Thursday, January 29, 2009

happy dance

I just got news that QRB has agreed to stock my book -- yipppeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

guest blogger

I've been wanting to have a guest blogger for some time. I suppose it's only fitting that the first be my writing partner in crime. This is something that she composed on her private blog, and I don't know which moved me more, the poemlet or the reflection that preceded it. I relate to both in ways that I can't really explain. And so, here they are, reflection followed by poemlet, with her permission.

Enjoy, folks:

poemlet for a stormy day

there's something about composing poetry in the car, as though you can feel the rhythm of the tires, or are forced to work on the sound and feel of the poem as you recite it out loud over and over line by line trying to hold on until you make it to paper to catch it. (when i was in high school i used to come home late after dance class and say only, "hi mom, need paper!" or "hey, gotta write this down before i lose it" before even taking off my shoes.) and there's something nice about finally having paper and pen and letting the words just come from your memory straight onto paper, all the hard, unsteady work done, just letting the words come out with a sigh.

some of my best rhythms have been written while driving, and while this is really not be one of those (being a poemlet it is still rough, after all a few hundred more recitations would undoubtedly smooth it out, but it's still a poemlet afterall), it's fitting for this steely, stormy day:

last night i tried to call to you
to bring you back inside, but
my voice was only wind and so
the sound it could not carry.

three storms were closing close
in steely sheets below iron sky,
my lips too dry to purse at all
couldn’t carry sound.

and i was alone the only one
who could see them bearing
bearing down, only alone
as i ever was could i feel them

coming through the calm.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

geeks and getting personal (ads, that is)

Here's how geeky my rhetoric-composition friends and I are: we rhetorically analyzed my online dating profile.

Believe it or not, I've conducted a class activity in which students need to write a dating profile (it's a good way for them to think about word choice, rhetorical appeals, audience, etc.) -- the best is when the students get so into it that the girls start reading the guys' profiles, the guys start reading the girls' and each gives the other feedback. ("I would so date you..." "I would think you're a stalker..." etc.)

Anyhoo, I'm getting a little personal here, but recently I jumped back into the online dating pool, and, of course, I composed multiple drafts, revising along the way. So this past Sunday, I had invited some of my girlfriends over for a dessert party (and I wonder why I'm so easily categorized as a chick lit writer), and aside from talking books, movies, and music, the conversation got around to dating.

And so, I showed them my profile, and lo and behold, we found ourselves dissecting one part of my text, namely one in which I adamantly state that I'm not interested in having kids nor dating men w/ kids (ok, this is getting *really* personal now... yikes). I had explained my rhetorical intent--be strong in my conviction without sounding selfish or like a child-hater-- and we discussed to what extent my text had achieved this intent. Before I knew it, I was peeling back my own layers -- what was I really trying to say? Rather, what was at the heart of my conviction? Why?

And so, at that moment, I put the truth on the table.
"Why not be that explicit?" asked one of my peer reviewers. "Why not use the words you used just now? Why not show that little bit of vulnerability?"
"Because I thought it made me sound incredibly selfish," I explained.
"I think if phrased well, you would convey your sincerity as well as your honesty, and men would respond w/ a much greater understanding than you have now, not to mention support."

I pondered this.

"If I re-write it, can I send it to you guys so you can workshop it before I actually post the profile?"

What made it all the funnier was that despite our laughter over my request, I was serious, and they knew it. What's more, I knew they were all too eager to help me craft my message.

As much as I love working w/ students, and helping them arrive at the place where they "get" it, there are times when it is all the more satisfying to be with those who already get it, who so intrinsically get it and revel in it and can't live any other way. Those times are fun. Those people are my colleagues, my friends, my collaborators and co-creators. Those are my teachers. And I love them dearly for it. We are all a perfect match for each other.

After we finished my profile, we searched potential match profiles and rhetorically analyzed them. Oh, to be a fly on our wall-- a male fly w/ an online profile, that is.

We're all one status update away from putting together a panel discussion on the rhetorical value of Facebook across various age groups.

Friday, January 23, 2009

um, it's chick lit, but you'll like it

I have a cousin who loves to tease me about the fact that I write chick lit (that, and that I'm a chocolate addict). Oddly enough, when someone asks me about the genre of my novel, I typically answer "women's fiction" or "romantic comedy." Then I cave in, apologetically: "um, it's chick lit." And I find myself following up with, "but I think you'll like it." I am also very quick to point out how many heterosexual men have read and enjoyed Faking It as well as my other work.

I wonder why I'm ashamed or embarrassed to admit that I write chick lit. I seem to be afraid that I won't be taken seriously as a result. I am even more quick to admit that I don't necessarily read a lot of chick lit except to get a feel for the market that my work apparently fits into. And that's true, too.

So how is this possible? How, or why, is it that I'm writing for a genre I'm not particularly invested in otherwise?

It's not that I think chick lit is bad. I find some of it fun. But I also find much of it lacking a je ne sais quoi -- I just can't put my finger on it. If I had to try to distinguish it in my own fiction, I might be so bold as to say depth of character, but I can't be sure. I might also say wit, but I think that might be insulting chick lit writers. There's definitnely a light-heartedness to chick lit. But, aside from Bridget Jones (both Diary and the Edge of Reason), I haven't really laughed out loud during any chick lit book I've read (and I listened to the latter BJ on audiobook -- it was so superbly that that lended to my enjoyment).

Then again, maybe my own book is lacking. I'm not exactly objective.

What bothers me more than my own haste to defend (or deny?) the notion of me as a chick lit writer is why I feel the need to do so in the first place. I've thought about attending a chick lit writers conference (I'd like to attend *any* conference, really, but they're so damn expensive...) or finding some kind of chick lit writers network, but I worry about the stigma it carries.

And just what is that stigma?

I suppose chick lit is not considered very "literary" compared w/ other genres. Then again, I might not characterize fantasy fiction as such either, although I'm sure a hovercraft full of fantasy writers would pelt me with enchanted flummoxsticks smuggled from the Divo-one forest planet. (As you can see, I suck as a fantasy writer. They'd beat me senseless for that bit o' writing, too.)

Really, I don't think any author is in a position to legitimize or deligitimize any genre of work, or to set an unrealistic definition of literature to begin with. The bottom line is that I write books that I would want to read, and thus I work w/ what I know. I write about Long Islanders and West Wing fans and writing geeks and relationship fiascos (I'm sorry to say I know about the last one) and I stylistically steal from those writers I love to create a world and cast of characters that don't always quite get it. Maybe this just makes me incredibly self-centered. And these days, I also like to read stories that make me laugh out loud, especially when I'm reading in a public place. And so I do just that -- I try to get myself to laugh out loud as I write.

And of course, like any other reader, no matter what I'm reading, I want to be riveted. And, like many readers, I never know which book is gonna do that to me until I start turning the pages.

When I worked in the salon as a manicurist, I insisted on calling myself a "nail technician," as did the nail technology profession. Nowadays I just plain like the word "manicurist," and the sound of it, better. But to pinpoint myself as a chick lit writer, stigma aside, is too limiting for me, I think. I think I'm a writer, plain and simple. Fiction, non-fiction, blogger, sometimes academic, sometimes technical, sometimes private.

And definitely published.

But I think you'll like it. My writing, that is. In the end, that's what I really care about.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

today, I wrote

Maybe it was the inspiration from the inaugural rhetoric. Maybe it had stewed long enough. Regardless, I wrote today. To be more specific, I worked on a manuscript.

I've had massive fears regarding my nonfiction manuscript. For one thing, I've been quite focused on my fiction, especially getting the word out about Faking It. When I initially started to write the nonfiction book, I don't think I had ever really had serious plans for it. Rather, I was willing to put them on hold in favor of the fiction. I had just wanted to get the first draft done, perhaps send a proposal to a few agents, and let the chips fall where they may.

But God has a sense of humor. Or maybe she's a literary agent.

Nevertheless, I fell into a publisher, a co-creator, and suddenly my manuscript had a real audience. And real problems too. For one thing, I couldn't get a grasp of my audience (at this stage, I typically write for me). For another thing, I started trying too hard.

Before I knew it, my manuscript had become a mess. It had no purpose (or too much purpose), a lack of focus. The more I tried to keep my ego out of it, the more it dug in its heels.

So, I stopped writing. Or maybe I just plain ran away from it. Everytime I wanted to work on it, I opened it up and the thing just frightened me, because I knew I had to obliterate and start over. And what scared me most is that I wasn't sure I wanted to start over, nor did I want to try to fix what was already there.

I kept procrastinating. January, I told myself. I'll pick it up again in January.

It's taken most of January to get the momentum back, to figure out what I want, but, as what typically happens when I put a manuscript down for awhile, sooner or later the words come, because they've been marinating, stewing, all this time. And I think I had finally made the decision: start over. move forward. re-see.

So let's hope today's burst of inspiration was enough of a spark to get the flame going. I think I totaled about five pages, single-spaced. So yeah, it was a good day.

Really, it's about getting over the fear. Isn't that what it's always about?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

too verklempt for words

How cool is it to have a self-proclaimed writer in the White House? Read Emma Walton Hamilton's blogpost about her take, titled "Obama and Reading."

This is a great place to be a citizen, not to mention a reader and a writer.

Monday, January 19, 2009

checking in: an assessment

So far, my writing/reading resolutions are not going well. The culprit? Facebook!
It's very addictive. And yet, something terrific has happened in that I've reconnected w/ childhood friends, friends that, in some cases, I have been sending the yearly Christmas card and that's it, others I've not seen or spoken to in 20 years. That's been immensely gratifying. I feel like I'm home when I'm "talking" to them. (Don't get me started on that irony...)

What's more, it's been a great tool for promoting Faking It. The fan page has recruited 65 members (in less than two weeks), and I've sold at least three units, not counting the other two from friends (one of whom wouldn't have known had we not reconnected on FB) that I ordered and signed (check's in the mail, so they say, haha!). Doesn't sound like much, but consider the time span. And that's not the grand total of sales.

But... I'm spending too much time chatting, commenting, scouting other people's pages, etc. It's fun, but it's time I could be spending on any of the major writing projects I've got going on right now, which is about four, counting Faking It.

I suspect that those who have difficulty balancing their careers and families w/ their writing are really having difficulty committing to attending to their writing and making it just as much of a priority as their other life areas. This is not a judgement, mind you -- I put myself at the top of those to whom I refer. I believe this is a choice that we have to make. We need to value our writing careers (if we've decided that we want our writing to be a career) the same way we value our full-time job that pays the bills. We need to act as if writing is what brings home the bacon.

That means turning off the screens. Turn off the boob-tube. Turn off Facebook. Turn off the Black Berry. Etc. Keep Word open, of course. But shut down and sign out of the rest.

So here's my new intention: I intend to commit at least one hour each night to one of my writing projects. (Monday night for Faking It, Tuesday for Daily Presents, Wednesday for WILS, and so on.) One hour is more than do-able. It means sacrificing watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (but really, how funny is it gonna be now that the Obama Admin is taking office?). But if I had a second job (and I do), then I'd be missing them anyway. Priorities. It's like saving $20 a week by not buying the grande latte.

It's time for me to walk the walk. I've been saying that I want the scales to tip, that I want to make a living as a full-time published author rather than a full-time instructor. It's time to make that happen. Start by devoting a minimum of 5-7 hours a week. That's still part-time, meager, even, but it's a start. It's clocking in.

It's a plan.

Friday, January 16, 2009

a bit more self-promotion

Sponsored by the Raliegh Write2Publish Meetup and Quail Ridge Books:

To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish: A Panel Discussion

On Saturday February 21 at 6:30 PM at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, Stacey Cochran will moderate a panel discussion with Adam Shepard and Elisa Lorello on the topic "To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish." This event is free to attend (donations accepted), and newcomers are welcome.

Since self publishing his memoir Scratch Beginnings, Adam Shepard has been on the Today Show, 20/20, the Glen Beck Program, and has been featured in the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Post and countless other media outlets. Subsequently, his self published book found a home at a major publishing house (Harper-Collins) and gained him representation from well-respected literary agency.

Elisa Lorello's debut novel Faking It was self published through Like many of us, Elisa started by trying to find a literary agent and so-called "traditional" publisher for Faking It before deciding to self publish her novel. A true self-starter, Ms. Lorello has developed an online following through her blog Kairos Calling, her Facebook Fan Page for Faking It, and through speaking at bookstore events in our area. She teaches writing at NC State University.

Additionally, Stacey plans to discuss recent trends that he has experienced both working for a major traditional publisher (Bedford/St. Martin's Press) and non-traditional self-publisher (, as well as the rise of Web 2.0 marketing and publishing strategies like using YouTube,, and entrepreneurial websites designed for search engine optimization to generate revenue.

The central research question underlying this discussion is whether we as writers can (or should) rely on traditional publishing methods and business models to tell our stories in 2009 and beyond.

You might make plans to arrive 10-15 minutes early, as attendance will likely be high for this event.

Learn more here:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

what you can get for a buck

For the remainder of this month, Faking It is is available for $1.00 via Download. That's right -- ONE DOLLAR! One dollar to download not an excerpt, but the *ENTIRE NOVEL*!

Here's all you need to do:

Step One: Go to elisa lorello's storefront (to the right of the page!) to download Faking It for $1.00.
Step Two: Read and enjoy Faking It, and keep passing it on to your friends!

Remember, this offer ends on January 31, so get your Dollar Download TODAY!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Tonight I heard some info about, another POD site and competitor of If there's a downer to self-publishing, and something I'm currently struggling with, it's price-setting. My novel is currently listed at $19.95. Having worked in an industry in which I've ordered products wholesale and then marked them up for retail, my price is a standard markup. Lulu's wholesale printing cost for a 300 page book, for example, comes out to about $10 per book. Createspace's printing cost, on the other hand, is considerably cheaper, by more than half. This means I can retail the book for much cheaper than what I am currently listing and still make a profit. However, Createspace takes a bigger cut of the list price (profits, in other words), and if the book is sold on Amazon, for example, then they'll take even more. (And that'll happen no matter which POD I use).

My worry is that my book is priced too high for a paperback. I'm currently reading a paperback copy of Twilight, for example, and although its dimensions are smaller than 6x9, it's a hefty book. It retails for $10.99. But when I looked at comparable books on Lulu, my pricing was pretty consistent, give or take a dollar or two.

I don't want to lose customers to a high price, and I want to be competitive in the marketplace beyond the rhelm of Lulu. On the other hand, I don't want to devalue my work or devalue myself (which I think aspiring authors are suceptible to out of desperation to be published and sell books). If I set my price too low, I'll wind up losing money per sale. And don't forget, this is a business. I am as entitled to make a profit as Lulu and B&N and the rest.

What to do?

For one thing, I'm considering lowering the price to $17.95, $18.95 tops. I don't know if that extra dollar or two makes a difference or not. (My twin brother, who knows the bookselling business very well, thinks it won't, but also thinks it can't hurt in terms of attracting customers.) But, Faking It is likely going to go through one more revision before I distribute to major online booksellers, so I have to make up my mind about price, because once I click Approve, that's it. No more revisions. The revisions are quite minor, to meet ISBN guidelines, and one is a vanity issue -- a potential reader remarked that the font looked a little small, so I'm increasing it by a point (that, of course, will increase page length, which will increase print cost).

If I lower the price, do I refund those that already bought it their two dollars? Do I offer them a discount on my next novel?

I remember looking at Createspace's website over the summer when I was mulling over whether to self-publish. I don't remember why I went w/ Lulu in the end, although I do recall being able to navigate Lulu's site w/ more ease, for starters. That they were a local company, and that I knew people who had worked w/ them was also influential. But, in hindsight, perhaps I could've, should've done more research on both companies? Not that I wanna start shoulding on myself, but...

It's certainly something to think about for the next book. In the meantime, I'd like to hear your book-buying perspective on this. Please share.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

back to the basics

I love that writing so often begins with two very simple elements: a purpose and an audience. The call to write is so often the result of being witness to something: a person, place, or situation/event; a reaction to said person, place, or situation/event; a phenomena, and/or, my favorite, a what if.

We write because of a desire or need to say something. We write to argue, to describe, to persuade, to communicate, to say hello, to say we're here. We write to explore, deny, find, expose, hide, realize, and reveal or tell a truth. We write to pretend, to escape, to play, to stretch the rules. We write for fun, for work, for play, for school, for no reason. We write for us and/or for others.

Which segues into my next point very well. I also love that writing begins with an audience of self. There are stories, letters, journal entries, poems, etc., that I've written for me and me alone. Faking It began as the book that I wanted to read. Over the break, I re-read the pieces of my unfinished novel, Tenure, and I wondered if it would ever get finished, if it really was for me only. I still have the stories I wrote when I was a teenager. I haven't looked at them in 20 years. I may never look at them again. But I am so grateful for them. They got that teenager through some very tough times. They gave her a place to go.

Last month, my writing partner and I exchanged gifts of a different kind. She wrote a scene involving our characters and sent it to me as a Christmas present. The intention was not for me to proofread it, or figure out where it belonged in our manuscript. It was a gift, pure and simple. It was a gift of words, a gift of imagination. It was a gift of love, too. And I played w/ it, adding my own bits to it (like we so often do), having fun, letting it be what it was. And so, a few days after Christmas, on her birthday, I wrote another scene using the same characters and sent it to her. She was free to play w/ it any way she wanted, and maybe she did, but she liked it, and she appreciated it for what it was. She knew I wrote it just for her, just as the previous scene had been just for me.

There is so much to literary theory that I don't know, haven't learned, and may never learn. I can just about recall those terms we learned in grade school: protagonist, antagonist, plot, conflict, theme, rising action, climax, exposition, etc. I'm a rhetorical girl-- always will be. I like it that way. But there is one part about writing that neither falls into the rhelm of rhetoric nor literature. It has to do w/ the creation, but can be applied to the academic, technical, and business writing as well as creative fiction or nonfiction. It's the nature of the idea. Writing comes from someplace, in response to something. It is born of witness. But there is a force-- invisible, unknown, unconscious-- that, for lack of a better phrase, puts the idea in our head. There is a place where the words and images come from, the ether, I suppose.

My brother has listened to a song that he has composed, arranged, performed, recorded, produced, engineered, and mixed. Start to finish. Much like my own writing process of brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, finishing, etc. And he listens to it and wonders how he did it. I get that. I've had those marvelous moments. It brings tears to our eyes when it happens.

Which brings me to this blog.
Am I running low on purpose these days? I feel like I'm repeating past conversations. Have I said all I need to say? Does the scope of Kairos Calling need to change? (I'm even thinking of calling it Elisa Lorello's Kairos Calling. I've finally given up The Purple Panda, although I'm keeping the picture 'cause it's so damn cute...) Is my audience bored?

Anne Huffington (is it Anne? Anna? a different name altogether? forgive me for my simultaneous ignorance and laziness to look it up) of The Huffington Post, while on The Daily Show promoting her recent book about blogging (which I so wanna get -- my birthday's comin' up...) talked a little bit about the rhetorical situation of the blog, about its free-form, unpolished style (as seen in this neverending sentence). And yet, Jon Stewart seemed more perplexed by its seeming purposelessness. I couldn't help but perplex right along w/ him. Are we all just a bunch of windbags really just liking the "sound" of our voices? (ok, maybe that was harsh) Or is there real value in this text?

If I shift the purpose of Kairos Calling, to what will I shift it? I wonder.

I suppose I'll end on this note: Writing is also thinking, and I suppose that is ultimately what this post is all about -- I'm thinking out loud, on the page. And my truth is that I don't know what to do.

Friday, January 9, 2009

drinking the kool-aid

So, my Faking It Fans page on Facebook is up to forty members. Of course, the thing about Facebook is that it's a Pied Piper type of thing in which if you send an invite to 200 of your friends, they go where you tell them to go. Since my friend Brucie started it and has, like, a million friends, most of them joined and don't know me from a scampering bunny. But, a few of them have their curiosities piqued, and I've already sold three books since I last checked, so...

I am so curious to see what Aaron Sorkin's screenplay centering around a Facebook-type community is going to look like. My (our) latest manuscript deals a lot w/ blogging, but I'm thinking more and more about possibly writing some kind of short story or something. It can be very mindless messin' around on that thing; but, it's gotten me back in touch w/ an old and dear friend of mine, among others, and I love it for that.

In the meantime, keep getting the word out! I'm hoping that once and for all I'll have it up on amazon, etc., by the end of the weekend. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

attention *Faking It* fans:

Faking It has its own fan page on Facebook! If you have a Facebook page, or know someone who does, check out the Faking It Fans page and invite your Facebook Friends to join as well. I am really excited about this -- I'm hoping the page will serve as a forum for conversation about the book (and the writing of the book), an information board for upcoming readings/signings (yes, I'm planning a few!), future Elisa Lorello books, and much more. At the last check, the group had 16 members! Yay! Let's bring it up to 100 by the end of the month, if not sooner! And let's sell that many books, too!

Next step: get the thing on Amazon and Barnes&!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

three shows/films I never get tired of watching

1. and 2. The West Wing (the Aaron Sorkin years)
My mom and I have a tradition: when I come home for Christmas, we make it a point to watch two West Wing episodes: "In Excelsis Deo" and "Noel", from the first and second seasons, respectively. And the same thing happens at the end of each: we wind up with hands on our hearts, tissues dabbing at our eyes, and speechless for about ten seconds after end credits roll.

These episodes are brilliant (and I try not to overuse that word lest it becomes trite), a team effort -- every single piece, from lighting to music to props to actors to script, produces more of a cinematic event rather than a television episode.

For me, it starts with the story. In the first, White House communications director Toby Zeigler has been called to identify a homeless man who froze to death. Toby doesn't know him, but the man is wearing a coat that Toby donated, and it happened to have his business card in it. Toby further discovers that the deceased was a veteren, and spends the rest of the episode trying to find someone that knew him.

In the second, deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, recent gunshot victim, spends a day with a trauma specialist (stellar perfromance by Adam Arkin) after some ununusal encounters. The story is the dramatic unraveling in search of an answer to a simple question: How did you cut your hand, Josh?

I've gushed enough about Aaron Sorkin on this blog, so I'll just leave you w/ those synopses, and if you haven't seen them, please do. If you have, rent the DVDs and watch the commentaries on them. Fascinating. Or just watch and enjoy them again.

3. When Harry Met Sally (Nora Ephron)
I really can't explain my attraction to this film, or to its story. But it's a theme that has recurred in my writing ever since. I have always been in love with the synchronicities of two people meeting and falling in love, and I am equally in love w/ the idea of marrying your best friend. When Harry Met Sally was a massive inspiration for Faking It -- in fact, I pitch it as When Harry Met Sally meets Sex and the City.

Just like The West Wing, a good film works because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (that's the expression, right?). No one but Billy Crystal could be Harry. No one but Meg Ryan could be Sally. Ditto for Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher. Add Rob Reiner's humor, Nora Ephron's humor (and their chemistry w/ Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, etc.) and it all just works. But, like Nora Ephron's other films, Manhattan is also a character -- a very, very romantic character. I think that's why I love Nora Ephron's writing so much, because it's her love affair w/ NYC that is coming through. And I get that, because my other recurring theme is home. Interestingly enough, it's my mother's home, Sag Harbor, with which (whom?) I have the same kind of romance. But Long Island played a role in Faking It -- I don't know that I did it justice, but if Faking It was ever made into a movie (and I have the first draft of the screenplay written, folks), I would hope that Long Island was completely romanticized.

(pardon me while I digress: two nights before my last night visiting Long Island, I told my mom that perhaps I'd like to move back within the next year. The thought was an impulsive one, yet it sounded good at the time. The night before my last night, as I pulled into a parking lot and accidentally went in the wrong direction, a woman in her overbearing SUV honked, gave me the finger, and inaudibly yelled what I can only guess were obsceneties, her face squinched in ugly anger, all because I inconvenienced her for all of five seconds. I cursed her back, insanely angry, even knowing that my response was just as overblown as hers. I turned to mom: "well, that just killed it for me," I said. She laughed. I haven't thought about moving back since.)

4. Runner's up: This was a hard one, because there are soooo many to choose from. Ultimately these are about nostalgia as much as writing or the other elements, namely watching with my brothers.
  • This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner and company)
  • Animal Crackers (The Marx Brothers)
  • The Odd Couple (Neil Simon)

I should also note the Gilmore Girls marathon my mom and I instigated during my stay (and yet, that was partly the result of her not having cable...)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

three books I never get tired of reading

*Note: for the record, I tried to upload photos of each bookcover next to each entry, but it would only disply them on top -- if any of you know how to change this, please let me know, since I think the post would be even better if it had the accompanying photos.

1. On Writing (Stephen King).
It's one of those books that's so simple in language and form, yet so chock full of little nuggets. His memoir is great-- it's rather fascinating to see where he came from and how he came to be who he is as a writer. The instructional part is equally great in that it's common-sensical. I don't agree with everything he says or suggests, but I have several pieces of his advice. In fact, I think it was his stance on "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things overall: read a lot and write a lot" (I don't think I've quoted accurately, but you get the gist) that put me on a whole new level as a writer. When I first read On Writing (a Christmas gift from my twin brother, god bless him), I had just gotten my bachelor's degree and was immersed in my masters. All my reading was academic in nature. But at King's insistence, I made it a point to read more fiction, read more books for pleasure. It was slow-going and hard in the beginning, especially w/ all that student writing to read. But the more I read, the more I absorbed the styles of those whom I was reading. And eventually, reading became the solace for (from?) all the academic and tedious stuff, rather than a chore upon chore.

Equally fascinating is the analysis of some of his own works, namely Misery. Interestly enough, I'm not a fan of King's stories simply because I'm not a fan of that genre (I have enough nightmares from eating chocolate before bed, thank you). So I've not read any of his stuff, w/ the exception of his nonfiction. (I used to teach an essay that he had originally published in Playboy, of all places, called "Why We Crave Horror Movies" that was reprinted in every freshman composition reader as an example of the rhetorical mode called "causal analysis" -- given how much King dislikes the freshman theme paper, he must cringe to know this. But it was one of my favorite essays at the time, especially to teach. And I listened to an audio reading of "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" once -- love the film, of course. But, as usual, I digress). But I didn't have to read Misery to get it, and to love the conversation.

Other nuggets: stay away from the adverbs (although, in hindsight, I didn't adhere to that rule well enough in Faking It -- I'll chalk it up to being a rookie fiction writer at the time), and don't use words that are outside your style or the vernacular of the character just because it sounds more literary or intelligent. I offer this to my students constantly.

2. Straight Man (Richard Russo).
This was my first (and favorite) Richard Russo novel. I purchased it from my friend Mary at her yard sale for 25 cents (or maybe she just gave it to me -- I can't remember). It came at a time when I was starting to read more comedic pieces of writing because I wanted to write more comedic pieces of writing. My twin brother had been pestering me to read both David Sedaris and Bill Bryson (I didn't pick up Bryson for another couple of years thanks to my friend Julian (name change), but Me Talk Pretty One Day actually comes fourth on the list).

I read much of Straight Man at the coffee shop formerly known as Uncle Jon's in North Datmouth, MA, just minutes from UMD. And I laughed out loud while reading it, constantly, oblivious to who might be sitting nearby, staring at the crazy girl sitting in the comfy chair. I love it because so much of it rings familiar. If I didn't know any better, I'd think Railton was a variation of UMD, and the surrounding towns of N. Dartmouth and New Bedford minus the fishing community. Its English department was chock full of loonies and wise-asses and adjuncts w/ cramped offices on the second floor while the tenured were on the third, and so on. Yeah, I knew this world well, and loved it for all its absurdities. And Hank, complete w/ Groucho nose-&-glasses, was plain hilarious, yet a character I'd never come across before in my young reading life. He's so damn likable, even when he was downright obnoxious. I like this male perspective that Russo provides so well.

Straight Man inspired me to write my own academic farce, a novel called Tenure that is currently still in pieces. I love it, but I wonder if I will ever be able to finish it. It's loaded with great characters, but low on plot. I further wonder if it was the one novel that I really did write just for me, because I got to make the relationship that had failed so disappointingly (love that adverb!) in reality a smashing success in fiction, complete w/ great sex and blowout fights.

I went on to read Empire Falls (which I liked) and an abridged audio version of Nobody's Fool (well read by Kevin Spacey -- wish I'd gotten the unabridged), plus a couple of short stories, and I still have Bridge of Sighs sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently. But Straight Man is the one I keep coming back to.

3. My Name is Asher Lev (Chiam Potok).
I had an art teacher in 9th grade who told us that if we were serious about becoming artists, then we should read this book. My parents had also read and loved it. I think I finally picked it up around 19 or 20 (which happened to be one of my dormant reading periods -- a whole other story I'd rather not tell).

Asher Lev is riveting. The first paragraph is still one of my favorite intros of all time. By the time you finish reading it, you want to walk down that Brooklyn street, and you want to go into the museum and stare at his paintings. You wish it was there. You wish you could see it. (And yet, if they ever made a movie, and I think they did, I wouldn't want to see it portrayed on film. There's something delicious about only being able to imagine it but not actually see it.) The charaters, the rituals, the anguish, the suffering. And the drawing -- oh, the obsessive drawing. To some small degree, I understood that world, too, although it had never been my world. I wasn't the artist that Asher was. I didn't have the need (not the way I have the need to write). But I understood the nature of the composition, the not knowing where it comes from. I understood its truth. And while I didn't know Hasidism, I certainly knew what it meant to be devoutly religious.

To this day, every time I read Asher Lev, I want to pick up my pencils and paintbrushes again and go right to work.

Runners up:
  • the aforementioned David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day (and "The Santaland Diaries" from Holidays on Ice is an annual tradition -- read it aloud at your next Christmas party)
  • my twin brother's story "The Dracula Syndrome" that he wrote when he was eighteen and published in our high school literary magazine -- still makes me laugh (he'll cringe that I mentioned it on this blog)
  • Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, but only on audiobook. I prefer to have Bryson read it to me -- I love his voice and his dry inflection. No one combines terrific storytelling, finely detailed descriptions and well-researched info that turns into excellent trivia, and hilarity as well as he does.
Next post: three tv shows/films I never get tired of watching.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

a potential resolution

Five things to do every day:
  • 30 minutes of blogging or journaling, at least
  • 60 minutes of manuscript writing
  • 30-60 minutes of pleasure reading (audiobooks in the car count, folks)
  • 10 minutes of decluttering
  • 10 minutes of mental gratitude lists upon waking up and before going to bed (beats thinking up a new facebook status)
Do-able? We'll start tomorrow (famous last words) and see how it goes. The key is turning off the television.

Friday, January 2, 2009

day two

So it's the second day of the new year, and I've still not done any significant reading or writing yet. Then again, I've also not cleaned my apartment or worked on my syllabi for the spring semester, either. But I'm thinking. I'm definitely thinking. And I am working on one little piece of writing -- it's a sort of mission statement, a series of affirmations, really. And thanks to Audacity, I can audio-record them and listen to it regularly. There's something very powerful about such repetition of affirmations. I'm putting my intentions into the universe, folks!

My friends are requesting signed copies of Faking It. Even my cousin (a 19-yr-old guy) got into it! It's a nice thing that people are interested. I've got more to do to get it out to the masses, as they say. It's on the list.

Embrace change. How 'bout that for '09.