Tuesday, August 31, 2010

E. L. Doctorow once said that, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Quoted in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Write about driving at night. What did you see and why were you on that road?

The city lights were so bright that I forgot to turn on my headlights. It wasn’t until I exited the Eisenhower that I realized I had been driving in the dark for fifteen miles. As I made my way through the suburban streets to my childhood home, I remembered how my mother frequently left her lights on in our Monte Carlo when we went to the grocery store at night. The parking lot was lit as bright as a sunny afternoon with rows of lights that could guide a plane to a safe landing. We would go in the big box store, shop for an hour, and return to a dead battery. Carting our frozen food back into the store, we humbly asked the manager to use the phone. My father drove over in five minutes, jumped us, and complained to my mother about leaving the lights on. I never knew which one to ride home with.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What do you do when you have writer’s block?

I toss wet words at a page.
I am drenched in slippery words that don’t seem to stick to paper.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

“Give me a memory of a sound. Try not to use the word “sound” in your writing.” Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

She finally felt the impulse to lift her childhood down pillow from over her face and put her glasses on to see what was exploding.  Roof tiles fell thirteen floors from the top of the high-rise across Gonzalez Drive into a large black rectangular dumpster. No visible humans, just flat black tiles tossed into the sky as gravity sucked them down the side of the building, and they landed with a noisy flop.   Miller’s memory faded back to when someone jumped off that same building a year ago. Miller stood at the crime scene with her camera in the middle of the night looking up those thirteen stories.  She just couldn’t bring herself to cover the story. It was literally too close to home.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Write the same sentence with first and third-person narrations." Walter Mosley This Year You Write Your Novel

  1. As I got closer, the smell was overwhelming.  I put my camera in front of my eye, even though I was too nauseous to focus it.  My camera created a sensory depriving scent barrier that made the debris bearable to walk on.  There was a photographer violently vomiting in front of me.  It was Derek; he looked up and saw my camera in front of my face and my oversized camera bag weighing down the left side of my body and said, “Did you really shoot that?”  I hadn’t. I was still too nauseous to do anything but walk. He asked why I wasn’t puking my guts out.  I told him that I hadn’t thrown up in twenty years. 
  2. As Miller got closer, the smell was overwhelming. She put her camera in front of her eye, even though she was too nauseous to focus it.  Her camera created a sensory depriving scent barrier that made the debris bearable to walk on.  There was a photographer violently vomiting in front of her.  It was Derek; he looked up and saw the camera in front of her face and an oversized camera bag weighing down the left side of her body and said, “Did you really shoot that?”  She hadn’t. She was still too nauseous to do anything but walk. He asked why she wasn’t puking her guts out.  Miller told him that she hadn’t thrown up in twenty years.

Friday, August 27, 2010

“Write about the streets of your city.” Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones

My street is an urban jungle inundated with brown squirrels jumping between the honey-locust branches hanging over the pothole-riddled road. Each historic house attempts to maintain a patch of green grass in their 5 foot by 5 foot plot of dirt attached to a sidewalk littered with tiny oval locust leaves and an abundance of rubber bands. The sun filters down the front of the houses only a few times a day, which keeps the tenants cool in our old grey-stone three flats in the summer and makes them feel like they live a limestone cave in the winter. Millie, a white American bulldog, is the block dog. Owning the north side of the sidewalk, she is never leashed and only nuzzles neighbors to say hello and snubs most strangers. Our little block seems like a dirty little quiet suburb speckled with diversity that erupts with an occasional midnight amateur firework display.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

“What kind of animal are you? Do you think you are really a cow, chipmunk, fox, horse underneath?” 
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Underneath my skin, there are solid bones, but I am convinced at one point air filled my bones. As a child, to get airtime I did backflips off bars and beams. As a college student, I spent hours watching hang gliders jump off Fort Funston. I wanted to fly! I had a piggy bank tucked in my bookcase that I filled with extra cash; I was saving up for flying lessons. A friend in trouble robbed my stash, and I gave up the dream of flight school. I still do think that I am a bird, but I cannot stand the sight of worms.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Write “the daily humdrum physical and emotional experiences of your character.” 
Walter Mosley, This Year You Write Your Novel

A huge bang jolted Miller out of a deep sleep. In her sleepy state, she was convinced her rowdy neighbors lit firecrackers and tossed them into the dumpsters; for them achieving the added extra effect of a reverberated “BANG!” She checked the clock; it read 6:30 a.m. The time suggested she rethink the probability of firecrackers.
    Her back ached from too many hours on the couch; she rolled over. Brian left over two hours ago; Miller did not hear him go. As she yawned, she tasted beer and cigarettes. She vaguely remembered her late night party in the enclosed garden of her San Francisco Parkmerced townhouse. She tried to remember why or when she had started smoking; she drifted back to sleep. Her morning moved in increments of ten-minute dreams and ten-minute clock checks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

“Think about a time in your life when you had an accident, a physical accident, and write a simple and straightforward account of it. Just write what happened without embellishment or analysis…” 
Louise Doughty A Novel in a Year

I had just worked a long shift at a fine dining restaurant in the theatre district.  After closing, I headed to the basement to drop off my deposit and change out of my tuxedo. As I descended the first set of the industrial metal stairs, I noticed they were wet and remembered thinking ‘I hope I don’t fall.’ Moments later I felt my tired legs slip out from underneath me, and rise above of my head until gravity brought me down hard on the edge of the last step. I laid there a moment on the dirty damp final step of the middle landing, wondering if I should move.

Monday, August 23, 2010

“Give me your morning. Breakfast, waking up, walking to the bus stop. Be specific as possible. Slow down in your mind and go over the details of the morning.” 
Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones

Miller slithered off her green couch. Mornings were quiet without her dog; she turned on the television on her way to the bathroom.  Miller stood in front of the TV watching CNN while she brushed her teeth.  A reporter wearing waiters was standing in a streambed that was overflowing from the excessively high snowfall that year that produced 71 inches of snow.  In Miller’s mind she imagined the snow fell all in the same day and she visualized standing suffocating in 71 inches of snow.

After brushing her teeth, she clicked off the TV, put on Hunter boots over her pajama pants and went next door to April’s apartment to retrieve Millie for their daily morning walk. Millie was a fawn Great Dane that weighed seven pounds less than Miller.  Millie walked Miller around the 4.5 miles of Lake Merced and up to Fort Funston for the last time. Miller had to time the walk perfectly before the shooting range on John Muir Drive opened. Millie just couldn’t stand the sound of shotguns hitting skeet. Today, they were earlier than usual the entrance gates to The Pacific Rod and Gun Club were stilled closed. Miller almost kept circling the lake along Lake Merced Boulevard when Millie jerked her on course back to Higuera Avenue.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

“If you can include the physical reaction to the emotional situation that your characters find themselves in, you will be bringing your readers closer to the experience of the novel.” 
Walter Mosley This Year You Write Your Novel

Across the field Alan yelled, “Why have you stopped photographing? Do you have what you need?”
“No, my eyelid is twitching. I can’t seem to focus.”
“Well, maybe we should call it quits, this place is pretty intense.”
“But the light is so amazing right now. I will just turn it on auto-focus.” As Miller fiddled with her camera Alan mumbled. “Your amazing light fades to a black whole very quickly in these parts.”
Miller looked up, “What did you say?’
Alan shock his head, “Nothing, just shoot.”

Saturday, August 21, 2010

“Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word “red” but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.” 
Natalie Goldberg Old Friend from Far Away

Alan plucked open a barely ripened purple passion fruit. It oozed an unappetizing aromatic membrane containing a blood-colored pulpy juice and small, hard, black, pitted seeds. Once Miller tasted the fresh bursting nectar, she forgot that they were searching for a reported mass grave in the middle of the Congo.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Write down, in plain English, clearly and concisely, why you want to write a novel- not why you want to be a writer, but why, specifically, a novelist. I want to write a novel because…”
Louise Doughty A Novel in a Year

I want to write a novel because it is the only format that seems to fit how I want to portray what I have learned and seen in my lifetime.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Late Night Television by Larry Chait

Find any photo and write about it. Describe what is in the photo or an event or memory the photo may trigger.

The glow of the obsolete television set kept me up all night in my compact hotel room in Zimbabwe. CNN International broadcasted news stories from around the world but there was no reporting about the government strike going on in Harare. It was the first time I experienced a heavy dose of jetlag insomnia. The protests in the unlit streets were foreign to my midwestern middle class upbringing. The TV calmed me down even though jetlagged induced endorphins had taken over any rational thoughts. I double-checked the locked door a dozen times over the 10 hours I was staring at my feet surrounded by a rectangular glow and a blurry talking head.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I remember… in the Joe Brainard style or as Natalie Goldberg suggests:
“Give me a memory of your mother, aunt or grandmother. For example, “I remember my aunt Gladys…”

I remember my grandmother Serena’s obsession with the color purple. Not any purple but pastel lavender. Her favorite dress had purple violet blooms on it; her favorite reclining-rocker chair had a purple throw blanket draped over it. I don’t have many memories of her wearing anything other than purple. She even had purple polyester pants. The bathroom had small floral shaped purple soaps that my sister and I were not supposed to use. But I couldn’t resist, I washed and washed until the flower shape became a purple lathered orb.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

“Telling and showing: the difference between a purely informational statement and one that attempts to add a human aspect to its repertoire and, in doing so, includes the reader either emotionally or physically.

Write the same statement one informational and “one in attempt to include the reader by engaging him on a personal level.” Walter Mosley This Year You Write Your Novel

  1. My father is a forensic scientist that has seen many horrific things in his lifetime. 
  2. My father is a 6 foot 3 tall wide-shouldered man with a calm demeanor. His somber manner may be the only clue that he has seen things in his life’s work as a forensic scientist that most people only see fictionalized in network cop shows. He has walked and talked with the dead, trying to figure out whose shoes stepped where when no one was watching.  He finds clues in the cracks where murderers neglect to clean. He finds palm prints and fingerprints on walls that thieves don’t remember touching. He has seen what they have done with a carving knife to human flesh and knows how to prove which knife did the cutting.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Write about your first childhood memory.

I am standing on the sidewalk outside my first house in DeWitt, Michigan. There was a parade rolling by that showcased bright red fire trucks, flag twirlers, pets in wagons, toothy local politicians and marching bands. I remember edging closer to the street and my mother repeatedly yelling at me to get back in the yard. I wanted to be in the parade. I wanted my sister to be pulling me in that over-sized Radio Flyer wagon with streamers dangling behind. Or I wanted to be riding in that shiny new convertible like one of those long Cadillac red convertibles. That day was the first time I saw a convertible.

I mainly remember things that happened outside my first house. I cannot tell you what my room looked like or what kind of furniture was on the screened-in front porch.  I remember the gravel driveway and our neighbor’s brown long-haired American Cocker Spaniel chained up to their garage.  Regardless of weather, I was usually found sitting next to him and always hated getting in our Chevy leaving him sitting there. Most of my vivid memories are like home-video images of that dog growing from the backseat.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

“Learn how to write without restraint. If you want to write believable fiction, you will have to cross over the line of your self-restraint and revel the words and ideas that you would never express in your everyday life.”  Walter Mosley This Year You Write Your Novel

An obese woman boarded the CTA train and since Miller was skinny there was a 50/50 chance that this woman would sit in the open seat next to her. Miller thought to herself, “fat people should sit with fat people, I should not be subjected to having some stranger’s blubber touching me.” The approaching woman’s calf fat was rolling over onto her ankles. Miller abruptly got up three stops before she needed to, so the woman’s fatty thighs didn’t pressed up against hers in the plastic side by side seats designed only with enough individual space for a normal sized person to sit straight up perfectly still for the duration of their train ride. Miller felt a twinge of guilt at her disgust for fat.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

“I am looking at… and go for a full ten minutes.” Natalie Goldberg Old Friend from Far Away

I am looking at the antique lamp in my office that was once on my father’s desk. The rings of walnut carved wood around the stem and the glass-grooved base complement one another. I can tell that my mother picked out this lamp. It is almost flower-like in form and style but hidden in the guise of function, wood and glass.  The lampshade is not the original and doesn’t fit perfectly. I am sure my mother would have found a better fit. I am approaching 40 but still don’t give a damn about lampshades. Being surrounded by fine furniture and antiques growing up, I am not impressed with furniture these days. Things are made so cheaply. This wooden lamp could be used to whack someone over the head with and then it would remain in perfect condition to put back on my desk. Well, minus the lampshade.

I have a fancy new energy saving daylight-balanced bulb in the lamp. It glows a strange cool blue color that makes it look like I am growing marijuana up here on the second floor of this old grey-stone in Wicker Park. These daylight bulbs are a saving grace in February when you are convinced that somehow someone moved you to Alaska in your sleep and the days are shorter than a good nap.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“…you must write every day. There are two reasons for this rule: getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind. In order to be a writer, you have to set up a daily routine. Put aside an amount of time (not less than an hour and a half) to sit with your computer or notebook.” 
Walter Mosley This Year You Write Your Novel

I have set aside 9-11am to write everyday, no texting, no emailing, no phone calls. If I have an appointment, I switch my writing to the afternoon. My Habitforge survey indicated that I accomplished my daily writing thirteen days in a row until I missed Sunday putting me at day one again. I will master this habit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

“Let’s begin at the beginning; write just a few words down. You’ll be writing a very short piece—a paragraph is fine—about yourself. Your assignment: write your Genesis myth. How did you come into this world? How were you created?”
Jennifer Traig Part II The Autobiographer's Handbook

My mother met my dad at Flint Michigan’s Baptist church youth group. I was conceived seven years after the preacher’s lectures about God, morals and life lessons.  The set of laws they learned in those youth group sessions were the rules and regulations they lived by in trailer the park in Lansing, Michigan. I was born weeks after they moved out of their trailer and that is when all the rules changed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

“The day after my eighth birthday, my father told me…” Louise Doughty A Novel in a Year

The day after my eighth birthday, my father told me the details of a murder case he was investigating. At an early age, I knew there were bad people in the world that did bad things and when our phone rang at midnight, my father had to go witness the crime scenes. Until that day, the one following my eighth birthday, I thought these crimes would never affect my life.