Tag Archives: Writers

Ruminations on a Maxfield Parrish summer night

I love Maxfield Parrish. He is and always has been one of my favorite illustrators and artists. I love his vibrant, saturated colors and the visual depth of his landscapes, his use of perspective and the playful humanistic qualities he gives to each of his subjects. I often think of him when the evening sky is awash with stark color after a storm. The blue is most likely a colbalt used often in Parrish’s work, and I loved this particular shade of his even before I knew it was a thing. It is a blue that says many things to me–of the variations of nature, of a kind of impishness, of the joy that being all-in with life can bring. Maxfield Parrish’s art, because of its sheer volume, variation, and detail, also says to me he must have enjoyed the creation of it immensely. What a luscious life he must have lived, reveling in it.

I think of Parrish in the context of a talk I attended just the other week, between a writer of some renown and an editor from a major publishing house. He was asked what advice he could give the attendant audience of writing students, especially when they’re feeling the full brunt of the pressure to publish. He said first and foremost to enjoy this early time in their career when the flush of discovery and learning is still fresh, and learn to cultivate it throughout your writing life. But more than anything, you need to enjoy the process, because if you don’t, it’ll show in your work and you’ll be doomed to ordinariness. And you’ll spend a whole lot of time being miserable.

Fine advice to always keep running in the background, no matter what discipline you create your art in.  Especially on a soft, summer Maxfield Parrish night as this.

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Saturday by the River with Marisa

Saturdays are usually writing events for me. If I’m not creating my own genius, I’m at Liberty State Fiction Writers co-presiding over our meetings and seminars, or I’m disseminating my vast mental compendium of professorial writing tips to freshman and graduate learners alike. But to stay in this literary game, whether as instructor or practitioner, the savvy writer needs to continually update their literary toolbox. And there’s no better way to do that, after the manuscript is finished, proofread, and polished, than going where the industry professionals are. 

Might I recommend the second Author-Preneur Workshop by the Navesink River on October 13, 2018, in beautiful Red Bank, NJ.  This event is an all-day multilayered interactive workshop with presentations by  Literary Agent Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq., her Corvisiero Literary Agency colleagues, and other key industry professional guests dedicated to an author’s success.

View of the Navesink River from the Oyster Point balcony, sigh…

~ 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday, October 13, at The Oyster Point Hotel, Bodman Place, Red Bank, NJ 07701.
~ Phone: 732.759.9175
​~ Conveniently located about one hour from NY City.
​~ Valet parking complimentary.
~ Train Station: Red Bank – North Jersey Coast line located just 5 minutes away.

For all the deets and a Who’s Who of who’s attending, visit the Covisiero Literary Agency.

Lazy Summer Observations

It’s summer and I’m really lazy right now, so I’m reposting this oldie when I was also lazy two years ago. Still pertinent, and I’m still lazy…

Been working hot and obsessively developing  another project 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,” 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 summer class 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?

~ You can lose weight on summer fruit. (All right; I lied about the food reference, but here’s living proof I write by the seat of my pants.) 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! 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 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! 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?

Chameleon Submissions

The number one thing an emerging writer needs to do is finish the book before they could even think about putting it out for sale. And when I mean finish, I mean the book needs to be the best it can be. Definitely NOT first draft, but all the plot holes worked out, characters real, breathing and transformed at the end, conflict apparent and resolved, and a satisfying conclusion. After that, the book needs to be edited and proofread (edited means all those items I just mentioned worked out, whereas proofread means no grammatical, spelling, or formatting errors). Then and only than can you think about submitting it to an agent or an editor for publication. Sounds logical, right? But there are some authors out there that take that concept and think in the inverse. And that, my dears, is never going to get you what you want.

There are some new writers that troll such sites as Manuscript Wish List or MSWL to see what agents or editors are looking for. Or toss an idea out there to Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad without even having started the manuscript. Often when writers do this they’re testing the waters, looking to see what agents and/or editors are looking for, then writing a book to those specifications. Bad idea! Because then you’re not writing in a genre or sub-genre you’re adept at and interested in –you’re writing to the market. And when you’re good at writing gritty adult detective fiction and write  dystopian middle-grade instead well…you just may come out with the literary equivalent of finger painting–a hopelessly amateur attempt.

Now, I’m not saying a writer can’t change genres. Some authors write in several. But writing a different genre to branch out and expand your skills and scope is quite different than simply writing to what you hope will sell.  You’re not looking at writing as a craft to be honed and polished. You’re looking at the book you produce as product.  Reminds me of an author talk I was at once where they referred to their novels as units. Writing like that is only going to make you one thing — mediocre.

Look, we all want to sell, be a New York Times bestseller reaping accolades and royalties we need a Brinks truck to drive home from the bank. But writing to market is not the way to do it. You do it by writing the best book you can. If you do, the accolades–and the royalty checks–will have to run to catch up with you.

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!

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.

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.

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.