Saturday, September 11, 2010

Talking Writing: The Magazine -- We're Making Waves!

You will be redirected to our new site momentarily...


http://talkingwriting.com

Talking Writing is a monthly online literary magazine that supports writers and those interested in literature by encouraging creative discussion of the writing process.

Each issue of Talking Writing features the work of a poet, a fiction writer, and a visual artist or photographer. TW includes long reviews and personal essays, pieces that are often hard to place in print. We are committed to a new kind of magazine, one that's dynamic, talky, inspiring, and not too dusty.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The New Talking Writing Site Is Live!

 

Our new site for Talking Writing, a monthly online literary magazine, launched today. Here's our new link:

http://talkingwriting.com

If you're interested in submitting work to TW, email it to:

editor@talkingwriting.com

All subscribers and fans of the old blog, please come find us here. This old blog will be phased out shortly. To entice you to our new home, here's the cover blurb for TW's September 2010 issue:


Why We Blog: Authors, Trolls, and Thieves

  • Do You Love Blogging—or Hate It? POVs from Four Writers
  • Poetry by Jessica Greenbaum
  • Fiction by Kelcey Parker
  • Stieg Larsson, the Newseum, Ethiopia
  • Writers Who Dance...for the Money They Throw? Cher video!

Our press release for the new TW follows. Help us spread the word!

TALKING WRITING, ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE, MAKES ITS DEBUT

Cambridge, Mass. September 6, 2010

Talking Writing, a monthly online literary magazine, has released its first issue. A group of professional writers and editors created the new publication to provide a forum for writers to share high-quality work and exchange ideas. “In a time of transformation for print publishers,” says Editor in Chief Martha Nichols, "we want to encourage talk about writing—one of the most creative, scary, nurturing, frustrating, difficult-to-pin-down endeavors around."

Talking Writing features poetry, fiction, reviews, personal essays, visual art, and commentary about writing topics. It also provides space for writers to spread the word about book tours and publishing venues. Each issue of Talking Writing includes a series of blog posts that foster discussion about a specific theme, often exploring challenges that writers confront daily.

September’s theme, “Why We Blog: Authors, Tramps, and Thieves,” covers the joys and dilemmas bloggers encounter. “Blogging can be an abuse of the power that writing provides,” writes Linda Handman in a post entitled, “Why I Don’t Blog.” In “Blogging for Bottle Caps,” Frances Kissling takes the opposite tack, writing, “I love blogging. It’s a social activity akin to sitting around the kitchen table with friends arguing about the day’s news.”

Talking Writing supports those “kitchen table” discussions by encouraging its readers to weigh in on each month’s topic and by featuring some reader comments on the site. “Conversation about writing always ends up being talk about life," says Nichols.

Themes for upcoming issues include:

“Working with Editors: Angels or Devils?”
“The Time Bind: Cramming Writing into Life”
“Kid Stuff: Writing and Buying Books for Children”
“Writing and Music: The Rhythm of Words”
“Crazy People: Writing and Mental Illness”
“Too Much Truth? The Ethics of Memoir Writing”

The premier issues also features an excerpt from a novella in progress by Kelcey Parker, author of For Sale By Owner, a collection of stories forthcoming in February 2011, and poems by Jessica Greenbaum, author of Inventing Difficulty. Greenbaum's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the New Yorker, Poetry, Partisan Review, and Ploughshares.

“As an increasing number of publications appear online, the editorial vision of magazines is more important than ever in supporting unique journalistic and creative voices,” says Nichols.

Readers will find Talking Writing at http://talkingwriting.com.

PRESS CONTACT: Judith Ross, editor@talkingwriting.com

###

Friday, July 30, 2010

Coming Soon! A New Format for Talking Writing

Talking Writing is about to become a full-fledged online literary magazine, complete with fiction, poetry, and reviews. TW will still run posts about the writing life and writing process, but we're also expanding to include other kinds of writing.

The first issue in the new format is due out by September 6, 2010. Once the new site goes live, we'll have a new URL:

http://talkingwriting.com

If you're interested in submitting work to TW, please stay tuned for the first issue, which will include writing guidelines, the editorial masthead, and a list of writing themes for upcoming issues. You can also contact us at the Talking Writing email address.

We're planning to include featured comments from readers. If you have other ideas for how to engage readers and build our writing network, let us know.

Our new blurb follows. Come join us!

Talking Writing:
How Writers Think, How Writers Live. A Literary Zine

Talking Writing is a monthly online literary magazine that encourages creative discussion of the writing process—its challenges, its delights, and the many professional quandaries facing writers online. Each month, TW features the work of one poet, fiction writer, and visual artist or photographer. The magazine also includes reviews of books and movies, and essays about themed writing topics. We are committed to a new kind of magazine, one that provides space for work that is hard to place in print or other mainstream media outlets. First issue: September 2010.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Do Novels Still Matter?

By Martha Nichols for Talking Writing


As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to read people’s minds. I was obsessed by everything I knew adults hid: unspoken nastiness; unshed tears; passion—so much passion and swallowed rage.

Which means that even at the age of ten, I was destined to love novels above all other forms of writing.

I still do. After a hiatus from novel-reading this past spring, I’ve re-discovered the joys of sinking into a long work of fiction. Moreover, Jonathan Franzen’s "Rereading The Man Who Loved Children" makes me want to defend the novel, any novel, partly because Franzen gets at least one thing wrong.

His piece about Christina Stead's 1940 novel, which recently appeared in the New York Times Book Review, is wonderful. I feel encouraged to give Stead another try. But what strikes me most are his opening questions:
“[H]aven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement, in the last year or two or three, that novels belonged to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster? As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them….”
With all due respect to Franzen and his professor friend, no.

I haven’t secretly kissed off novels. I disagree that they represent a moral dilemma, except maybe for academics who think they should be reading “serious” nonfiction. And to equate novels with newspapers (or the dying print distribution system of news) is silly. What’s endangered is the journalistic long feature, and, yes, novels are long form. But there the comparison ends.

His opening is a rhetorical device. By the end of the review, Franzen has made the case for the value of reading Stead’s novel or any other challenging literary work. I doubt he takes the newspaper/novel comparison seriously.

Yet what comes through is a particular definition of “the novel”: a literary epic like Ulysses or To the Lighthouse or The Corrections. From monolithic works such as these, Franzen claims, we are all far too distracted by the multitasking demands of modern life. As he notes in one annoying aside, “shouldn’t you be dealing with your e-mail [instead]”?

Franzen’s high-brow assumptions have gotten him into trouble with the likes of Oprah in the past. While I have a love for many literary novels, I don’t think great literature defines the form. Literary fiction has always had a comparatively small audience. (Long ago, I made peace with my inability to tolerate Ulysses.) Sure, you can say literary novels are endangered by BlackBerrys and iPhones, but people were saying that 50 years ago about TV.

It’s the serialized, “what happens next?” aspect of a page-turner that still makes novels popular—and lucrative for some writers—whether you like Dan Brown or not. No matter how much I loathe The Da Vinci Code, it is a novel.

We still do want to know how the story ends. We want to know what’s going on in other people’s emotional lives. I do, anyway.

For years, memoirs have been shoving novels aside, but in certain basic respects they are alike: page-turning stories of triumph and disaster, with reality highly reconstructed. Even in this kind of “true” story, the truth is open to interpretation. But Franzen keeps beating the wrong drum:
“Because haven’t we left this stuff behind us? High-mindedly domineering males? Children as accessories to their parents’ narcissism? The nuclear family as a free-for-all of psychic abuse?... [W]ho wants to look into the mirror of a novel and see such ugliness?”
Um. A lot of people? Unless you’re one of those domineering narcissists.

Of course we want to read this stuff, although maybe not in the demanding "private family language" of Stead or Joyce—or at least not always.

What’s more, I’d argue that novels matter because they offer multiple points of view. Their narrators often have self-evident flaws. Unlike the omniscient news-writing voice—which is suspect in its supposed objectivity—a novelistic narrator reminds us that we all see the world through our own judgments.

In the constantly morphing, self-replicating online universe, we need that reminder more than ever.

In mid-May, at the end of my teaching semester and during a difficult family trip to California, I was suddenly struck by the need to sink into a novel. A 12-year-old friend of mine suggested Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, a young-adult novel about a near-future world in which all teens undergo an operation that turns them into “pretties.” I was hooked.

From there, in the space of two weeks, I read through the Irish comfort food of Maeve Binchy’s Heart and Soul, the literary weepie Sometimes Mine by Martha Moody, and the historical Rashomon-style kaleidoscope of characters in The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier.

I’ve now embarked on Scott Turow’s Innocent, which feels like revisiting a well-loved vacation house. Twenty-plus years ago, Turow’s blockbuster Presumed Innocent kept me up late at night—not just the story, but his gutsy approach of using a first-person narrator who's a possible murder suspect.

OK, I have decidedly middle-brow tastes.

But here’s Turow in Innocent, via his soul-stained protagonist Judge Rusty Sabich, who is brooding at the dinner table on his sixtieth birthday:
“I shrug, but somehow in retelling the story, I confront something that has grown on me over the hours, which I am reluctant to acknowledge, even to my wife and son: I am sorely guilty that I sent a man to the penitentiary for the sake of prejudices I’m now ashamed I had…. Contemplating the moral force of the point, I go silent.”
I make no sweeping claims for novels like this except that they’ve immersed me when I needed to be immersed. I’m reminded of the standouts from my youth: Childhood’s End, The Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice—and every trashy gothic romance that took me to other worlds and time periods and revealed, even in the most rote way, the secret emotional nooks of others.

It’s in sharing the secrets nobody wants to admit—the shame, the guilt, the missed opportunities—that we learn empathy and, I hope, the ability to embrace complexity in a messy world. Yes. Oh, yes. Yes. Novels do matter.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why I Write (and Blog About Chocolate)

Guest Post by Bianca Garcia for Talking Writing


This essay began as an assignment in a magazine writing class but has evolved into something much more. It’s a riff on George Orwell’s and Joan Didion’s famous essays of the same name (without the chocolate). As Didion wrote in 1976, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”



In 2004, I started my first blog as an online journal to update my friends about what was going on in my life. It was very pink, very girly, but after a few years I grew tired of my cutesy online musings. I realized that I actually prefer writing long private emails and having phone conversations instead of a public narrative.

I also realized I like blogging and having regular readers. So in 2008, I started a new food blog called Confessions of a Chocoholic. My blog finally had a focus. My writing started to grow up—and so did I.

I write because I am opinionated. I want my voice to be heard. Whether I’m talking about my family or shoes or cupcakes or world peace, I want an outlet for expressing myself.
I write because I love to talk. My fingers may not type as fast as my mouth can speak (and never as fast my mind can think) but to me, writing is almost equal to talking. Sometimes it’s even better, because when I write, I can pause and think and edit. And spell-check.
I write because I want to document my thoughts, my experiences, my life. I write because it makes me think and it makes me remember. And I write because I want to learn. I want to learn more about the things I am writing about. I want to learn how many times I can use the word “about” correctly.
I write when I am bored and I have nothing else to do.
I write when I am stressed and I have too many things to do.
I write when I am sad. I write when I need to express frustrations and anger. I write because it helps me get in touch with my thoughts and “identify my feelings,” as Dr. Phil and Oprah might say.
I write when I am happy. I write when I am excited! I love being able to use an exclamation point! I write because it helps me expand my happiness multiple times by sharing it with others.
I write because it makes me feel good. And I want to get better at it.

Blogging has opened up a whole new world for me. Not only do I get to “talk” to my readers, but they talk back. While my childhood diary-keeping and early writing started off as very private endeavors, blogging keeps me exposed in a public domain. While I feel more vulnerable, I also feel more powerful.

I used to joke to my friends that I am the biggest word-of-mouth endorser. I like telling people about the things and places and food I enjoy. I like giving recommendations. I like acting as a “concierge” and having my opinion count as something. Blogging lets me do all those things in a bigger context. Especially now with the rise of social media, I can share my favorite finds not just on a blog post, but also as a tweet, a Facebook post, or a Digg entry.

This sort of publicity is exactly what marketers want to initiate and why some companies often reach out to bloggers. I work in social media and online marketing, so I understand the power of viral marketing.

However, I am much more of a foodie than a marketer, so I am inclined to try good, healthy, delicious-looking foods—regardless of where I heard about them or from whom (a fellow blogger, a sponsored ad). I have been fortunate to receive some food freebies myself, but when I do blog about it, I make sure to mention that I received it for free, “thanks to Brand X.”

I blog because it gives me a sense of community. It’s not just about publicity and getting free stuff, but about connecting with other bloggers and blog readers—or “bleeders” as Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame calls them.
I blog because it is social. Most of my readers are women bloggers, and we share the same interests. We eat the same things, watch the same TV shows, visit the same restaurants. If they’re not the same, we encourage each other to try new foods, shows, restaurants.
I blog because I like to endorse things I believe in—and to endorse other writers I believe in.
I blog because I love chocolate. I love the happiness-inducing moment when it melts in my mouth and the memories I create with every new sweet concoction. And I don’t just love chocolate–I love cookies too. And pasta. And pork. Although not at the same time.
I blog because it makes me feel good. And I want to get better at it.

I used to write about random topics or trivial things that I encounter. Now I put more thought and effort into my writing. I take more time, I do more research. I find that when I am writing about something I’m passionate about, my writing becomes better, smoother, more robust. I love how writing—and blogging—are not just about the activity; they are about remembering, learning, connecting, sharing. 


Bianca Garcia is a full-time advertising and media professional, and a part-time graduate student at Harvard University. She has worked for Leo Burnett, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and Boston.com, and is currently a media planner at Overdrive Interactive. She blogs at Confessions of a Chocoholic and welcomes your comments. Bianca currently lives in Harvard Square, where she spends her days writing, running, and eating chocolate.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Talking Art: Life as a Fixer-Upper


By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

I have always enjoyed stories of rebirth – particularly ones involving modern-day heroines who overcome trying circumstances to carve out a new, more satisfying life for themselves. For example, Anna Rossi, the main character in Hunger, a novel by my friend Jane Ward, leaves her lifeless marriage for a life shaped by her passion for food.

I also enjoy reading nonfiction accounts of triumphs over adversity, such as the new memoir by former House & Garden editor, Dominique Browning. Its title, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas & Found Happiness, is a siren song to those of us who yearn to live life at our own pace with the time and freedom to discover and explore the things that interest us.

My fascination with rejuvenation extends to objects as well. For example, I enjoy articles and books about home renovations, and study the before and after shots with the fervor of one preparing for an important exam. I want to understand how they transformed that wreck of a place into a home.

Its time to approach my own life as though it were one of those fixer-uppers. It has sheltered me during more than a few severe storms and given me much pleasure. But some rooms need cleaning. No. Some rooms need gutting. Change is terrifying.

Risk-taking doesn't come easily to me. Living in the moment -- rather than envisioning how a possible disaster will unfold -- is a habit I need to develop. Yet I'm certain that if I don’t find the courage to take some chances, I will never experience the satisfaction of achieving success on my own terms.

And so I am drawn to this image by Nashville-based artist, Bridgett Ezzard. The lush green garden beyond the wooden grid beckons me. “Take a chance,” it says. “You’ll get there. But first you have to unlatch the gate.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother’s Day Poetry: Moms and Daughters Speak

 For Talking Writing by Carol Dorf


Mother’s Day requires poems. This selection of poems is from work that is available online, so the first stanza or so of each is here along with a link to the entire poem. Two of these poems, Nellie Wong’s “Mama, Come Back” and Lucille Clifton’s “[if mama/could see],” are from the child’s point of view. The others are from the mother’s point of view. However, in this ever-shifting dynamic, in a number of the poems there are shifts and turns. Enjoy!



Mama, Come Back  
by Nellie Wong

Mama, come back.
Why did you leave
now that I am learning you?
The landlady next door
how she apologizes
for my rough brown skin
to her tenant from Hong Kong
as if I were her daughter,
as if she were you.

 ...
 

[if mama / could see]

by Lucille Clifton
i
if mama
could see
she would see   
lucy sprawling   
limbs of lucy
decorating the
backs of chairs
lucy hair
holding the mirrors up   
that reflect odd   
aspects of lucy.
...

To a Daughter Leaving Home

by Linda Pastan


When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you ....


Iva's Pantoum   
by Marilyn Hacker
 
We pace each other for a long time.
I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the baby on the mountain. I am
in a cold stream where I led you.

...
 

The Nursery 

by Fanny Howe


The baby
         was made in a cell
in the silver & rose underworld.
Invisibly prisoned
         in vessels & cords, no gold
for a baby; instead
eyes, and a sudden soul, twelve weeks
old, which widened its will.
...


Fruit Of Stories 
by Carol Dorf

Demeter and her daughter Persephone:
every woman tells this story with her mother.
Temptation of the thin-skinned juice-filled seeds,
and following that God back to Hades,
wrapping  arms around his leathery waist,
as the motorcycle shoots through time and space.

We return to mother with our children,
but she puts the plates of soup in front of them,
while we peel fruit, and rinse scummy glasses.
...

  

Toth Farry 


by Sharon Olds
In the back of the charm-box, in a sack, the baby   
canines and incisors are mostly chaff,   
by now, split kernels and acicular down, no   
whole utensils left: half   
an adz; half a shovel, in its broken   
handle a marrow well of the will   
to dig and bite. And the enamel hems ...
 

Kill School 


by Fran Richey
That was the summer he rappelled
down mountains on rope

that from a distance looked thin
as the dragline of a spider,

barely visible, the tension
he descended

into the made-up
state of Pineland

with soldiers from his class ...

 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Talking Art: The Perfect Day


By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

Yesterday afternoon while out walking with friends I watched a full, shimmering rainbow arc across the sky. After that I stood and admired a great blue heron in full breeding plumage standing in the water just a few yards away.

We finished our outing at my house, drinking coffee and eating a cake I had made the day before. The adults laughed, the children played. It felt like the perfect finale to a lovely afternoon.

But there are as many perfect endings as there are people. For example, the above photo, taken in Venice by Cambridge photographer Akos Szilvasi, shows one possible way to cap off a perfect day. Or one could opt for a more peaceful close as does Alice N. Persons in her poem, “The Perfect Day,” which concludes this way:

after a wonderful party
you sink into sleep
in a clean nightgown
in fresh sheets
your sweetheart doesn't snore
and in your dreams
and old piece of sadness
lifts away

Reader, please tell us: What is your recipe for a perfect day?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

ADHD, Journalism, and the Nightmare of Finding Manna in the Desert

Guest Post by William Gray for Talking Writing


I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in third grade, when the only medicine available was Ritalin, taken twice a day, with a 30-minute activation delay. I still believe my preference for creation over editing stems from the ADHD test with a blue pencil—and no eraser. Who gives a third grader a pencil with no eraser on a timed test?

Little did my doctor know, he spawned my first habit as a writer. I am happier to find new stories than to edit existing ones—far happier. Don’t get me wrong, I accept and welcome criticism, copy-edits, and content clarification. But if an editor suggests one change in the lede or nutgraf, that gives me a new story idea. I cast off stories like hair clippings.

Hello, by the way. My name is William, and as far as professional writing goes, I am belly-button deep in Year Three, contemplating whether I’m an “innie” or an “outtie.” I’ve just completed a Master’s in Journalism at Harvard. So do I continue professional journalism with a healthy dose of ADHD, or do I give into the “dark side” and leverage my skills into public relations, social responsibility, and consulting?

Like most writers I am cursed with black-hole bookshelves. My personal literary tastes range from this blog, which I devour for its wit and charm to Colossus: Bletchley Park’s Greatest Secret. Oh, and Mika Brzezinski’s All Things at Once is under the pillow. I’ll ignore the stacks of science fiction and Robert Jordan.

I am fascinated by the process of writing, of getting somewhere, of the follow-through reporting and hard work. I want to know how it’s done. I want the 5 Step Process to Make Readers Read Your Writing. But there are only templates and submissions@thisjournal.com email addresses.

The media world has changed, certainly over the past decade. It’s changed since I entered j-school three years ago. What began as an uncertain career covering nonprofits, homelessness, and the small-store owners of Boston has blossomed into the William Gray Media Empire-TM. Whether ADHD is a good match for new media—perhaps even a dynamite match—remains to be seen.

My usual story process is the same as any other reporter’s. We read an article in the paper or see something strange. We engage in conversation and realize nobody has answered the question we’ve been thinking about for the past ten minutes. Writers see opportunity in every crumpled napkin and discarded Big Gulp on the sidewalk.

But then we veer off-course to the Empire-TM where my ADHD is king. I must know everything about the subject. When did it start? Why? What’s different? Why the name? What were days 1-30 like? If I didn’t hate dates, I would be an historian, and Doris Kearns Goodwin would be See Spot Run to my Encyclopedia Britannica.

As an example, I will provide a personal labor of love: The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, more fondly known as C-SPAN. Full-disclosure: I interned at C-SPAN for three months in the Summer of 2009.

C-SPAN was manna in the dessert for my ADHD. The network had me tracking coverage during the day, researching the history and health of senators and media personalities, and consistently updating graphics for live on-air publication. I was sated and happy. And it was long-form, so I had to breathe, take notes, and pay close attention.

I wrote my final 5,000-word project for Harvard on C-SPAN. That meant I read the only book that exists on the subject three times in the space of six months. I dug deep into the C-SPAN website—I went to the Wayback Machine and tracked the content and design change since its first recorded site. I found interviews of Steven Scully on Journalismjobs.com and dusted off copies of C-SPAN’s in-house graphic creation guidelines. I sat down with the CEO to ask the simplest of questions about Tip O’Neill and the political climate of Washington during the network’s conception. I still have copies of the employee documents, internship guidelines, and the C-SPAN badge that hangs on the wall behind my couch (I promise I’ll return it). I’ve watched enough of the C-SPAN Archives to justify canceling my cable bill.

There I was, with a network that pioneered the call-in program, with thirty years of material. Let’s not forget Booknotes by Brian Lamb, either, which is a reader and interviewer’s dream.

And it was torture.

I did not know where to begin or end. I left over 10,000 words of interviews in my binder. I wrote eight pieces and made half-a-dozen follow-up phone calls for details as small as the color of the original binders used by Susan Swain, Co-Chief Operating Officer, to track the daily shows. How does one write about a network whose job is to record the political process and individual personalities attached to it? Did I mention I wrote a “Ten Noteworthy Moments in C-SPAN’s History” piece? I won’t detail how long it took, but it has enough bullet points to satisfy the most ardent PowerPointer.

I began researching the network eight months before my internship, when I met the CEO and immediately scoured the Harvard COOP for his books. Then I began watching C-SPAN actively. Then I started tracking videos on the website.

Then I wrote and I wrote and I wrote—until my editor said, “You have to cut.”

In the end, that phrase is the moral of the story for an ADHD journalist. I have a hundred stories similar to this, varying in length and degree, with equal parts failure and success. No matter how much I research, how many interviews I record, how many yellow legal pads I have on my shelf, I will have to cut.

I will have to focus. I will have to revise. I will have to edit. As one of the few individuals who can give an accurate description of what each specific medication does to affect my ADHD, this all means one thing:

I have to ignore the voice inside my head and listen to the voices of my audience.

And this means you have to read and shout.


Editor’s Note: Only about a hundred words were cut from the original version of this piece. Yay, Bill!

The go-to media expert for his peers, William Gray is an aspiring media guru and social responsibility consultant. He currently writes and consults for JForward, a new quarterly journal for the social sciences with an inaugural issue planned before Summer 2010. He also enjoys his role as Media and PR Director for WECAN and loves using personal projects for writing and radio speaking opportunities. He will also tell you more about C-SPAN than you ever wanted to know.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Talking Art: Poppies at Midnight

By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

It is early spring here in New England and the feathery leaves of poppies have pushed through the soil of my garden.

Some of these poppies will grow into the robust, black-centered oriental variety. Others are the more delicate, yellow-centered icelandic poppies. All will have the blowsy orange petals that make poppies so endearing.

Like the ones in my garden, "Poppies at Midnight" is also a mix. It is both photograph and painting. Bridgett Ezzard photographed the poppies in her backyard, made a silver print in her darkroom, and then applied colored pencils and oil paint to achieve the final effect. The process took weeks as the paint was applied layer by layer.

“I love process art,” says Bridgett, who knew she wanted to be an artist from the time she was in kindergarten. In fact, one of her first pieces created that year was displayed in the window of a local department store. “It was a crayon drawing of children of all different colors holding hands,” she recalls.

Since then she has combined her love of painted art with photography, creating photo collages. Her talent for focusing on small details and creating still lifes is evident in her wedding, art, and commercial work alike -- from the tattoo at the base of a bride’s spine to the sliver of sunlight cutting across a ceramic tile.

After her recent move to Nashville, Bridgett’s latest assignment was to photograph two homes and their owners for Southern Flourish Magazine. Her secret for getting the best shots of her human subjects? “I wait a beat after what they think is the final shot. As soon as they relax, I’m on it,” she says.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Writers Need Social Media

Guest Post by Jane Ward for Talking Writing


Writers write.  Straightforward, yes?  Not exactly. 

Some writers hold down part-or full-time jobs, have active roles in their communities, raise children.  Weekly loads of laundry are a given.  These days we also blog, Tweet, gather fans on Facebook, and insert key search words into our smartly designed websites, thus building marketing platforms.

For the most part—especially when it comes to marketing—the above depicts me, my life, and I admit to having days when I wonder: Well, how did I get here?

Actually, this question has been on my mind this week because both an aspiring writer and a local journalist contacted me to talk about my experiences with Twitter.  Me?  Talk about Twitter?  Eight months ago I was Twitter ignorant and content that way.  A little over a year ago I had no blog and no website. I had one Facebook friend (my hair stylist) who tried and tried in the face of my resistance to explain what wonderful connections Facebook could help me make.  I had little interest, I told him, and my Facebook account languished.  I couldn’t even be bothered to put up a profile picture.

My problem?  A very real fear of diving into the intertwined worlds of social media and self-promotion.  I found the idea of shouting my name loudly from so many public bullhorns frightening. 

Truly.  I’m not being coy here.  I know a few fiction writers, and nine-tenths of us want to let the writing speak for us because we are sort of shy.  We all burn with things to say but prefer to say those things from the mouths of our characters and not our own mouths.  The one writer I do know who has for years seemed entirely at ease with pitching herself makes me shake my head in amazement.  “I’m not that comfortable, I may never be that comfortable promoting myself,” I recall saying to another writer friend more than once. 

Now, it seems, I am that writer.  Or a version of her.  I blog.  I’m on Twitter where I have about 235 followers.  I have 76 Facebook friends.  I post links to my blog on both social media sites, bombarding these patient people with my work.  I no longer write with the sole purpose of finishing a work of fiction; rather, I work concurrently at the fiction and at building the platform so that I may have a shot at selling the latest finished work.  Why the change?

Everything has changed around me and my fellow writers.  I had to change.

The publishing world, certainly, has changed, become more revenue-driven since the days when the legendary Max Perkins fostered equally the careers of the well-known (Hemingway) and the lesser-known (Archie Binns, Pacific Northwest historical fiction writer).  While it has never been easy for a writer to be published, editors like Perkins once brought along their novice talents with patience, waiting for an author’s readership to grow with each successive book.

Editors still seek out talent, but it gets harder for them to justify waiting while a writer’s career gets a foothold.  Often if a first book doesn’t sell phenomenally well, an editor can’t persuade the publisher to gamble on book two, a book that may or may not do better in sales.  And in a dull economy the sales from a blockbuster entity may just carry a company through some dark times.  There are breaks to be had, but lesser-knowns and as-yet-unknowns usually need to market themselves assertively to make their big break into the well-known sphere.

The marketing effort itself has a different look, too.  Connecting directly with readers still matters, but it’s no longer done primarily through your novel.  With so many technological advances it has become both easier to connect—through emails, notices, e-zines, blogs, tweets, personal appearances—and more time-consuming to do so—it takes a lot of time to participate in each and every one of these arenas with dedication.

Time one could actually spend writing, oh, a novel, for example.

My journalist friend who was gathering information for his recent article on Twitter sent me the following questions: “I was wondering how Twitter has been helping you as an author.  Do you find it helpful?  Is it a distraction from actually writing?”

It can be, I have to answer.  See above.

But I have become a more organized and focused writer as a result, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Neither is the connection.  I have met other wonderful writers and food journalists who have offered me new venues for my work.  Here’s how I summed it up for my friend’s cousin, the aspiring romance novelist who was considering dipping her toe in the Twitter pool:
“Get on Twitter right away…search literary agent lists, romance and other writers lists…start following people…then look over the lists of their followers and follow some of them.  Soon you’ve got a good bunch you can keep an eye on and help.  With luck and effort, they'll start following back.

“Don’t be afraid of starting up conversations with anyone you have good instincts about.  I've found everyone is very, very friendly and genuinely interested in promoting, not only themselves, but you too, through their alliances with others.

“We all help each other become stronger and more widely read writers.”
We writers may work harder at selling ourselves than ever before, but each of us participating in this mix has found our modern-day Max Perkins.

Better, we have found our readers.  On our blogs, on Twitter, on the e-zines we are honored to contribute to.  Writers write, and we’re writing more every day as the world gets more technologically and economically complex.  We’re read in ways the writers before us couldn’t have imagined and in the end, that’s all that matters. 

Writers write.  But we need readers if we want to continue.  We’ve always had to find those readers one way or another.  It’s the same as it ever was.


This post originally appeared appeared as "Same As It Ever Was" on Jane's blog Food and Fiction.


The author of Hunger (Forge 2001) and The Mosaic Artist (to be released), Jane Ward is at work on her third novel, a weekly food and fiction blog, and a cookbook/memoir entitled Tattooed with Food.  She is also a contributing writer to the online food magazine Local In Season.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Erasing Family Stories—and Reclaiming Them

By Martha Nichols for Talking Writing


I learned to erase stories at a young age.

This profoundly inhibited my writing, so much so that I didn't realize it until well past college and into adulthood. Then, in the late 1980s, I took a workshop with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, the indie fiction writer and poet, in which she urged us to write down a family story.

Every family has stories, she said in her tell-tale drawl, stories they tell for comfort, for fun, for explanation—even if it's the wrong explanation. Family stories are powerful, she said.

I nodded along. But I felt my arms locking around my body. A stone seemed to lodge in my throat. I could visualize the stone—egg-shaped, smooth, glittering, obsidian—but no story.

At the time, her collection Almost Everything, which includes "Back to Texas" about Bobbie Louise's childhood, seemed like an unsentimental gem to me. In "When I was little...," she writes:
"The bottom fell out of melons that year and made them not worth the picking. We would walk along the rows busting ripe melons and eating only the heart. It was a luxury that took some heroism; the sand was hot as a frying pan and we were bare-footed."
I remember Bobbie Louise exhorting us to delete all adverbs and adjectives. That wasn't hard for me to do. But stripping out the sloppy language left me with nothing like a melon's heart.

I had no tall tales to draw on, I realized, no stories about larger-than-life aunts or uncles or "favorite cousins." I didn't come from a Southern storytelling tradition. But worse, I came from a family with little motivation to remember.

Growing up with a mentally ill parent encouraged helpless watching. Our family creed was constant erasure of pain, of blame. For the budding writer I was, it undercut my ability to convey what I saw.

My mother used to tell me to lie about her affliction, especially on medical forms, because of the prejudice against the mentally ill. This became a received truth for me, an uncontested way of being. Meanwhile, she often abandoned her own advice, explaining her diagnosis to work acquaintances, hair-cutters, postal carriers, grocery-store checkers.

Now I see too well the problem with erasing the consequences of breakdowns and raging fits, of shifting the blame in euphemisms such as "your mother was sick." For a good story, you need protagonists, not helpless watchers. You need someone to admit what's wrong.

When children grow up with adults erasing and reworking the truth, those kids can rebel. They also freeze up.

I've done both, and I still imagine every line I write disappearing as soon as the pencil moves on, every word I type vanishing on the screen. I see a little girl hunkering at the bottom of a deep hole, only a circle of blue sky above.

I see teenage me scribbling in lined yellow notepads, drawing cartoons, some of sexy women with ballooning breasts, some of angels and fairies—and every one of these forbidden images erased as soon as I mark it down.

Bad things would happen in our family—even good things—but nobody ever talked about them. I grew up with no sense of shared narrative, no comforting beginnings, middles, and ends. For a girl who loved The Lord of the Rings and Sherlock Holmes and Mary Renault novels and the Greek myths, it was like being blindfolded. 
    Then, I think, that's not true. We did talk about the time my mother trudged all the way up Mt. Lassen, as if she'd conquered Everest. We talked about our adventures driving across the Mojave desert late at night, eating pinion nuts at dawn in our over-heating Dodge. I think we must have.

    Yet the tenuousness of my own memories disturbs me. I do remember, but few events of my childhood were converted into cherished stories we told over and over. Without that cherishing, memories become endangered, too.

    For the longest time, pulling together stories or articles eluded me as a professional writer, no matter how much I knew about expository writing. I wrote poetry, but my impulse faltered there, too. Even in the most non-linear of forms, truth eventually needs to shine through.

    It's not an accident that I toiled as an editor of other people's stories for years. For at least a decade, my husband and close friends knew I was doing the equivalent of yanking my own hair out—I need time to write! When will I ever have time to write?—trapped by my own tangle of frustrations.

    Bobbie Louise Hawkins is not immune from erasing and reworking the truth of her life. She was once unhappily married to the poet Robert Creeley, and I remember her talking about her insomnia, her own depression. Perhaps reshaping stories is what all writers do. Yet mining our own lives does seem like the right place to start. You can't get to the poetic compression of Bobbie Louise's work, for example, without acknowledging what came before.

    Here's how she autographed my copy of Almost Everything: "For Martha, with pleasure—keep it up—see you again! Bobbie Louise Hawkins, August 6, 1988." I haven't seen her since, but even the hint that I had something to share or "keep up" has propelled me forward. That workshop became a turning point.

    Now I write down every passing idea in my writing notebooks, and they pile up year after year. Sometimes I read through a notebook cover to cover, especially when I'm on a long airplane ride by myself, when I have time to stare at the clouds, to allow that smooth obsidian egg its due.

    My notebooks are rich in ideas, stories, anecdotes, mental life, but often I come across entries that I've completely forgotten. It's not just that I'm getting older; I was well schooled in how to forget. But I don't want to forget. Not ever again. I'm obsessed with the notion of writing it all down, of the words remaining solid and present.

    Sometimes I worry I'll lose the notebooks, they'll burn in a house fire, they'll be stolen.

    It still comes hard in my own family, telling stories with my young son. But I make sure that we talk about "the time you had to swallow that malaria pill and you kept spitting it out" or "the time you sprayed insect repellent in your eyes, and you screamed so loud we had to call Poison Control. We had to hold you close until you calmed down."

    I know this pool of stories is the underground life of my family. For an adoptee like my son, having family stories to draw on, to claim, seems crucial for his evolving sense of self. We build identity through stories, through being allowed to speak—not by keeping our mouths shut.

    In a 2004 monologue, which she performed at the Naropa Summer Writing Program in Boulder, Colorado, Bobbie Louise Hawkins talks about a "happy ending" ironically, poignantly, wisely:
    "It's time to adore the mundane. The daily is your heart's desire. The mundane world must be our joy. The daily, be our darling. The commonplace, be our morning song. The usual, be our heaven. The common place, our morning star. The usual. Sit on the veranda, drink tea, watch ducks navigate the pond. It is summer. And you are living a very long, unfinished, Russian novel...."
    Yes. Every family has their own version of War and Peace. Mine hovers somewhere between The Idiot and Nabokov's Pale Fire.

    But I've learned to live with my guilt and shell-shock. I've learned "to adore the mundane," because I'm writing my own Russian novel.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010

    Talking Art: Middle Eastern Beauty

    Copyright 2006 Said Nuseibeh. All rights reserved.


    By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

    “In addition to investigating my cultural heritage and selfishly seeking personal creative inspiration, my cultural or political mission is to break the narrow and negative confines of contemporary stereotypes and give viewers access to a wider galaxy of Islamic and Arab experience.

    Audiences in the west rarely get the opportunity to see Islamic culture free from violence, anger, poverty, despair all of which seem to be the contemporary fruit of European colonization. To the extent that these images move us towards an opening of hearts and minds, I will be honored.” Said Nuseibeh
    Said Nuseibeh’s photographs are much more than pretty pictures, though many of them depict a level of manmade beauty that is rare in any age. His photos, like this one, "Domes at Dusk," of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, provide a gateway into a culture and history that many of us in the United States will never experience or witness firsthand.

    As he notes above, Said uses his art to build bridges. Like a lot of writers, musicians, and visual artists, in answering his own questions, he is creating understanding for the rest of us as well. As he writes on his website,

    “Perhaps this explains how a boy whose mother grew up across a canyon from Edward Weston and whose father was dispossessed of his native Jerusalem, grew up himself between San Francisco and Appalachia, and ultimately exercised photography to build new connectivities and bridge disparate worlds.”

    The warm golden glow of the magnificent dome captured in this image not only helps me see the beauty of this far-off land, it makes me want to know more about the people who built it. And it confirms what many in my country don't understand: The people living in that part of the world are like us. They love their children, they love beauty, and they want to live their lives in peace.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Never Open a Book with Weather

    By David Biddle for Talking Writing

    Laura Miller has a nice little writerly piece in Salon.com today called "A Reader's Advice to Writers." It stems from a fabulous two-part presentation in The Guardian providing bulleted advice from 20+ writers. All three of these are worth your time (after you write today).

    Miller's piece at Salon is as useful, if not better, than most of the ones at The Guardian (to my mind). We can learn more than we know from readers -- although I disagree with her point that readers usually don't care about the quality of the writing. All readers were forced to write in school for 15 years or so. Everyone likes to read good, interesting prose, especially if the characters, plot, theme, and setting are also interesting.

    The Guardian's set of lists was inspired by Elmore Leonard's original list of "Ten Rules of Writing." If you're going to read just one author's advice list, his is the one. Leonard's points are quite similar to James Ellroy's in the Fall 2009 Paris Review. Their thoughts and ruminations on craft, plotting and character are funny, spot on, and hard to put into practice.

    The advice lists are presented by The Guardian in alphabetic order. Part I runs from Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle and Richard Ford to Jonathan Franzen and PD James, among others. (As an aside, once again Jonathan Franzen worries me. I just don't think he knows what he's doing. Will someone tell him to stop taking himself so seriously?) Part II includes Hilary Mantel, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, and Zadie Smith.

    The most important advice some of these writer's give: Read your story out loud (I do this in front of a mirror sometimes).

    The worst advice -- or something I refuse to believe here in 2010 -- is that you shouldn't write connected to the Internet (watch for my next submission here on the new frontiers of publishing).

    The logical thing for me to close with is my own advice to writers. I'm not going to do that. I have five points posted on a bulletin board somewhere in our house, but until I've published a book or two, I think my words would be rather silly.

    I close, then, with two pieces of advice I was looking for but never found:

    1). Get your spouse to read what you write first and listen to what they say because more than likely they're right (if you're not married, good luck!).

    2). Understand that being a successful writer and good writing are two different things and that none of the advice most writers give has any real thing to do with being successful. Success in the writing world is no different than success in business, sports or politics -- you need quality product, for sure, but you also need to be a pit bull, pay attention to details, have a sense of humor, fake it when you have to, and be lucky as hell.

    All the best to you as spring and the 2010 baseball season approach!

    Photo credit: TreeHugger.com

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Searching for Max Perkins: Are Writers Groups the New Editors?

    By Elizabeth Langosy for Talking Writing

    I have a smattering of books that address the relationship between writers and their editors. In nearly every case, the editor was Scribner’s legendary Maxwell Perkins.

    Browsing through Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence and Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, it’s clear that Max, in addition to serving as editor extraordinaire, was literary advisor (Max to Scott: If the Cosmop would give you $30 or $40,000 for the serial, I think the only strong argument that could be advanced against taking it would be the quality of the magazine.), book club leader (Ernest to Max: There were too many bayonets in it somehow. If you are writing a book that isn’t romantic and has that as one of its greatest assets it is a shame to get awfully romantic about bayonets.), bank account (Scott to Max: I see by the memo that I have had a $3,243.00 advance... Could I have $500.00 more?), and friend (Ernest to Max: Wish you could come down... We could make a whole succession of new good old days...).

    My single experience of working with a book editor was highly professional—no insider gossip or savvy career advice. Long story short: My husband and I wrote a detective novel, had it placed by our agent as the first in a new series of mysteries, worked with the series editor for six months to get it in final shape, then had it rejected by the publisher at the last minute because he wanted the first five years of the new series to feature previously published authors (which we were not). Our agent shifted his focus from book to film writers, detective novels fell out of fashion, and I went back to penning short stories. All this happened 25 years ago. I really have no idea what sort of support one can expect from the average book editor of 2010.

    Where, then, does a writer like me find both encouragement for my efforts and hard-nosed critiques of my work? While developing the list of Max Perkins’s value to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the other authors he nurtured, I realized that I could well be listing everything I value in the members of my writers group. Well, maybe I haven’t hit them up for $500, but they have come through for me in the difficult periods in my life. Could my writers group be my Max Perkins?

    Max journeyed to Key West (in his suit, tie, and jaunty cap) to fish with Ernest Hemingway. My writers group travels from New Hampshire and various Boston-area towns for potluck dinners, story critiques, and mutual commiseration. A writers group as small and long-lived as mine is a sacred trust. You know everything about each other, and that knowledge is both helpful and traumatic when you’re called upon to be brutally honest about a creative effort.

    As with the members of my writers group, Max Perkins was an excellent editor and softened his criticisms with praise. In most cases, his suggestions appear to have been well-taken (Ernest to Max: We’ve eliminated Belloc, changed Hergesheimer’s name, made Henry James Henry, made Roger Prescott into Roger Prentiss, and unfitted the bulls for a reproductive function).

    My writers group alerts me to useless minor characters, unintended changes in point of view, and places where getting too close to “what really happened” actually weakens the story. Their suggestions for word changes and additional illuminating sentences can be so superlative that I can’t think of any alternatives and use them verbatim. Then I’m racked with guilt and doubt. Does this mean the story is no longer my own? Even if only one suggested sentence in an entire story has been used verbatim, I can torture myself by imagining that critics in the distant future will point out that specific sentence as an (undeserved) example of my writing excellence.

    When I began editing the long (60-page) short story I recently completed, I realized that I had another model of productive editing, different from both the long-distance communiqu├ęs of Max and company and the intense meetings of my writers group. During my long (now ended) tenure at Harvard University, I worked closely with a colleague on the final editing of reports and proposals. We sat side by side for days on end, reviewing documents one line at a time. One of our primary goals was to ensure that each sentence was both accurate and understandable even to someone who knew nothing about the proposed or reported project. When problems were identified, we made a highly effective team in brainstorming solutions.

    I asked this colleague, Judy, if she would help me edit my story using the same method that worked so well for the dozens of reports and proposals we finalized over the years. The experience ended up being phenomenal. Due to our differing schedules and the length of the story, we weren’t able to work side by side on the entire piece as I originally had hoped, but we did have one long afternoon session that was both very productive and more fun than diligent work is supposed to be.

    Judy also read through the entire story and was especially astute at identifying previously overlooked places where a reader might question the accuracy of a word or concept. Her very first comment was on the names I’d chosen for my main characters (Judy to Elizabeth: I don’t really like the names–Chloe is too out of the ordinary and her parents probably wouldn’t have come up with that 40-50 years ago. Ishmael is too distracting...). I located a website that tracks government statistics on the use of names and found that she was right. The two names were not only generally uncommon (particularly Ishmael) but were given to few, if any, babies born in the 1950’s and 60’s. Because I didn’t want others to get bogged down by questioning the names, I changed them to ones that I verified were popular during that time period.

    I have never been as pleased with the final version of one of my short stories as I am with this one. I’m sure this is due in large part to my recent retirement and my ability to now work on my writing all day, every day, for weeks on end if I choose to. But I also believe that my composite Max Perkins served me well.

    How do you undertake the editing process? Who do you turn to? Do publishing houses still have a Max Perkins on staff or is this role filled in a different way today?

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Story Prompt


    By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

    Here we are in Barcelona. The photo is by Akos Szilvasi, a photographer who lives and works in Cambridge, Mass. Akos was born in Hungary and has also lived in Germany. (You can enlarge the photo by clicking on the image above.)

    A U.S. resident for twenty years, he is still struggling to figure us out. For example, why all the fuss about health care -- isn't that a human right?

    But let's forget politics for a moment and enjoy the street scene above. Who are these people? Where are they going? What are they thinking?

    Okay, all of you fiction writers out there, tell us a story!

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Why Read Fiction?

    By Carol Dorf for Talking Writing

    Very Short Stories 
    We wait in the car. My middle-school daughter picks up a book I've left on the back seat and starts reading "Bad Manners" from Microfictions by Ana Maria Shua: "If your chicken champignon takes off, leaving a trail of sauce on the tablecloth in its wake, don't blame your guests. You can't expect such an exquisite dish to tolerate your table manners." This is the entire story, and the punchline of a joke as well. My daughter reads several more of these stories aloud. I ask her what she thinks of them. She says, "Some are funny, some are disturbing, and all very, very strange."

    The End of Fiction
    Last year, 7th grade. It's back to school night. The English teacher, Ms. No, tells the parents the students won't be reading fiction in class because the academic reading skills students need to develop are found in nonfiction. They are permitted to read fiction for their Accelerated Reader program, where every book is assigned point values and students answer a set of questions to prove that they have understood a book. In this system, Jane Austen's Persuasion (19) is worth less points than J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (44).

    What they read for class is a short series of persuasive essays mostly about the potential damages caused by drugs or vandalism.

    Over the course of the year, they never have the opportunity to discuss a novel with their classmates, and if they choose to read all nonfiction that is just fine.

    Death in Fiction 
    Recently, a friend in my daughter's book group sold the girls on reading Going Bovine by Libba Bray, a book in which a 16-year-old boy with mad cow disease takes a road trip with strange companions in search of a cure. Most of the adults saw the book as a trip through the character's consciousness, while most of the girls saw it as an actual journey, perhaps with some magic to smooth over the rough parts.

    Reading Going Bovine brought to mind Passage by Connie Willis, a sea journey through the consciousness of a dying woman. In both of these books, the reader keeps hoping for the dying main character to solve the mystery and find a cure. Each complication in the plot prevents success. As in Orpheus' journey to the underworld, these characters cannot find a way back to the world of the living. By the end of the story, the reader accepts the inevitability of death.

    Empathy
    What we learn from fiction is to live in someone else's world. The extreme case of this is when the main character is dying, but many books (think of Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants or Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or  Virginia Woolf's Orlando) take us away from our comfort zone. How many of us have actually spent time talking to a 93-year-old circus performer, a teen with Asperger's, or a person who changes both time periods and gender? We meet them as readers.

    I feel a bit sad to be rewriting this old argument for the pleasures of reading, but given the functional approach to education our children are living with, returning to some of the basic pleasures of reading is essential. We all crave story and to understand the lives of others. I hope next year the children in that teacher's class will spend time arguing over a story, trying to get their friends to read their favorites.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    Painting Over Mistakes on a Still-Wet Canvas


    "Have You Forgotten Their Wet, Sleepy Fragrance?" by Erik Hansen

    By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

    There are no shortcuts to well-executed art – be it painting, writing, music, or photography. The artist must be well-grounded in and attentive to every step of the process.

    In their book, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orlando write, “Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work.”

    Knowing one’s craft and putting in the hours of work may not reap commercial benefits, but it can result in work that has both quality and depth. According to Bayles and Orlando:
    “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons that every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by overpainting the still-wet canvas.”
    In an environment where new media provides numerous opportunities for experimentation and self-promotion, it is especially crucial that artists and writers be well steeped in the basics of their craft.

    The ability to first recognize mistakes and then edit and correct one's own work will make the difference between experiments that take others to new and exciting places and ones that leave them mired waist-deep in muck.

    Nowhere is this tension more clearly illustrated than in the new online literary magazine, Electric Literature (EL). Some of EL’s experiments are more successful than others.

    For example, EL recently delivered to its readers a short story by Rick Moody over Twitter. While the piece may never have made it into traditional print, it wasn’t meant to.

    Instead, Moody crafted a story that fit into the new context. Two people meet online and then the ensuing May-December romance is described from each of their perspectives through a series of 140-character tweets sent out every ten minutes over three days.

    While the format was difficult to follow, I continued to think about the story long after the final tweet. As one reviewer noted, these two could have been real people sending messages about a real encounter to anyone willing to read them.

    Moody didn’t just dash this off, it was a carefully calculated experiment. In an interview with PBS Newshour, he explains how the story took shape, noting that it took as long to write as a traditional short story.

    The EL blog, on the other hand, seems to feature writers who are trying to improvise complicated jazz riffs before they can successfully play a basic scale. These folks don’t yet know how to self-edit the way that Moody does. And this is where some outside editorial advice and shaping would help the writers and their readers.

    The title of one blogged story, “Jeffrey, Vincent, Jeffrey and Vincent’s Father and the Woman in the Photograph” is a preview of run-on sentences and dense paragraphs that suffocate rather than enliven. The liberal use of the four-letter word for excrement was another turn-off.

    This isn’t literature, electric or otherwise, but rather the kind of self-conscious, stream-of-conscious, navel-gazing more appropriate for a personal blog rather than an online magazine.

    Other parts of EL’s site also strike me as work that should have been painted over while the canvas was still wet – starting with the artwork on the homepage.

    Judgments about art and literature are subjective, of course. Even so, the more you develop your “chops” in any particular discipline, the better your work will be. Take the photograph now posted on this site.


    Erik Hansen has been a commercial photographer for many years. Everything he learned during those years informs his art – as does his knowledge of history, politics, film, literature, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

    I happened to be in his studio when he was developing the image at the top of this post. He builds a model and then with lighting and other techniques brings the small-scale scene to life. He does not digitally manipulate his images: The magic happens before he clicks the shutter.

    There may have been one or two happy accidents in making this image, but only a skilled photographer would be able to create and then capture the elements that make it so evocative – such as the funnels of light, the shine on the water, and the textures of the land on either side.

    And that’s just the technical portion of his work. The ideas behind his photographs inspire viewers to superimpose their own stories over these imaginary landscapes.

    That intent wrapped up in photographic expertise is what transforms this shot into a work of art. Erik not only enjoys every step of his process, he has practiced each one many, many times. As a result, he can make images that soar.