Where Stories Come From

BLRAt my day job, I’m very organized.

I have my list of projects, which I can juggle expertly. I don’t get distracted easily.

I almost always have a game plan.

With my writing, I try to have a game plan but creativity just doesn’t behave like that. For me anyway.

I keep trying, or wanting to try, to write a novel (see my post from November). But the stories keep coming.

And I love them.

One of the most recent stories I’ve written, American Gothic Getaway, was inspired by a story I heard on the radio while driving to work one morning.

I wasn’t planning on writing a new story. I was supposed to be working on the novel and I was already distracted by another story in progress.

But the Muse wants what the Muse wants, and she gave me this story.

I couldn’t be happier to have it included in the most recent issue of Blue Lotus Review.

Take a gander: Blue Lotus Review

I’ve Figured it Out, for Today

I don’t particularly like covers, as in cover songs. Maybe because I don’t like change (who does?).

Samoa

A hint of what this novel is about.

But the idea is appealing and I can see why so many artists do them. It’s intriguing to do you own take on something else – usually someone else’s work.

For NaNoWriMo, I’m going to cover my own work.

I’ve always had trouble figuring out how to ‘fix’ one (really, all) of my novels. Unfortunately I write novels the way I think novels should be written. But they don’t turn out well. They read as if the author tried to hard to sound writerly.

So I’ve taken the last draft of one of my novels and am pretending that it was written by someone else.

This way, I can rewrite the novel – from scratch – the way “I,” as a short story writer, would tell the story.

I’ve got 4,000 words so far (a little behind pace) and am quite happy with the way this method is working.

Fingers crossed.

To NaNoWriMo or Not to NaNoWriMo

Last year I worked on a draft of my memoir, Inland Empire Girl, for the month of November, aka NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

NaNo014I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. Just get it down – 50,000 words in a month. No editing. Just writing, spewing, vomiting on the page.

The problem is that I am a short story writer. There, I said it.

I am a short story writer.

I’ve even published two poems. What I haven’t published is a novel, though I would very much like to.

I’ve written four novels but they each are missing something. Or have too much of something else. The problem, at its core, is that I am trying to write novels, not tell stories.

Unfortunately, when I write my novels, I disassociate from my storytelling instincts and try to write like a Great American Novelist.

My challenge, and one I keep putting off, is to tell my stories, just in novel length.

Luckily, my procrastination has been filled up with other stories.

I am on vacation this week and I have finished two new stories, and submitted three for publication. I’ve also drafted another new story.

I’ve done everything but crack open the binder of the novel I brought halfway across the country.

Okay, fine. You’ve guilted me into it. I’ll do NaNoWriMo.

Now with the World Series over (go Giants!!) and the darkness of winter descending, why not spend my evenings re-writing my novel into a short-story-collection-disguised-as-a-novel?

 

The 5 Stages of Rewriting

Some writers fear the first draft, the blank page staring at them.

writerNot me. I love it. This is me at my best – scribbling down my ideas, getting it all out on the page, only looking forward.

Then I put it away – pleased as punch with myself. I’m never a better writer than this first draft.

And then at some point I must go back and look at what I wrote. It’s never a pretty process but one I must go through to get to the second draft.

1) Denial

When I open the notebook or computer file, I believe that my first draft will be as good as I remember. Maybe it needs another proof for spelling errors, maybe polish up a sentence or two, but it definitely won’t need a rewrite.

2) Anger

Damn it. How did that happen? I swear it was much better than this dreck. Some stupid gremlin must have crawled into my computer and switched out my brilliant first draft with this nonsense. If I ever catch that guy…

3) Bargaining

Fine. I’ll take a closer look at that draft. Maybe it isn’t as great as I first thought it was but it can’t be all bad, right? Okay, the beginning is strong so I’ll just rewrite the ending a little bit. That will be enough to fix it.

4) Depression

Oh my God, I am the worst writer ever. I shouldn’t even be allowed to own a pen. I am throwing this story away and never writing anything ever again.

5) Acceptance

Okay, maybe it’s not ALL bad. The original idea was good, I just kind of mucked it up in the middle. And look at this sentence. Now that’s a sentence.

Let’s go get some coffee and get to work on the second draft.

Heartbreak in Room 7

I am no poet. To call me one would be an insult to all poets.

What is "The Poet Jen McConnell?" Things you won't ever hear me called.

What is “The Poet Jen McConnell?” Things you won’t ever hear me called.

But I can’t control how the story comes out – usually it’s a short story, often a novel, sometimes a screenplay, and very rarely a poem.

I have such admiration for poets. How they can convey so much with such economy of words. But I haven’t always liked poetry.

In college, I hated poetry – Ode on a Grecian Urn, The Rape of the Lock, etc. – I despised those weeks of classes.  I especially hated writing papers about poems. Why write a poem if I need ten pages to explain it? Give  me 900 pages of Dickens any day.

(I do admit, however, that I have always liked The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

But once I was in grad school, I listened live to the poetry of my classmates. It was there that I grew to appreciate modern poetry, about real life, about experiences and emotions I could understand at face value and didn’t need another person or Wikipedia page to explain it to me.

So I opened up to the idea of poetry. Stopped crossing my arms against it. And sometimes the muse speaks to me in poetry. Not often but just enough to remind me she’s there.

A few weeks ago, I looked back at a poem I wrote about ten years ago. Fiddled with a couple of lines and sent it off.

The editors of The Olentangy Review accepted that poem, “Heartbreak in Room 7,” just before deadline for their summer 2014 issue, which is now available online.

It’s weird to see my name under the poetry section of a literary magazine, but I am thrilled just the same!

Never Enough Time

I took this photo on March 31. These are books written by friends of mine – either in real life or through social media. I’m still only halfway through the pile.

booksLike most readers, I don’t follow a linear path. It would be simple to just go down the pile and read them in order (they are stacked in order that I received/bought them).

But while reading is a simple pleasure, choosing what to read and when to read it, is not.

The biggest consideration is “what do I feel like reading”?

Comedy or drama? Short stories or a novel?

Memoir? Sometimes. Non-fiction? Rarely.

Historical fiction? Only if it’s really, really good.

I also write reviews of novels and short stories for Main Street Rag, so I have to get through those on deadline. And then a new book I have on hold at the library becomes available and I have to read it within two weeks.

Oh, and then there is the New Yorker, which I receive every week and which takes precedence over all other reading material.

The current issue has a new story by Haruki Murakami. I have delayed reading it so I can keep enjoying the anticipation.

Recently Read

  • Muse Unexpected, by V.C. Birlidis (novel)
  • Ark, by Jesse Miller (novel)
  • PKgrrl, by Wm. Anthony Connolly (novel)

Books for Review

  • Larrisa Takes Flight, by Teresa Milbrodt (linked stories)
  • Cairo, by Louis Armand (novel)
  • Over the Line, by David Lloyd (novel)

From Library

  • Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart (memoir) – currently reading

Still to Read

  • Prison Baby, by Deborah Jiang Stein (memoir) – currently reading
  • Praying Drunk, by Kyle Minor (stories)
  • Blood a Cold Blue, by James Claffey (stories)
  • Mystick Krewe of Swan Songs, by Darlene Olivio (novel)
  • The Era of Not Quite, by Douglas Watson (stories)

Top Ten Books of 2013

booksIt was another great year of reading though, as usual, there weren’t enough hours in the day to read all the books on my ever-expanding list.

I have many friends that are fabulous writers, but I chose not to include them here. Well, except for one. Couldn’t help myself.

1) Tenth of December (stories), George Saunders. No surprise here. I need to write a post solely about the story The Semplica Girl Diaries. Absolute perfection.

2) and 3) Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (novels), Hilary Mantel.

4) This is How You Lose Her (stories), Junot Diaz. What else can I say about him? I would read his grocery lists.

5) Middle Men (stories), Jim Gavin.

6) The Good Lord Bird (novel), James McBride. This just won the National Book Award. Deservedly so. Tenth of December deserved to win as well. But that takes nothing away from the excellence of McBride’s book. Thoroughly unique and unforgettable narrator.

7) Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (stories), Danielle Evans.

8) The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared (novel), Jonas Jonasson. This was a wonderful book that I stumbled across at Powells Books in Portland. The story is nearly as charming as the author.

9) What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (stories), Nathan Englander. The whole collection was good, but no story was nearly as great as this one. Chills.

10) The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (memoir/history), Lewis Buzbee. My writing mentor and cherished friend. I can’t believe I haven’t read this before. It is delightful and the embodiment of curling up with a great book on a rainy day.