All posts by Gwen Jones

My week in Write

Image by Grant Snider

I’m away from home this week, spending some time away in seclusion to work on my WIP. I’ve always wanted to do this, cloister myself in a pretty place where I can be alone to create. I’ve been here since Monday and so far, I’VE FUCKING WRITTEN EXACTLY TWO PAGES!! This is sooooooo far away from the page count I wanted to accomplish (somewhere between 50 and a jabillion), and I feel like a cross between a rank amateur and the worst kind of slacker. BUT, I did have a bit of a breakthrough today. I’ve always thought that when so-called “writer’s block” hits, it’s because you’re approaching the page wrong, and what you need to do is take a 180 degree turn and come at it from another direction. So between that and a) making chicken salad from rotisserie chicken b) watching the shitstorm on the news c) eating cold pasta out of the leftover box from the restaurant, and d) pulling my pants up because I forgot to bring a belt, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I found out sometimes to go forward, you need to go back, and just the like foundation of a building, give your story enough support so what comes after doesn’t crumble. Turns out you can’t write all that foreshadowing if you have no structure for it to cast from. So I had to go back and give all those twists and turns a solid basis, and NOW, my story makes so much more sense. In fact, as I originally wanted to do, I’ve set my story up for at least another, if not one more, sequel. Now all I have to do is write it, but you know what? Once you’ve got the map, it’s so much more easy when you know where you’re going.

By golly, I do think I’ve reached the cocktail hour. Cheers!

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2018 Housatonic Book Awards – Submission Deadline June 15th!

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 3- The World I Know

Although the Spring semester ended last month in my MFA program, I thought I’d give you the benefit of one more of my genius insights to hold you over until Fall. In this edition of Tips from the MFA Pit, our grad student asks the question: as an African-American, can she rightly write a white character? (Don’t you just love that alliteration??) She’s considering doing this for her current work-in-progress…

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I heard a quote once from Sofia Coppola, a writer and director in her own right, and the daughter of famed auteur Francis Ford Coppola: “I feel everyone should tell what they know in a world that they know.” I found this to be quite revelatory as it struck home for me, in a way so different from the old writer’s saw, “Write what you know.” How is it different? Because you’re writing what you know in the world YOU inhabit, and only you can know exactly what that is. You fear you will be plagiarizing if you write too closely to another story. But how can that be when you’re writing from within your own world? No one can inhabit your body but you. No one but you knows better what’s going through your brain. Only you can see from your perspective. There are lots of people who have written about ocean voyages. Or living in the Wild West. Or about cops chasing robbers. Or about falling in love. But no two stories are the same. Author Jodi Picoult’s novel Small Great Things is about an African-American nurse who works in a hospital and experiences racism firsthand. So does that mean there could never be another book about African-American nurses? Well, for one thing Picoult is white and not a nurse, so right there her points of reference will be unlike yours. You will always give your own story your own unique perspective if you write from within your own experiences and impressions.

Being white myself, I could never presume to know how it feels to be a person of color. So does that mean I could never write a black character? I hope not because I have. First and foremost, there are experiences we all share—we eat, we sleep, we love, we work, we despair, we hope, we laugh. We are all human. But there are things outside the realm of our shared similarities that are thrust upon us by society. For these, I strive for understanding. I try never to assume, and rather than rely on generalities, I write what I know in a world that I know. If it’s outside of our shared experiences, I do the research to get to know it better, or I don’t write it at all.  I read a book called Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it gave me great insights into the black experience, while simultaneously making me reconsider what it means to live my life as a white person. It gave me a greater understanding of both experiences, and hopefully it’s something I could translate into my characters of color. But will I ever be able to write with the unique perspective of an African-American? No, and not for the seemingly apparent reason. I couldn’t because I could only write from within my OWN unique perspective, and that will always be colored by my own experiences within my own world. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make it as real as I could.

So go ahead and write your story without fear. No matter how similar you think it is to something else, you will always be giving it your own unique spin. In fact, you can’t help it as long as you stay as close to your own truth as possible.

Logic of an Alpha Male

Here’s a rerun of one of my more popular blog posts from a few years back (with a bit of updating). Sorry, but my brain is still on vaca and won’t cooperate. But try to enjoy it anyway.

One of the basic tenets of romance concerns the hero and heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to fall in love. It doesn’t matter if he is a detective, a duke or a ditch-digger—or if she’s a countess or a coder or a feminist attorney. Their problems can be of class differences or underlying neuroses or even as simple as she hates men who wear Panama hats. Whatever the bone of contention, it has to forceful enough to cause night sweats and fever dreams, yet still won’t stop them from crossing mighty rivers or hacking through buffalo grass to get to each other. And nine times out of ten, it’ll be the hero doing the hacking because as sexist as that sounds, most romance readers still like their men physically stronger than they are.

All right…don’t get your knickers in a twist. There are reasons for that, and if you’ll just calm down a second I’ll tell you what they are. First off, romance heroines are strong women. That’s right–tough, inside and out. They’re also smart enough to spot a sniveler a hundred yards off. So of course – and here’s the logic – a strong and smart woman is not going to be looking for a weak man. It just wouldn’t make sense, because if he was, she’d barely give him the time of day. She’d not only be looking for her equal, but someone who could knock her off her feet. He can’t be anything less than an Alpha Male, someone powerful, smoldering, unrepentant. And looks alone aren’t enough, because our smart and savvy heroine can get anyone she wants with a crook of her little finger. Her man, in any form he takes, has to be everything she’s looking for plus. Plus equaling that inimitable quality only she can define, and recognizable the moment she meets him.  Because when she collides with someone who can actually challenge or even best her, it’s such mind-blower she’s instantly intrigued, whether for good or for bad, for love or for hate. And from there, the chase begins.

I can hear you saying, but that’s not realistic. Most men have foibles, shortcomings, are far from perfect. But this isn’t the real world, my dears–this is fantasy. Yet in so many ways, it isn’t. Fact or fiction, real life or not, don’t we all realize something in our object of affection that no one else can? Aren’t we privy to insider info maintained for our eyes only? Of course we are. Because only when we’re in love do we open up our hearts, to share the things no one else can see, to an enraptured audience of one. Who would want it any other way?

Brain Drain

No espousing any wisdom or advice this week. I’ve recently completed grading seventy plus 10+ page final essays to close out the semester, as well as finishing up thesis-critiquing with my grad students, and also have been diligently working on my current work-in-progress. Then my sliding glass door goes and gets assaulted by a large branch in last week’s storm, smashing it to bits, and my car had to be taken to the dealer for a thump it seems only I can hear. To sum up, my brain’s a bit fried.

So see that table in the left background? It’s at a lovely little lakeside bistro in beautiful Greenwood Lake, NY. That’s where you’ll find me this weekend, basking in the sunlight, with a restorative frosty in my hand. I will call you if I need you.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend start of summer, all!

Happy (deep state) birthday to me!

I blog every Wednesday, and it just happens that today coincides with my birthday. So I had a really good writerly topic I was going to expound on, and in doing so, I needed to look up a particular source I’d link to. So I go to Google and lo and behold, there is this doodle staring at me wishing me Happy Birthday, Gwen! (click on it to get the full impact of its exuberance). Okay, creepy enough, but how is this happening? Because Google knows everything about you, sweetheart! Nothing is secret anymore! Well, happy Wednesday to you, big brother!

 

Do the Dig

There are some writers who are under the impression that just because they have Google bookmarked, all their research is at the end of a few keystrokes. Would it be that easy there’d be no need for museum or historians or libraries or for that fact, real live human beings. I know from teaching Research Writing at the college level that the internet is a mere starting point. That what you find online, at least with some topics, could barely scratch the surface, and that anyone who thinks they could begin and end with Wikipedia is surely in a severe state of delusion. Unless you’re creating your own world from scratch, research is essential not only for credibility and accuracy, but also for the sheer fact there’s always someone who’s willing to challenge the veracity of your story.  And this goes double for the MG writer. Those kids love to show up their elders!

So where do go besides online? Look, I’m in no way denigrating what the the internet has to offer. It’s a vast compendium of information, but it truly is a jumping-off point. But jump from there indeed, as its best function is a kind of a GPS towards the path you can take. Let’s say we were going to write a book about the Battle of Trenton, (where did you think I’d start this search from–North Dakota?) You know the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware? Well, that began the Battle of Trenton, and there’s a park you can visit where he embarked in Pennsylvania and disembarked in New Jersey. There’s a museum on the PA side, where you could no doubt speak to a park ranger or docent who can divulge some trivia, or visit the very spot where the General jumped the bank. Then you can take the bridge to the Jersey side where George alighted, and follow the Revolutionary trail to Trenton to the Old Barracks Museum where the Continental troops surprised the Hessians on Christmas night. Or if you want to shoot for as much accuracy as possible, you can wait until Christmas Day morning, and watch live reenactors reenact the Crossing from PA to NJ. From there you can continue on the Revolutionary Trail to downtown Trenton and onto Princeton. But if you want to really go deep, you can stay in PA and visit the David Library of the American Revolution, a specialized research library dedicated to the study of American history circa 1750 to 1800. See where I’m going with this?

The internet is  essential to modern-day research, but there’s nothing like getting your sneakers dirty walking it down. Information doesn’t magically appear online, as there’s always someone hitting the road chronicling it first. But you shouldn’t take anyone’s impression as the last word. Get out there and form your own interpretation.  When you do, even if you’re writing about ancient Egypt, it will seem as fresh as the day it happened.

BEA 2018 is coming to a Javits Center near you

The picture is from a couple or so years back of my experience at Book Expo America, which will be held this year from May 30 – June 1 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.  I haven’t gone in the last couple of years for one reason or another and not for lack of wanting to. If you’re in the Northeast and in anyway connected with the book/publishing industry, it’s a worthwhile trip if you haven’t gone before. Nearly every book publisher in North America is represented, and the place is fairly swarming with editors, literary agents, publicists, and anyone in and around the industry. Not only that, but there are author signings almost from opening to closing, interviews with industry professionals or writers on a couple of stages, special programs for librarians and booksellers, and free books and swag galore. For more information, visit the BEA Homepage.

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.

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.