books, Just bitchin'

Literary Candy

blogtaste1Inclement weather is a bookworm’s friend.

We have an excuse to stay indoors, pull the ‘Welcome’ mat in after us, and immerse ourselves in the printed word to an extent that would make us feel guilty on a bright, sunny day. I began my annual literary hibernation over the nice, long, stormy Thanksgiving weekend.

I was looking for a holiday read. You know… the kind of thing that will be a mild diversion and can be consumed with ease, or, alternatively, be abandoned without remorse at holiday’s end. The kind of book called ‘fluff’ or ‘inconsequential’ or ‘brain-candy.’

I also wanted something more, shall we say…meaty.

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I selected two novels. One was authored by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The other was a joint effort by two women whose steady day-jobs are in the fashion industry. You can probably guess which was ‘fluff’ and which was ‘meaty.’

But the read was totally unexpected.

I opened the Pulitzer’s offering to be greeted by a two-page family tree. Dozens of names, some of which were only mentioned in passing throughout the course of the long, long story. I had to bookmark this reference tool and return to it every few pages, working out the relationships of characters that drifted in and out.

It was well-written. It was richly written. The gamut of characters and dialogue and situations and eras was beautifully done. Yet I felt unsatisfied at the end. It required effort to read, but for me the finely detailed portraits didn’t go anywhere. It was masterful, but it didn’t touch me.

It was a Rembrandt painting hanging behind velvet ropes. I could appreciate it, but, having looked my fill, I moved on.

Then there was the brain-candy book.

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I couldn’t put it down.

It accompanied me everywhere so I could devour a few pages at every opportunity: stop lights…lines at the post office…lines at the store…waiting rooms…

It contained grammatical errors. It was completely predictable. It’s characters were thinly-drawn. But it was riveting, because it left enough blank spaces for me to fill in myself and realize I knew these people!! Everyone knows these people! And I know these situations!! Everyone does!!

It was thoroughly enjoyable and when I finished it, I was sad there wasn’t a sequel. I also wondered how many agents would choose the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work over the crowd-pleasing fluff, if they didn’t know the author’s background and the impressive accolades she’d won with previous work.

It’s a puzzle. It’s also a statement about art.

I’m grateful that Rembrandts exist and are available, but a cartoon can speak volumes, too.

So, hats-off to the majority of writers who will never pen the Great American Novel. But their less-exalted work will touch our souls.

And sometimes you just gotta have candy.

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poem, writing

A Goreyesque-ly Good Day

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The weather is savage.

Wind churns the bay into frothing whitecaps.

The waves batter against the bulkhead with force that resonates through the cottage’s foundation. Two feet of concrete seems like a flimsy barrier upon which to depend when salty droplets pepper the windows.

Leaves and pine needles fall before the gusty assault, turning into missiles that sting the flesh, scoring it with reddened welts.

You feel small and mortal and anxious before such force.

It’s the perfect start to Halloween weekend.

To make it even better, the online literary journal Goreyesque has published my poem ‘Ogre’ in their Halloween edition.

http://www.goreyesque.com/cat-jenkins

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Always a fan of the subtle, sublime, and unsettlingly brilliant author and artist Edward Gorey, I am honored.

Once again…

…Happy Halloween…

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Just bitchin', writing

Dear Outlook.com

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Dear Outlook.com,

 

Hello there, my old friend.

We’ve been together for quite some time now, haven’t we? Long enough for me to overcome my trust issues and learn to lean on you. Long enough for me to rely on you, making you the guardian of some of my most precious information.

You know…things like email correspondence with agents and publishers…contracts for the work that’s been or is going to be published…critiques and encouragement that mean the world to my shriveled, degenerate writer’s soul.

You know…all the stuff I crammed into a custom folder with the unoriginal title of ‘Writing.’

You know…all the stuff that disappeared today.

I can’t tell you, dear Outlook, how thrilled I was to find a completely different program in your place when I logged in after lunch. That’ll teach me to take a midday break, I guess.

But…back to you, the star of this love letter.

Can you imagine that ‘special’ feeling I got when I realized my old friend had been transformed into a cumbersome, lumbering, inelegant troll?

I bet you can’t.

Do you know how great it was when I tried seventeen times to access the live chat Help Desk only to find you are now so buggy, you cut every attempt off as soon as the chat begins?

I bet you don’t.

Can you imagine the rage of loss that had me considering legal action for the wanton destruction of years of accumulated information?

I bet you can’t.

Do you know how much fun it is to now have to employ numerous mouse clicks and maneuvering where before one click sufficed?

I bet you don’t.

So thank you, dear friend, for a day devoted to panic and anger.

It’s special times like these that remind me how much you care. We are so in sync, you just know you don’t need to warn me.

So, thank you, dear Outlook.com. After that heavy cup of yogurt for lunch, I really needed that shot of adrenaline to get me through the rest of the day. You know…the reaction to finding years of effort…gone.

No, I bet you don’t.

And you wonder why so many writers become raging alcoholics.

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writing

Homegrown

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It’s a weird, little tale combining real estate, and stem cells.

Definitely not for everyone. But it turns out there are people out there who are as strange as I am. It’s just a matter of looking ’til you find them.

It’s also another reminder to never give up. No matter who you are or what you do, persistence pays. One of my favorite quotes from an unknown source is: “There is nothing for push and persistence like a cat’s nose.” Or in this case, a Cat’s submission process.

Flapping about in an emotive display of artistic angst can be an understandable, occasional release. It can even be fun. But when the storm has passed, pick up your flag and keep waving it.

Someone will find you.

Someone like the speculative fiction magazine, WiFiles…

http://thewifiles.com/?p=607

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writing

Voices from the Heart

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It took me some time to come to a workable understanding of what ‘voice’ is in writing.

So when it’s challenged, I get a little panicky. My back arches. My ears flatten. I discover I have hackles. I discover they can rise and point. And I have to circle back over the ground I thought I’d claimed and check all the territorial markers to see if it’s still mine…if I can still work with it and defend it.

‘Voice’ in writing perplexed me for a long time. I’d get the inevitable rejections, but somewhere along the way editors and agents began attaching little notes: ‘Nice voice.’ ‘Interesting voice, I’d like to see more.’ ‘Keep developing your voice.’

It felt as though they were talking about something as tangible and declarative as a fingerprint, but I couldn’t see it, or, more accurately, hear it. Then I was told a writer’s ‘voice’ can change from genre to genre and character to character.

Fingerprints don’t do that. Not without acid and intent, anyway.

So how do you grab this slippery, inaudible thing and wrestle it into submission? It squelches around in your hands and defies examination. I mean, ‘voice’ is ‘voice!’ If it’s so identifiable and individual and recognizable, then why is it so hard to see in the plain light of day?!

Because ‘voice’ is a misleading, kind of crappy word to use for it.

I’m stuck with it because it was adopted and put into use long before I wondered if I had one. Or wanted one. Or had even the vaguest hope of producing something other than the harshest of caws when endeavoring to display one.

But when I realized what everyone was talking about, I also realized it’s not a voice. It’s a heartline. It happens when you’re so immersed in writing that the rest of the world disappears. It happens when the words come from the center of your being without artifice or detour. It’s a direct line from your writer’s heart to the page.

Heartline.

It is as changeable as mood and emotion and the sky. But at its core…unchanging.

So ‘voice’ be damned. Write from the heart.

They’ll hear you.

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writing

Sell vs. Savor

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Writing is a gift.

Not necessarily for the literary efforts produced, but for the satisfaction of the process itself. I believe everyone who commits to it, knows that inner groan of pleasure when brain and keystroke join in a seamless act of creation. Which brings to mind one of the writer’s quandaries.

Do you write to sell, or to savor?

As you work your way up the rejection ladder, getting more and more substantive feedback, at some point a choice will begin to materialize on the edges of your awareness. It begins to shimmer its way into existence when the rejection asks you to submit more material; when it terms your writing ‘intriguing’ or ‘exceptional’ or ‘delightful.’ BUT…(there’s always a ‘but’)…your style doesn’t blend with the publication’s. Or maybe your subject matter needs tweaking before you’ll be awarded the brass ring of being published.

You’ve been diligent about researching to whom you submit. You’ve targeted publications that seem likely to want work like yours. But with the carrot dangling before you…so, so close…you take a longer, harder look at them…and at yourself. You’re willing to edit and rewrite and do it again and again, as long as the core of the work remains true.

Do you continue to please yourself, being faithful to what springs from your soul and hope to find a compatible outlet? Or do you pull that spark of what feels like your essence out, and write what you’re told as best you can, ignoring the deep, inner voice that whispers ‘This isn’t me…it’s not what I meant…’?

There are multiple arguments for both sides. There are varying perspectives from which to view each. There is no right answer.

What there is, is ego and that selfish side of the craft that drives you to write in the first place. If these things tip the scales for you, then you’ll resist compromise and say ‘I’m being true to myself.’

If the lure of being published has the greater weight, you’ll do whatever you have to to get something in print. The satisfaction of being published will silence any voice that queries ‘Did I sell out?’

Luckily, there is also the inevitability of change, of maturation and growth. And that’s the saving grace that can lead to a place where the pleasure of savoring the process and the rush of seeing yourself in print can meet, merge, and become magical. That essential internal spark is always changing. So is your work. So is the marketplace. The longer you persist, the better your chances of finding the niche you were meant to fill.

Write for someone else, or for yourself? Sell or savor?

Do both. Strive for that magical moment of overlap.

Just don’t ever stop.

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writing

The Workshop Conundrum

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For me, writing has always been a solitary pursuit.

The first time editors got involved, it was a difficult adjustment. The second time, it was a torment. The third and fourth times were also disquieting, but eye-opening and educational.

The difference each time wasn’t so much in the editors as in me.

I was learning to let go; to stop clutching the sentences with which I’d fallen in love to my unpublished chest and, instead, look at them…hear them…through the fresh perspective of another person. And a person who was not a friend or family member operating under the misconception that praise and unconditional support are the same as constructive feedback.

In the end, the process of being edited and published gave me a new outlook on the value of involving others in the creative process. Don’t get me wrong. Writing is still an exercise in solitude for me. I love that about it. But, I’ve begun to open my own mind about accessing those of strangers.

I’m talking writers’ workshops. They can be extraordinary, depending on what you bring with you. Writing-wise and outlook-wise.

So I began searching my urban surroundings for likely workshop prospects.

That’s when I ran across one that had me laughing so hard it hurt. And for all the wrong reasons. Let me reiterate that this is my opinion. Only mine. I might be w-a-a-a-a-y off base. But…decide for yourselves.

The come-one-come-all cry for this particular workshop was issued by a woman who proclaimed herself the author of an astonishing number of ‘published’ books. She claimed thousands upon thousands of reviews. She brags she holds the title of being ‘one of the most popular authors.’

The first red flag popped up as I read her description of the workshop. It was a horror. Not the workshop…the description. Vocabulary, syntax, grammar, sentence and paragraph structure…all seemed to have been bypassed. Even giving handicap points for colloquialisms and artistic license, it shriveled my pelt and puckered my mouth.

Then I looked into her claims of fabulousness. She does have a great number of books out. All self-published. She garnered the claim to be one of the site’s most popular authors. It reminded me of some latter-day TV ad vaunting ‘Volume!! Volume!! Volume!!’ Put a thousand books out there and, for a brief time, you’ll probably be the most read writer on the site when compared to the author who has put up one well-thought-out publication.

Then I looked for the multitude of reviews. They were on Goodreads…not exactly professional. I didn’t delve past the first few dozen. They were cringe-worthy. More like hate mail than literary assessments. Some were very insulting. There were a few that gave lukewarm praise, but I saw none that could qualify as raves.

By now I was laughing. But the guffaws came in earnest when, in her workshop invitation, she said that writers don’t need to know grammar or spelling, because that’s what professional copy editors are for.

Oh, lord…I still feel the mirth bubbling up.

Anyone can self-publish. Anyone. And then, she’s right: literary quality doesn’t have to matter. But just try submitting something to an agent or a professional editor in the publishing industry with the attitude that someone else will clean up your mess because your work is that incredibly worth it, and…well…you’ll probably end up self-publishing a few hundred books, manipulating stats to make yourself look good, and leading workshops for writers where grammar, a vital part of your main tool…language…doesn’t matter.

Oh, God…I’m still laughing!

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writing

Season of the Writer

autumnfantasyThey say writing is a vocation you can pursue anywhere, any time.

There’s some truth to that. Thanks to technology, you can live among the dunes of the Mojave or the ice caps of Antarctica and still find your readers and meet your deadlines…internet connection permitting, of course.

But I honestly believe every writer has a season. Not talking about success here; not saying you’re ‘in season’ when something you’ve created is snapped up and lands on the New York Times bestseller list.

I’m talking about when the calendar flips a page and some gentle change in the atmosphere links to your primal spirit. You wake up literally and figuratively. An energy that’s been slumbering beneath the surface begins to froth and bubble and foam. And you just know…

…this is your time of year.

For many it’s winter when dark days and solitude invite long hours weaving tales.

For some the spring, surging with life and fresh, new possibilities, is the call to convert that energy into the written word.

For others, summer’s heat is a slow, sensual burn that spews literature like lava.

But for me, it’s autumn.

I don’t want to inspect the magic too closely. It’s enough that it exists. It’s enough that it feels like waves cresting, tossing more…and more…and too much…up into the crisp, silver-gilt light. It’s breathing air like cider and being alert, pounce-ready all the time.

It’s autumn.

Welcome to my season…

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writing

The Dispersion Factor

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No one is an endless fount of pithy comments, scintillating ideas, and inventive ways of expressing them.

It’s a scary thought that we’re not.

I once read a story about a little girl who talked too much. Somewhere along the line she was warned that each of us has a finite number of words to spend. When you reach the end…that’s it. No more. Silence. If she squandered her stock of words, she’d be left to finish her life in wordless isolation.

If that’s true, it becomes imperative that you spend your words wisely. Choose them with care. Focus them toward your goal.

But that’s hard to do in these times when writers are told to keep a public profile. To blog and tweet. To maintain a constant presence via tumblr, facebook, instagram, ask.fm, and a host of other venues.

I understand. I really do. But all the time and energy invested in those adjuncts to a writer’s ‘real’ work have a draining effect. You’re taking a big, ol’ handful of your limited supply of words and tossing them into the wind. Instead of focusing them, aiming them at a target where they might find a lasting home, you’re dispersing them to fall at random. In random patterns. On random ears. Before random eyes.

Wasted words? Or are they dispersing like dandelion seeds; their purpose being to find new ground where they can take root?

Hard to say.

Only time will tell if they’re flourishing elsewhere, or simply gone; victims of the wind.

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