Remember the day that few can forget

(Getty Images)

Here in the Northeast and little over an hour away from New York City, it’s a bright clear, late-summer day, much like the kind of day it was eighteen years ago.  The memorials came and went this morning, and increasingly, as I meet with my students, there are less who actually remember, even more who not more than infants, if they were even born yet. But I remember. I remember the sign flashed on Route One and the Turnpike that said All roads to New York City are closed. I remember frantically trying to get in touch with my sister who lived there in those pre-cell phone days, the message on my landline …all circuits to New York City are busy. Try again later. I remember the jets flying overhead from the Air Force base three miles from my home, their deafening sound filling the air for hours. I remember seeing the buildings fall. I remember the shock and then the silence. And then just numb.

But I also remember the resilience. The camaraderie. The sense of pride. The flags everywhere because there was no Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. There was just Americans. And from all that wreckage, we as one people, were never prouder to be one. It didn’t last, of course. The finger-pointing and the ugly reactions to anyone who looked too different came all to quickly. But for a while there, a terrible tragedy brought us all together. Then, as now, I sincerely hope we wouldn’t need another to accomplish the same thing.

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You know you’ve really arrived when–oh wait…

I’ve been an American Express cardholder for years, so when I saw this “Invitation” envelope arrive today well…I thought I really arrived myself. I mean seriously, a Black Card! For a pedestrian writer and lowly academic? Me? Wow! I’m so not worthy! Who am I to think? The only explanation I could think of was they must have me confused with some other more affluent and jet-setting Jones. That was until this English teacher took the time to actually read the invite that boasts their metal card weighs an intimidating and wallet-busting 22g.

Not AMEX. Mastercard. It’s not the same. No matter if their website address is luxurycard.com. It’s still a Mastercard, it has no mystery qualifying criteria, it’s not for millionaires, it’s still welcome at Walmart. So no, I don’t feel special, I feel like I’ve been catfished, and no matter how much they tried to woo me with their 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge, 1.5% Cash Back, or $100 Annual Airline Credit, its invitation is still going in the trash.

I shall try to recover from the glance from the rich and famous.

Don’t bother me

Sure, that’s me amid all that mess. It’s summer, and I’ve just finished my last summer class, and I’m just about finished with my work-in-progress–just about. So I’m needed these next few days to finish up then park myself in a spot of sand, by a lake, or under a tree and take a breather. So if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me there with a cool drink in my hand, chillin.

See you in September!

Don’t ever say I haven’t suffered for my art

An edit is a cruel, cruel thing to the mind, but especially to the body. It’s not enough you’re forced to rethink all those trite plot twists, kill some of your favorite characters, remove 97 out of a 100 times you used your favorite word (yes, my moral failing, I just can’t get enough of the word just), as well as barrel higgley-piggley to an ending you’ve changed a dozen times and still can’t get right. No, all that upheaval isn’t enough. No, you must suffer more. And suffering doesn’t come any crueler than when your body starts breaking down.

Look at that hand above. It’s in a “Futuro” brace. (I just love the name. It reminds me of the robot in this scene from the 1927 movie Metropolis. I don’t remember what the robot’s name was, but I think “Futuro” would’ve been just dandy.) What you’re seeing there is a textbook case of carpal tunnel , brought on by an excessive use of just about anything that involves a keyboard. Particularly highlighting to cut and paste, which I find extremely hard to do with my left hand, which I am now forced to use if I want to continue Life As I Know It. Today’s Wednesday, and pain has been shooting up my middle finger since Sunday, when I picked up a fork–I suppose–the wrong way (how does one do that wrongly enough to injure themselves??) The pain’s easing, but it’s still not gone. And it’s a prime pain-in-the-ass to someone who makes their living by spending three-quarters of their work time using a keyboard.

So am I quitting? Hell no. I’m a writer, and I need to get this book done. Why would you even ask me that? Sheesh. But I sure wish there was someplace to apply for hazardous duty pay.

 

The Importance of Being Workshopped

Faculty of Agents and Editors during the Red Bank, October 2018 Workshop. (Corvisiero Literary Agency)

I think I’ve said this before and excuse me for being redundant, but writing can be a lonely business. True, there are writers’ events where you can all write together at a coffee shop or a winery or at the shore, but at the end of the day it’s just you, your keyboard, and the little imaginary friends in your head. So it helps now and then to get among your fellow writers to commiserate, focus on craft and publishing, and realize you’re not the only writer in the world that has issues with head-hopping, comma splices. or rejection letters.

That’s why writers conferences are so important, like Thrillerfest last week, Romance Writers of America’s going on now, or Writers Digest’s huge conference next month. For me, it’s not only the craft sessions, and workshops, the readings and the pitch sessions, it’s the realization that writing isn’t just an occupation or creative endeavor or even a business. It’s a way of life, a big, beautiful, noisy, extravagant, vibrant, lush, existence, that’s exciting and inspiring and humbling all at the same time. It can be as exhilarating as it is devastating, it can be cruel, it can be disappointing. But just like the perfect word that makes your prose sprint across the page, a writers conference can be like a B-12 shot to your flagging writers ego. It can recharge your creativity just being around other people that get you. I mean really, wouldn’t it be so refreshing not to have to explain why you’ve been locking yourself in that room for eight hours at a stretch?

So here’s another writers conference for you. The Authorpreneur Workshop in Red Bank, NJ, coming this September 27-28. Writing and Craft and Publishing Professionals by the beautiful Navesink River. Time to get out of your head and get a glimpse of what the writing life can be. And if you’re already there, come and share your expertise with the rest of us. If I’m going, then you know it must be worth it!

A Midsummer Assessment

Sometimes I write stuff and no one pays attention. Okay, a LOT of times I write stuff and no one pays attention. The following post is one of those, that I wrote a few years back, but it’s reflecting exactly how I feel right now. So with a few updates (in italics) you can see easily how this writer is feeling on this mid-summer night’s eve…

Been working hot and obsessively developing  another project (actually, the same one I’ve been working on for the past two years, wound like a bitch in editing hell) the last few weeks. When I do this I so live in my head I’m apt to leave lights on or subsist on string cheese and blueberries because I can eat them with one hand. Because of that I’m giving myself a pass tonight to let my mind wander.  I have too many topics rolling around the fertile landscape of my brain to settle on one, so I’m treating you to a virtual sampler of each. Think of it as the Jones version of the Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy,” (more like a keto snax box filled with cherries, hard boiled eggs, any nuts I can find, and an everything bagel and cream cheese to blow all good intentions straight to hell) except not about chain restaurant Italian food or really anything to do with food at all. Please don’t ask me to explain…

~ Why is it harder to write in the summer when it should be easier? Okay, I”m a college professor, right? And I “theoretically” have the summer off (except for the [three] summer class[s] I’m teaching, which really is cake next to my usual load). So my brain should be my own (mostly), and I should be able to sail through what I’m working on, producing so many pages a day I’d best keep a fire extinguisher near my desk. Wrong! Phuque moi! Could it be the sun shining through my window? The fact I have no schedule? The lure of the beach? Distraction by a shiny object? Or I’m still trying to get to know my characters? Hmm…I going to have to think about that one. Where’s the string cheese? (Yuengling)

~ You can lose weight on summer fruit. (All right; I lied about the food reference) I live in the heart of the South Jersey farm belt, and you can’t drive more than a couple of miles without either passing a farm or a farm stand. This morning I happened to visit the latter, where I purchased tomatoes (early, but there’s nothing like a Jersey tomato!), cukes, blueberries (another iconic Jersey crop), cantaloupe and peaches, both yellow and white. Lately I’ve been gorging on berries and melons and cherries, instead of the usual snacky-type foods, and in the past month I’ve lost seven pounds! (gained three on summer ice cream) Of course, this may have something to do with the 1725 calories I’ve been allowing myself to eat, the half-hour of daily exercise, and the frequent swims in the ocean (haven’t visited the beach yet, but swam in a pool once. Yeah, it was only four feet deep, and I was hooked to a pool noodle, but I was out in the sun–Vitamin D, you know) BUT! I have had more than a couple Bacchanalia events and let me tell you, the Yuengling hasn’t been lonely!

~ Beer tastes better in summer. That’s all I got. Any other commentary on that topic would be redundant.

~ Socks suck in summer.  I haven’t worn a pair of socks since, oh…probably early May. I hate the fricking little cotton casings anyway–hate the way they bunch up under your instep, hate the indentations they make on your shins, hate how the heels always wear out when the rest of the sock can go for another 10,000 miles. But MOST of all I HATE folding them. (Hate! Hate! Hate! still) Just sayin’.

~ I love the sound of birdsong at dusk. The sun has set, the western sky is stained red, outside a soft breeze is blowing and you can finally shut off the A.C. and let in some fresh air. You venture out on your porch or you open your car window, or maybe you’re out for a walk and there in the bushes, the trees or on an overhead wire is a whip-poor-will or a mockingbird or who knows what kind of bird, only that their song is lovely, a tiny gratis pleasure on a soft summer night. What else can you possibly need?

(Except it’s as hot as balls out there tonight and there’s no beer in the house. Still, there’s watermelon in the  fridge and I don’t have to work tomorrow, unless you count working on the edit again, which I’m enjoying so much it’s not really like work at all. Life is good, peeps.)

Goodbye Strunk, Hello Dreyer

My friends, even the writer ones, must think I’m insane. Because I think I’ve told everyone I know–I mean EVERYONE–about the utterly delightful, witty, and completely sagacious style book by chief copy editor at Random House, Benjamin Dreyer called Dreyer’s English. Why, you may ask? Because I’ve read a lot of style, grammar, craft, and instructional books on English in my writing and academic careers. And among those books, there’s a few I would recommend whole-heartedly. But Dreyer’s English is the only book on style I’ve read that was truly fun. Making it the only book of its kind I actually want to go out and buy for my writer friends. I don’t mean just for their birthday or Christmas. I mean I want to run out NOW to Barnes and Noble and buy a stack of them, ensuring that each writer I give them to will pay attention to the rules he outlines so hilariously. Truly the written word could only get better for it.

Publishers Weekly says: “Dreyer, copy chief at Random House, presents a splendid book that is part manual, part memoir, and chockfull of suggestions for tightening and clarifying prose. These begin with his first challenge to writers: “Go a week without writing ‘very,’ ‘rather,’ ‘really,’ ‘quite,’ and ‘in fact.’ ” (“Feel free to go the rest of your life without another ‘actually,’ ” he says.) Dreyer goes on to write with authority and humor about commonly confused or misspelled words, punctuation rules, and “trimmables,” or redundant phrases (the most memorable he ever encountered was, “He implied without quite saying”; Dreyer was so “delighted” he “scarcely had the heart” to eliminate it from the manuscript). But Dreyer’s most effective material comprises his recollections of working with authors, including Richard Russo, who after noticing a maxim posted in Dreyer’s office from the New Yorker’s Wolcott Gibbs—“Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style”—later called him to ask, “Would you say I am an author? Do I have a style?” This work is that rare writing handbook that writers might actually want to read straight through, rather than simply consult.”

Go buy it now. Or you run the risk of my blathering about it again.

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A Practical Education for Working Writers

Students in our MFA program understand that one of the most important skills a professional writer can have is versatility. Students choose a primary (creative) genre as well as second (professional) genre.

Here, there is no genre hierarchy or arbitrary boundary between genres. All students take workshops and courses with writers of all genres and styles, learning how different approaches and craft techniques can inform their primary and second genres. Our students are poets and grant writers; playwrights and copy editors; horror novelists and technical writers; investigative journalists and speech writers; young adult authors and PR specialists; and so much more!

Our low-residency model allows students to build a writing habit into their professional and personal lives. Through internships and teaching practicums, students apply their coursework in their field of choice. These features, in tandem with our emphasis on multiple genres, are some of the reasons why our student success rate is so high: 87% of graduates go on to publish books and/or work full-time as professional writers.

We encourage you to explore our website for more information, and feel free to contact Assistant Professor/MFA Coordinator Anthony D’Aries with any questions: dariesa@wcsu.edu

Seriously Snark

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