Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Doesn't *everyone* want to know what I had for lunch?

Did you catch the cover article by Emily Gould in the New York Times Magazine this weekend? That's her on the right, not me, I don't have any tats. I hadn’t followed her drama on her blog, but apparently she overshares about her life and it ended up biting her in the ass. She was an editor on Gawker (one of my favorite sites, even though--or maybe precisely because--it is incredibly snarky) and, long story short, thousands of people read the details of her life and started harassing her about it.

It did get me thinking about the whole blogging thing—how much is too much to share, and how would I handle it if people started criticizing me publicly?

Truth? I’d hate it. I have a decently thick skin when it comes to constructive criticism about my writing, but if someone doesn’t like how I live my life, they can shove it. Which, of course, begs the question as to why I’m keeping a blog in the first place.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with trolls, nasty comments, or oversharing, so if you have any, lay it on me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who is your go-to for inspiration?

I like to read. A lot. Well, duh, no surprises there. But now that I am writing as well as reading, I find myself sometimes riddled with jealousy. As in “God I wish I could write like that.” I suppose it’s healthier to consider it inspiration, so that’s how I choose to see it. I get this way when I read many authors, but three stand out in particular:

Joyce Carol Oates
Yes, I know she’s dark. Her books are not a pick-me-up. But who better can face hideousness head-on, unflinching, using just the right verb to make you feel it, too? I struggle with writing uncomfortable scenes, and I always read a few pages of JCO before tackling something ugly. If she can confront it, I can, too, and I shouldn’t worry about what my mother will think.

Alice Munro
And I’ll have to add Jhumpa Lahiri here as well, since they both can capture a perfect jewel of a story with just the right bittersweet ending. Plus I’m partial to short stories.

Anna Quindlan
The queen of brevity.

So I’ve shown you mine. Now show me yours.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hey! I Think I'll Be a Writer!

Not many people in my life know that I write. It isn’t some big secret, I just don’t bring it up in conversation unless I’m asked. But honestly, I just started writing again once my youngest went off to kindergarten. The conversation in my head went something like this:

Well, NOW what? Have a baby? Not a third, thank you very much. Go back to work? Hm, doing what? Not advertising again, I’d be a friggin dinosaur compared to everyone else. Go get your Master’s in something….Well, maybe.

As it so happens my friend Dee Dee had arranged for a book luncheon for about 20 or so of us. Her friend Karen Quinn had authored The Ivy Chronicles and agreed to talk to the gathering about her book, her life, and the publishing business. Karen was just so cute and bubbly and she made it seem so…easy. She quit her job and created a book suitable for publication within a few months. Just set your mind to it and *presto,* a book appears.

Isn’t that how it works? I mean, I was an English major and had written stories before—I might have been a little rusty, but it shouldn’t be so hard, right?

We shall see. I wrote a short story for The Missouri Review, a well-regarded literary magazine that just happens to be published by my alma mater. They would print it, of course. Except…no. Neither would Ploughshares. Nor Mid American Review. Nor many, many others. What the! What's going on here?

I have actually had a couple of things published (under My Writing) and I’m nearly finished with my novel. Turns out, I don’t have 1/10th the energy of Karen. But I’m plugging along.

Hey, how’d you get started?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Journals: Written Proof of Your Stupidity

I’m an AW blog chain virgin here, so don’t get all huffy if I screw this up. Well, let’s see, this chain started out with some lies, then we moved on to hatred and jealousy, and next up was years from hell. But Family on Bikes did throw in a bit of travel, and growing from experiences, so I’m going with that.

I go though fits and spurts in my life when I keep a journal. One needs to chronicle such events as First Real Boyfriend (he’s sooooo cute!) and My Mother is Mean (grounded! the nerve!) But my last real journal was from 11 years ago, when I spent a month volunteering in India. By myself, which was a) a big deal for me at the time, having lived a fairly cloistered life and b) incredibly stupid, and probably pretty dangerous. I reread a passage recently, and realized the importance of writing things down, if only just to focus on your actions for a little while.

I had a couple of days in Delhi to explore on my own before catching a train to eastern India. Being what I thought was an intrepid traveler at the time, I took off on foot from my hotel, which was a huge white Hilton, you couldn’t miss it, right? Um, no. After a few hours of walking down dark passageways, through parks that looked familiar but not quite, it began to get dark. Shit. “Hilton? Heel-ton?” I would ask rickshaw drivers and shop owners, pointing to where I thought it was on the map. No, no Hilton there, miss. Of course I didn’t know that the name had recently changed.

A very scrubby-looking man overheard and offered to take me there. “I know this place,” he said, “You come with me.” That didn’t sound like a good idea, but as my other option was to camp out on the street, I went along. He told me he was a Kashmiri refugee, and he lived with his brother in a park. We crossed busy streets, him just holding up his hand for cars to stop, me trailing behind trying not to get run over. I pictured myself walking into some tent, being sold as a sex slave and never heard from again.

Finally we found the Hilton, in all its palatial glory. Of course this man would want some money. “Helpers” always want money. I tried to think of where I’d hidden it on my body, hoping he wouldn’t notice the rest of the bills and mug me. I pulled out some notes and handed it to him.

“No,” he said, “Don’t do that. I took you here because you were lost.” I still remember the hurt look he gave me, just before he turned and walked away.

Auria Cortes
Life in Scribbletown
Polyamory From the Inside Out
For the First Time
Family On Bikes
Writes in the City
Elf Killing and Other Hobbies
Rotating Bear
Fantastical Imagination
Asian Business
Spittin' (Out Words) Like a Llama
As Yet Untitled
Mad Scientist Matt's Lair

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Telling Those Men in My Head to Bite Me

I’m not normally a person who lacks confidence. I mean, at all. It’s an unfortunate by-product of being an only child. We tend to believe we are much greater than what’s actually true. I have the opposite problem from most: my chutzpah gets me into situations that it turns out I can’t handle. Like the time I traveled to India by myself and nearly got into a fistfight with a soldier on an overnight train to Bihar. (Hey! He was trying to steal my bunk.)

But lately I’ve been nervous (ok, freaking out) about an upcoming Writer’s Conference I’m attending. When I sent off my writing sample, I was excited about the prospect of going to the workshops, attending the lectures, networking, all that stuff. One of my favorite novelists is teaching and it gives me a chance to stalk her all around campus.

Now all I can think about is being That Poor Woman Who Can’t Write For Shit. Am I going to be out of my league? Will I run crying from the room after harsh critiques? Go home! Losah!

Ok, maybe it won’t be that bad. But still.

Any words of wisdom? How do you deal with those voices in your head?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Writing Amid Distractions

See that man outside my window? It’s hard to get a good look at him since ALL MY WINDOWS ARE COVERED WITH A TARP, but he’s there. My little friend who looks in at me every day. I’ve named him Stu. I’m either going to have to kill him or marry him, because he knows entirely too much about me.

So, yeah, I have a few distractions when I write. My building is nearly 100 years old, so the construction seems endless. The fa├žade. The pipes. The elevator. Oh, Mrs. Cebula? The water will be out all day again, and yeah, they will be drilling just outside your bedroom window, so careful what you wear.

New York is famous for its noisy distractions. I love the city. But all the loud idiots, I can do without.

So far I’ve been dealing with it by moving from room to room, and complaining a lot. Emphasis on the latter. Sometimes I walk over to Central Park or my local coffee place, but recently the movie and TV shoots have infested the Upper East Side. Gossip Girl. Something called When in Rome. A TV ad. Although I will admit to standing up a little straighter when I walk by, just in case. Oh, me? An extra? Well, if you insist, Mr. Allen.

What about you? Do you have distractions when you write? How do you deal?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Review: Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

I always pictured the whole Birds and Bees talk with my daughter to arise organically, with my being presented with those “teachable moments” we are all supposed to be so attuned to. So I waited. And waited. And waited for her to ask me something. Anything. Ask me! I’m not one of those uptight moms of yore. I’ll answer.

Alas, it would not be. Anything that even remotely resembled a teachable moment was asked at the most inopportune times imaginable, like on a crowded crosstown bus or at Thanksgiving dinner, and then later it was “Forget it,” when no one else was around.

I knew she knew something. Lots of kids in her class knew how babies were made, and I’d rather she hear it from me. So I picked up Dr. Gail Saltz’ book Changing You and left it sitting out. She took the bait.

“Ew. What’s this?” she asked.

The book is for kids, I’d guess ages 8 – 12ish, and explains everything one needs to know about puberty and reproduction, presented in a conversational, straightforward way. I read it with her. (I remember my own mom giving me a book to read on my own. I felt like I was sent off to read porn.) It also includes a “Note to Parents” for those, like me, who need a little guidance on where to start exactly. It’s comprehensive, though, and not for people who choose to stick with the cutesy names. The illustrations by Lynne Avril Cravath are perfect – very current and accessible with just enough detail to make it realistic without being clinical.

But if you are anything like me, just make sure you can say “mons pubis” without giggling. I practiced.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Parties, Housewives, and Writing Tips

I’m truly a homebody at heart. There are days when I don’t leave my apartment unless someone forces me to, like a kid who needs to be picked up. But every once in a while, I gussy myself up and actually talk to other people. Like at a party and everything.

I’ll make this Herculean effort for a non-profit called Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. It’s a social service agency providing services for the elderly, the homeless, recent immigrants, and disabled people living in Manhattan. Plus they have a fabulous Head Start program on-site for kids.

So yeah, I’ll go to their fundraisers, as evidenced by this picture. That’s me on the right. The bald guy sandwiched between all those women is clothing designer Angel Sanchez. He provided the dresses for the event chairs. I loved mine. Thanks, Angel!

I realize I run the very real risk of sounding like one of the Real Housewives of New York City by posting this. (For the record, I despise that show.) I hear on Gawker they are having try-outs for the next season.

Whaddya think? Should I call?

Perhaps not.

Oh yes – writing. The reason for this blog, right? I ran across this great post called Five Ways to Improve Your Writing. He seems like he knows what he’s talking about, so I’ll just send you there.