Roger, and John.

Especially John. Always John. Forever John.

They didn't even have a video screen. They didn't need one. Not only because it was a smaller venue (although, my kingdom for another six inches in height), but because it's not about the visual anymore. It's about the music. The music made us intimate. The music made me swoon. Perhaps the best moment was when I felt compelled to put my hands together, bring them to my chest, and bow to them. Not even a minute later, Simon did the exact same thing -- Wow. As if he knew. As if he bowed to me only.

Why write about this here? What could Duran Duran possibly have to do w/ writing?
Because when I was fifteen and trying desperately to escape from the pain of my parents separation, I turned to them and writing. I still have the box, sealed, of stories that I wrote in which my best friend and I magically aged six years and ran off with the band to be Mrs. John Taylor, Mrs. Simon LeBon, etc. We mattered. We weren't invisible to them. Writing, and Duran Duran, rescued me. They saved my life.

Because besides writing, they've been the constant in my life. I listen to them when I want inspiration, when I can't write at all, when I'm writing about such intimacy and connection, when I want to make fun of myself in my novels, and when I want to honor them, like now. And now, I'm not doing them justice. I'm not capturing my gratitude in words right now. (This is pretty crappy writing, in fact.) I'm sorry.

The show is over and my throat is sore, but the music is still in my mind, my heart. Corny, but true. And I'll look forward to the day when I see them again.
Thanks, guys. Namaste.


Whattya think of the new makeover?

Let me know!

(I also activated the feature that allows you to post comments anonymously, if you so desire.)

from assimilation to citizenship: a passport for authors aspiring publication

I sometimes get frustrated for being such a novice to the business of writing. I've only been on this publishing quest for two years, since I moved here to North Carolina and met Stacey, who showed me the ropes. Before then, the mere idea of querying agents and navigating the writer's market was not unlike the prospect of visiting a foreign country w/out any grasp of the language or culture (and not having gotten your shots, either...). I didn't even know where to check my bags.

But I'm not just visiting--I'm trying to live in this world, be one of its citizens, an active member of the community. And some days, I feel less than. I feel like an infant. I feel like an idiot. I feel like the guy who doesn't know the difference between the salad fork and the dinner fork (or, worse still, the salad fork from the soup spoon -- that's when you know you're having a bad fuckin' day...)

Here's what I've learned so far (some of this is on instinct, and some of this is acquired knowledge):

- I think it's better to query agents one at a time than in one big batch. Even 20 at a time is too much. Be patient. Take time to do the research on an agent. Be selective. More is not better.

- Ditto for the query letter. The one-size-fits-all just doesn't work. Apply the same principles to query letters as you would to cover letters for job prospects -- customized shows care.

- Think rhetorical situation: Who is your reader? How much do you know about him/her? What is your purpose? Is it to get representation, or is it to get them to read the manuscript? Which comes first? (I always tell my students that the cover letter gets you the interview--the interview gets you the job.) Think ethos, pathos, and logos: What makes you credible? What moves them to read your work? What makes you a worthy investment?

- You will stay stuck in neutral if you keep buying into the notion that the process is slow, complicated, daunting, that the competition is fierce, demanding, overwhelming. Those statements and commonly held beliefs don't do anything to support or advance my intention. I firmly believe that we attract that which we put our attention to. Is this process any different from finding employment? I've never had a problem with *that* process, afterall... As Wayne Dyer says, "Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change."

- Building on that, Dyer also says to "act as if the thing you want is already here." Imagine my delight when I read the exact same thing in Tom and Marilyn Ross's book The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (a must read!). It's not something that only the touchy-feely-i'm-ok-you're-ok-earthy-crunchy folks are saying. These two are sound businesspeople! It's more than a powerful visualization tool -- it's a way of being. I've learned that just because I'm not published doesn't mean I'm not an author. I've got to be an author. I've got to think and act as if I'm already published. One of the best pieces of advice my sister-in-law ever gave me was this: When it comes to your job, don't act as if you make five dollars an hour; act as if you make fifty dollars an hour (feel free to adjust for inflation). The moment I applied that, good things always happened; I'd win employee of the month, or get a raise or promotion. I'd suddenly get noticed by district and regional managers. So there: I'm already published. I'm already a best-selling author. I'm already in the business. (It may sound or feel silly at first, but get over it--the more it sinks in, the more you live that way.)

- Most important, keep asking why you're doing it ("it" meaning publishing). I don't want to be published because of the money (although heck, that would be nice). I'm doing it because it's part of the birthing process. It's the delivery, the bringing it into the world for all to see. Writing for the sake of writing is great -- I do it every day. But when an idea needs to be born, I'm not convinced that it's fully born just through the act of getting it on the page. I don't know. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel differently about that. All I know is that I've written things that I just knew could not stay in a drawer, or were meant to be read by more than my family and friends. And so, there's a way to bring it to full term. There's a way to bring it into the world. Find the way.

And I'm doing it because I can't not do it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

is there anyone out there?

So, I've been thinking...

I re-played the podcast of the QRB discussion (it's currently at & -- thanks, Joe!) and started reflecting more on Stacey's question about my purpose and audience of Kairos Calling. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my purpose has been a self-serving one. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Many artists will tell you that their purpose is self-serving in nature. I've maintained an audience awareness from day one, but my mindset has been to write for me first, and if they get something out of it and respond, then all the better. And up until now, I've been ok w/ that.

But I'm starting to wonder if I'm doing a disservice to readers.

So, I'm asking for your feedback, readers (all four of you, haha).

Is there anything you'd like to specifically see/read on this blog, or want to know more about? Do you have suggestions for ways I can make it more interactive? Are there conversations you'd like to have that I'm not having? Or, should I just keep doing what I'm doing and maintain it as a blog solely devoted to the process and the craft?

I'm not sure what's going to come from it, but I'd definitely like to know what you're thinking, and appreciate any and all feedback. And, of course, I appreciate your readership and interest as well -- thank you.
ciao for now...

Monday, May 19, 2008


Even after only three hours of sleep last night (a word of advice: don't take caffeine-filled Excedrin at night unless the headache is so bad it's sure to kill you), I managed to get close to five hours worth of revisions done today on the sample chapters I'm sending along w/ my book proposal (my peer reviewers will tell me whether they're *good* revisions, but nonetheless...). Talk about loving your work...

{sigh} I wish this could be my full-time paying job... Must rephrase that-- I intend to make it my full-time paying job.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

the teachable moment

Today I did a little bit of "communal writing" w/ my good friend Susan at her house, and had a moment when I crossed paths w/ my students on a psychological level. I'm currently drafting a proposal for a non-fiction book, and asked Susan to look at it, being that she's had experience in this area, having been successfully awared a textbook contract. Susan is one of those people I trust implicitly to read my writing and give honest, critical, insightful feedback. And yet, she's also one of the people I want to please, being that she's both a colleague and a friend, and I highly regard her in both roles.

Thus, when I showed it to her, a pang of anxiety was bubbling inside. God, she's going to think I suck. I'm the worst writer on the planet. She's going to wonder how I made it this far... Ok, so it wasn't that bad, and I wasn't that neurotic. But it was a good reminder of what my students go through as insecure, inexperienced writers. My insecurity in that moment had little to do w/ my talent as much as it did w/ my inexperience and unfamiliarity w/ the genre of book proposals. It requires a cognitive muscle that is not used (or stretched so tenuously) in creative writing -- at least not for me. Which is precisely the struggle my students face -- the unfamiarity (not only w/ academic genres, but also language, cognitive abstraction, mechanics, etc.), not to mention the desire to please coupled with the reluctance to be vulnerable. It's moments like that when I want to show them my proposal: Look at my draft -- it's messy. It lacks focus and organization. It rambles a little. There are things that need to be added. There are things that have no business being there. I don't want anyone to see this -- I understand where you're coming from! Hell, I'm there!

Nevertheless, Susan responded with feedback that was indeed helpful, insightful, objective, everything I needed. And, just as my students are often surprised to discover, I found out that it wasn't as bad as I thought it was. In fact, it's well on its way, she said. And I feel better. I'm looking forward to revising. My confidence is restored. By god, I can do it after all!

And now, a word from our sponsor... Stacey's got an hour's worth of last night's discussion at QRB ready to go on podcast. Just go to Yousendit at to download and listen -- was nice to listen as an attendee (I'm looking forward to the video version as well)! I'm also giving Stacey's website a plug: -- I've visited the site and it's quite a resource, especially for aspiring writers who find the publishing process mystifying. enjoy!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

in the spotlight

So, I want to welcome all the new readers and say thanks for coming to Quail Ridge Books tonight! At the moment, I'm wired and burning off the good energy from the event (that, and a plate of extremely salty french fries consumed at Tripps around 10pm). I had a lot of fun, and felt a little like a celebrity, what with my name in big letters on the sign in the window (and they spelled it correctly!), the director's chairs, the lights, mic, camera, and all those who came to say hi following the discussion.

Part celebrity, part fraud.

I mean, I hope you haven't come to Kairos Calling with high expectations. I'm no savvy podcaster. And I'm definitely not a professional blogger--heck, if you only knew how hard it was for me to figure out how to pick the background color... Not even close. That Stacey had so much faith in me means a lot. Thanks, Stacey! But, I am a writer. That much I know. I felt like I didn't get to talk about that enough tonight. I felt like I didn't promote that.

So, newbies, you can read the innaugural post titled Welcome to get a feel of how and why this blog started, and what my intentions are (although, the definition of kairos I originally posted sucks. I have a much better one--in fact, I rehearsed it just in case I was asked the question tonight. Just ask). They (my intentions) seem to be changing as time passes, though. I'm still talking about the love of the craft, and the love of my process. But I sense that as my readership increases, so will my scope. Maybe. Or, maybe I'll keep doing what I'm doing. We'll see.

Anyhoo, I got a little taste of the spotlight tonight, and I'm feeling a bit in the spotlight now that I'm getting new readers, and unknown ones, at that. Or maybe a better metaphor is caught in the headlights. Up until now, readership of this blog has come by word-of-mouth, namely my words and my mouth (or via email, really). And even though I tend to write as if I have a larger, devoted audience (ok, devoted maybe be stretching it, but I have at least two regulars!), I've known in the back of my mind that it's been a small, intimate group. This is my first real experience with getting my writing out to the masses, so to speak (although, maybe I'm having delusions of grandeur here), and truth be told, it's a new, unfamiliar feeling. A little scary, even. Will they like it? Will they like me? Will they like what I have to say? And yet, I think it's cool. Might I develop a following? Might it lead to bigger and better things? A demand for my novels, for instance? Might I start podcasting my shorter works? Ahh, the possibilities are endless!

One thing is for sure--the new audience awareness will motivate me to try to write every day, or almost every day. I'm still not there yet. And maybe I'll come out of my shell a bit more in terms of sharing a profile, and using my name, for starters...

An attendee tonight asked me, "What's next?" For starters, keep working on my current novel w/ my PIC (partner in crime, newbies). In fact, before I started this post, I got the latest pages from her, a scene narrated in an email to the protagonist-- loved it! I was telling Stacey tonight at Tripps following the event how juiced I am by this collaboration. It continues! Keep writing, chickadee!
And that's what's next: keep writing.
namaste, folks. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

love, death, and writing

I've been meaning to write about this since the semester ended, but I haven't been back to my office since, and I needed the paper so I could directly quote. I'm back taking care of a couple of errands, and while waiting to meet w/ someone, figured it'd be a good time to share my (or my student's) thoughts.

One of my star students this semester (and I'm not just saying that because she's likely to read this post!) had quite an honest take on the writing process that I thought was worth reflecting on and responding to. At the end of the semester, I often ask my students to reflect on themselves as writers and on the writing process.

She wrote two things that struck me.
The first: "The dictionary defines revision as the act or procedure of providing a newly edited version. College students would define it as a lot of ego killing hard work."

The second (in response to the question If you had to boil your [class] experience down to one thing, what is the most significant thing you learned?): "I have learned that starting an IV, standing for ten hours in surgery, or pulling a chest tube is nothing compared to the emotional drain of writing. In the medical field we get one chance to do a procedure, and to do it right. In writing, there are a million rewrites and changes that could take place in everything you produce. This is really morbid to say, but when a patient dies on a table, you know that you have done everything possible to save them. But, when you have to stress for days over whether or not something you have spent weeks working on is good enough or not... well, that is enough to cause an ulcer."


There's so much in there that I could (and want to) respond to. For one thing, I think she's right, but only to a certain degree. College writing is a whole different ball game from creative writing. And at the freshman level, I think her definition of revision as "ego killing hard work" is so emotionally loaded for me. At first, I revert to my own ego: My god, what have I done? What did I write or say in feedback that totally illicited such a visceral metaphor -- ulcers? surgery? But a part of me also wants to say, Right on! Ego begone! Let's get down to business now! And certainly my own ego has taken a pounding on many occasions when it comes to someone reading my writing, especially someone whom I respect.

It also draws attention to this idea of college writing as painful, a perception I've been trying to change (or, at the very least, minimize). But there may be something more to it than that. A couple of weeks ago, I had to write a conference paper proposal that was only a few paragraphs long, at best.
I procrastinated.
I thought.
I blocked.
I dreaded.
I ranted.
I wrote and re-wrote.
Dare I say, I suffered.
Was it painful because it was academic, or was it painful because my interest in such writing has waned considerably, and I am coming to a crossroads in which I am considering leaving the academic world in favor teaching in less traditional ways and places? Incidentally, I enjoyed it much more when I workshopped my proposal w/ my co-panelists, and the collaborative process kicked in.

(And yet, for all my hemming and hawing and wondering, when I am in the classroom, when I am face to face with a student like this one, when I am wrestling with these texts with them, I wonder how I could even consider leaving.)

But there's something to my student's answer that I also find troubling: the lack of joy. And hope, too. I think the dictionary definition is quite lacking in scope and enormity. Revision is re-seeing. It's unchartered territory. It's the amusement park, the haunted house, the concession stand all in one. Revision is the glorious place for possibility. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- writing is an incredibly selfish act. For as much as we lecture about audience, I know that 99% of the time I'm writing it for me. I'm not sure if the right word is paradoxical, but it seems to me that for all the self-absorption of writing, there's also the understanding that if you don't get that ego out of the way, nothing good is going to happen on the page. There's got to be another reason to write, something way beyond the grade (and to me, grades are nothing but ego appeasement) or the agent or the bestseller list, or even yourself.

The one thing I would challenge my student on is that her metaphor is slightly faulty in that writing, although richly human, is immortal. And that's why, for all the blood, sweat, and tears that revision is (and I drill that one into my students like there's no tomorrow), there's always life and breath in a piece of writing.


Nevertheless, I would also argue that my student, whether she knows it or not, is a writer-- her struggle tells me so.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

when something wants to be born, it doesn't wait

I just had one of those wonderful bursts of creation. You know, the kind that happens when you're doing the mundane tasks -- driving, laundry, that sort of thing -- and then you have to stop everything that you're doing and write it down because it's just dying to be born and you can't risk losing or forgetting it later.

So I stopped and dropped what I was doing and went out to my little balcony with my notebook, wrote about four pages longhand, and then transcribed it onto my laptop, listening to John Mayer's Room for Squares for inspiration (I've been told John Mayer's music is great for chick flicks, so I suppose chick lit comes in second -- plus, being that the scene takes place in the cafe, and the first time I heard that album was in Uncle Jon's cafe in North Dartmouth way back when, it was highly appropriate). I was so in the zone, and when I finished, as I re-read what I'd written, there were tears in my eyes. My older brother has described something similar to him when he's just composed and created a song in that same burst of energy, and being mystified to tears by it. How did that just happen? Where did it come from? And look how beautiful it is! I made that! It's an awesome experience in the literal meaning of the word.

Fortunately, my PIC was online just as I'd sent it off to her. I summoned her via Chat and made her read it right then and there. We had a good convo about it, plus discussed other plot points, characters, etc., all the time me on my little balcony while she, unfortunately, was freezing her fingers off in the a/c-ed library at school (and a/c in May in upstate NY is a helluva lot different than a/c in May in NC, let me tell you) -- you don't want to see all the typos between her frigid digits and my doing the equivalent of talking a mile a minute because I'm so damn high from the process.

All in all, the scene came to about four pages types, and just shy of 1000 words. And on the surface, it doesn't even seem like a very significant scene. But man, it's so rich with something -- energy, I guess, and we think it's going to give way to some very climactic events later in the story.

Alas, I probably need to get back to the things I dropped in order to write my pages. Sigh, it really is so beautiful out here today...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

in synch

Yesterday my PIC emailed me:
So, I have an idea about the morning after chapter, but I know you have an idea about it too. Can I just write my version and then you tell me what you think?
I replied:
Sure-- we'll compare versions and likely wind up taking the best of both and combining them.

Little did I know that when I opened the attachment and read her pages this afternoon, I'd come to find out that our ideas were almost identical. We differed in execution, but that's about it. How awesome is that. We're not only in synch w/ each other's styles, but also w/ our ideas. Brilliant!We're about 100 pages into it now, and after reading the last 70 pages, it keeps getting better. Even I find myself wondering how it's gonna all turn out.

How I wish I could start querying agents for it now!

Friday, May 9, 2008

oh, and btw...

Not that this has anything to do w/ writing, but everyone at the party loved my shoes -- pointed toe, ankle-slingback, Nine West 3 1/2" heels in taupe. Totally uncomfortable, but totally worth it -- they were freakin' hot. Not to mention that I had it goin' on w/ my hair, too. I just I hope I look that good for the QRB panel next week -- no rain, please!

end-of-the-semester fun

I just got back from an end-of-the-semester/TA graduation party for the first-year writing faculty. I miss having these kinds of get-togethers --we had a smaller dept at UMass-Dartmouth, thus almost everybody knew each other and often got together. In fact, for awhile I got a gang together and we met at Mirasol's Cafe (formerly known as Uncle Jon's) every other week for venting and fun. (Sigh, I just had a moment of homesickness and longing for those days...) Here, just our writing program alone is big enough that you can always meet someone new at these shindigs, and it's the first one since I've attended since I've been here (the dept gathering last fall was *too* big for me). It was great to not only talk teaching (although, admittedly, we talked *very* little teaching outside of the context of "I'm DONE!"), but also talk writing.

Like me, many of our composition faculty have creative writing interests. Stacey and I talked about next week's panel as well as our own ventures. I also got into a conversation about my current novel w/ two others and they, like my teen writers group, were very interested in the collaborative process. We especially talked stylistics. A note to aspiring writers: if you're going to take any kind of writing course, take a course in Stylistics. It's probably the one graduate course I use every day (along w/ my teaching theory and practice course). One of my good friends is no longer in academia (in fact, she's in parish ministry, and that story is for another blog) also brags about how she applies stylistics in her reading and writing-related work.

I'm looking forward to next week's panel w/ both excitement and a little bit of nervousness. But I know Stacey -- he'll go out of his way to make sure I'm comfortable, and he's not going to ask questions that are going to throw me for a loop. In fact, I'm guessing it's going to be a lot of fun.

Remember, that's May 17th at Quail Ridge Books, folks. And to my out-of-town readers, I hope to be getting you a video of it soon afterwards (or, possibly, a podcast?).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the lusty month of May

May in North Carolina is magical.
Maybe it's because my semester ends so early and I actually get to enjoy the month. Maybe it's because the weather is so stunningly beautiful here in May -- in Massachusetts, one still needs a light jacket. Maybe it's because the birds singing are heavenly. Maybe it's because I've been writing nonstop.
In any case, May in North Carolina is magical, and I've been on a high for the last seven days.

My friend sarah sent me this -- it's Julie Andrews singing "The Lusty Month of May" from Camelot. As I told her after viewing it, how can anything be so sexy and corny at the same time?

I met with my teen writers group tonight -- they're pretty bogged down with finals, so we mostly talked, the topics ranging from swashbuckler films to Robin Hood stories to collaborating (I told them about my latest novel project -- they were quite intrigued by the process). These students are so talented, smart, and well-read -- much more so than I was at their age. At the rate they're going, they'll be published before I am.

sarah and I have completed at least fifty pages between the two of us -- we're both impressed and pleased. She resumed a new trimester today and is already missing the back-n-forth emails, the drafting, etc. I miss it too, and her. But, we're both so excited about this novel, about our collaboration, about knowing we've got a great novel and a great idea, messy draft and all. On top of that, my nonfiction book is underway -- the writing is not as smooth in draft, but right now I'm just spilling it out and will go back and revise at least two chapters, then get to work on a proposal to send out to agents. That's the good thing about non-fiction: you can getaway with not having the manuscript finished. I wish I could start querying agents for our work of fiction (forgive me for my secrecy of the title -- I'm superstitious!).

At any rate, I am loving life, loving writing and the writing process, loving writers, and loving the lusty month of May.

Monday, May 5, 2008

less is more: a lesson for the verbose (like me)

I met w/ two of my colleagues this morning to finish drafting and submitting a proposal to the Conference of College Composition and Communication (say that one ten times fast) regarding the use of the personal in academic writing. We three have formed a panel--I'm listed as "Speaker 3" and my paper deals with revisiting the role of narrative in an academic writing class.

We critiqued and edited each other's drafts, then combined them all into one proposal. We'd missed the snail mail deadline, thus we sent it via email. Doing so required us to do a copy-n-paste rather than submit as an attachment. When we did, we were informed that our proposal could be no more than 5000 characters -- not words, characters. We checked and discovered that we were about 2500 characters over, thus we needed to start cutting (and we'd already done quite a bit of trimming).

So, line by line, we cut every extraneous (is that even the right word? am I using that correctly?) word, words, and/or sentence. It's really something when you see what you can do w/out. It's an exercise that I must try w/ my students sometime. I mean, even that sentence: It's really something when you see what you can do w/out... look at what I can cut from there!

Afterwards, I went to Caribou to meet susan and got more grading done (I am so close to being finished!), not to mention a little "communal writing" -- she's in the process of copyediting her textbook, while I wrote a new scene for the my cafe notebook In between all this, we talked about movies, looked for similes to characterize an unromantic person, and she gave me a tour of Facebook. All in all, I spent about 2 1/2 hours there (Caribou, not Facebook), until I rushed out to make it home in time for Gilmore Girls (again, I say don't ask).

Tomorrow: primary day! I can't remember ever being this excited to vote!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

these go to eleven

I've been on a high the past couple of days: the weather, the end of classes, grading papers and discovering that my students "got it" -- that right there always brings a smile to my face. Better still, it's not only that they got it, but also that they appreciate it as well.

I've also done a ton of writing in a short amount of time. Yesterday morning I began the nonfiction book I've been wanting to do for about four years (and finally figured out how to do it in a way that's not been done before -- mum's the word on subject) and sent it to sarah, my Intended Reader, just to make sure I was on the right track.

And man, she was thorough. And critical. I was expecting (and asking for) a lot less. But she was the right reader because she hates the genre. So it was good to see what she didn't like about it, plus she honed in on what I always instinctively knew was going to be the strength, which was the narrative aspect (ok, I'll give you a hint -- you'd most likely find it in the self-help section. I know, I know; first chick-lit and now this? It's a good idea, though -- trust me). What helped me most was that she sort of set the bar for me in terms of audience and purpose. If I can get a reader like her to not only read it but like it and learn something, then hurrah! I'm not showing her anymore of it until I finish the entire first draft and start in on revisions, though.

And, as for our novel, I happily informed her last night that we are 20,000 words in -- not bad for having started two months ago and considering the obstacles. And that's not even including the snippets of scenes and dialogue and blogposts that we haven't even gotten to yet. But we've got a *story* now, and that's always fun. Plus, we're starting to share a brain, which is a little scary... we've had more contact in the last two days than I've had w/ my mom in the last two weeks!

And speaking of blogs, Stacey is doing a great job of getting the word out about the QRB panel discussion on May 17. Two of the panelists even put together a little pod commericial, which you can listen to here:
They even pronounced my name correctly!

I admit that I'm starting to get nervous about it already. I just hope I don't, you know, suck, or that attendees are expecting me to be some blogging expert. I can picture someone like Comic Book Boy from The Simpsons getting up and leaving, saying (in CBB voice), "Worst panelist ever." I'll be happy if I can aptly explain to them what kairos means...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

art imitating life; life inspiring art

I've just spent roughly two-and-a-half hours (save a short dinner break and an hour to watch Gilmore Girls -- don't ask) on a chapter for the novel that is supposed to be a blogpost.

It's a helluva long blogpost, I'll tell ya that much.

It came out to about ten pages (double-spaced, 11pt-courier -- all the blogposts are written in courier) and my original intention was to sort of mimic Bridget Jones's Diary in regards to this one particular scene where the protagonist is recounting a night of speed dating. I'm not sure I succeeded, however. I am eagerly waiting for my PIC to respond to it.

And although this has nothing to do w/ writing, I need to comment about how beautiful springtime in North Carolina is. This is only my second springtime here. At this time of year in southeastern Massachusetts, springtime is nice -- really nice. I miss the open water and brisk spring air at the beach. But it is neither as warm nor as lush. In fact, for the last few years that I lived in New England, save an occasional 70-degree day, I pretty much wore my leather jacket until June. But unless you have allergies, you can't not enjoy a day like today in NC. And perhaps I'm feeling more euphoric because my semester is almost over. Papers await grading. But really, how can you grade papers on a day like today? A day like today is inspirational. Really, it inspires. All I thought about today were my own writing projects. It was awesome.

Man, I love my job. Both gigs -- teacher and writer.