Waiting for Sandals

Spring has finally spring in my corner of New Jersey, and it’s hard to believe that next Tuesday will be May. We’re still looking at bare branches and there’s barely a bud in sight, though with the recent spate of 60-degree weather, they’re starting to pop out. It’s bizarre, as I’m still wearing boots and socks, and I should have long dissed them for sandals and toenail polish.

The fish have yet to reappear in the lake behind my house, even though a couple of weeks ago an OSPREY was in one of the large trees above the lake, ripping apart a fish. Hawks and Herons are fairly common sights, but a bird as large as an osprey is like having a rhino show up. Still, you never know what’s going to show up when you live on the water. Take, for instance, that thin yellow line in the upper left of the picture above, near the shoreline. That’s an oil boom from a spill when a house was demolished just above. Nothing like seeing men in Hazmat suits wading in the lake. Not that I should be surprised. This is Jersey after all.

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Housatonic Book Awards are now open

2018 Housatonic Book Awards – Open for Submissions!

The MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University and its alumni organization, the MFA Alumni Writers Collaborative, are now accepting submissions for the 2018 Housatonic Book Awards.

Granted to a book of short or long fiction published in 2016 or 2017. The award includes all forms of fiction, both literary and genre (mystery, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, etc.). The Award carries a $1,000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the January residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of January) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA
students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. Please see 2018 Housatonic Book Awards Form for more info.

Tips from the MFA Pit, Part 2 – Writer’s Logic

Guess what?! The font of advice from the MFA pit just keeps spouting! More valuable info from an actual MFA in Creative Writing mentor to actual MFA students! This week we’re looking at writer’s logic, that little voice in your head that shouts, YES! KILL HIM! I DON’T CARE IF HE’S THE BEST CHARACTER YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN! HE MUST DIE! DIE, I SAY! Mwwwahhhha-ha-ha!! Anyway, this student was having thesis issues, as they couldn’t figure out what direction to take their characters, who were turning out static and one-dimensional. Consequently, the student couldn’t get comfortable with the thesis they were already fifty pages into. I suggested at maybe they weren’t really into the story, that maybe they should consider on writing in genre-that seemed to be the focus of most of their reading (MFA programs have a LOT of reading in the student’s genre or concentration) So they took me up on that idea, but still…
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I’ve been reading your pages and I’ll get back to with comments this weekend, if not before. The important thing is you’re more comfortable with this story, and that’s good. It means you’re finding which genre is right for you. And  you’re right—you will get to a point where the story just pours out of you. The characters will be telling YOU what they want to do. That’s because by that time your story will develop its own logic, and the characters will start acting the way that you designed them to act. Their actions will seem more realistic to how they would react in certain situations. If one character likes to think things through, they won’t suddenly act rash. You will know what direction to send them in as you’ll know that’s how they would handle a certain situation. The same thing with plot elements. You will know intrinsically what the end result will be, because the logic of your story will drive the plot in a certain direction. I’ve heard writers say, “Oh no, I think I have to kill Character X.” They don’t want to, but event sometimes force your hand, and it wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t. “X and Z have to fall in love.” Because if they didn’t, your story wouldn’t make sense. In essence, you’ll just know. I maybe have said this before, but this is why I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. It’s not that you’re stuck. It’s just that you’re fighting the logic of your own story. If you let it flow like it should, it almost always works its way out. The key is not fighting it. When you don’t, chances are your plot will free up and your story will start flowing again.

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And I have to tell you that my advice to this student has seemed to have worked up. They’re well over halfway into the new book and genre, and the story is indeed flowing well. It may turn out I’m just the best writing mentor ever!

The book (lurking) under the bed

If you’re like me, you probably have a book under the bed that hasn’t seen the light of day for quite a long time, and there’s a damn good reason why it’s there. Of course I’m speaking metaphorically when I say under the bed, as most digitally-attuned don’t do paper anymore, and haven’t for a long while. But there was a time when all submissions were typed, tucked in a box, and sent off to New York either Postal Book Rate (cheap and snail-ly) or FedEx (for we oh-so-serious writers), only to have it returned immediately, or a year later after idling awhile in the publisher’s slush pile, a crookedly-photocopied form rejection tucked in the box. To make your repudiation hit home even more, your opus was returned in your own postage-paid box. I say this quite fervently, there’s nothing that’ll give you all the  worse feels than having financed your own dismissal. So after being denied, rebuffed, nixed, and bounced, what can you do with this creative disaster, this repudiated pariah, this literary Loch Nessie,  other than hide it with the other monsters under the bed?

You can have good cry or a  primal scream, and after a good drown in wine or chocolate or Cheetos, figure out why it was under-the-bed-worthy in the first place. Or you can let it molder under your bed or in your hard drive your flash drive or your cloud, and dig it out some time later, and rework and update it until it’s resubmittable again. Though if you do, let me add a few words of caution.

Sometimes editors or agents will give you what’s called a “good rejection,” offering what they found not to work and what would, and maybe even adding they’d take another look after another going over. Sometimes this can work, especially if the ed/agent likes your writing style but wants to see how you rework it first. Often they’ll give your tips, but often they won’t, and there’s no guarantee they’ll take it in the end. It’s the chance you take, because you can get caught up in an endless cycle of revision, especially if the ed/agent wants you to take the book where you may not be adept at. There are writers I know of who were even willing to write outside their comfort zone just to pander to an editor’s taste, ending up in a genre they have no business writing. As hard as it is to accept, some books just belong under the bed, as some just can’t be updated, the original concept may be too trite or convoluted, or your writing style may have changed. Or–and this is a distinct possibility–your skill may have advanced to the point you’ve outgrown the book. Yes! You may be too good for yourself.

So do we go spelunking under the bed and give what lurks there another go? Only you can answer that. Nothing is as comfortable as the familiar. Though nothing is quite as exciting as discovering the newest version of yourself.