Friday Links for Writers 10.10.14

Beautiful picture of Toni Morrison on a wall inside the Lillian Vernon Writers' House at NYU. I first knew I wanted to write fiction, hearing Toni Morrison read Sula. Love.

Beautiful photograph of Toni Morrison — part of a collection of famed writers captured by photographer Nancy Crampton – on a wall inside the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers’ House at NYU. I first knew I wanted to write fiction, hearing Toni Morrison read Sula. Love.

I am writing under the gun this week — eking in this Friday Links for Writers and an hour of novel revision before a client meeting, plus writing for a course, and going over my query and excerpt for speed pitching with two agents at #BinderCon this weekend.

Client work this week had me thinking about the ways social media has crept into the end products and delivery vehicles for client work. Rebuilding my freelance business after four years teaching, it was quirky to find the ways several news outlets had me posting news in lieu of emailing our press release to an editor. And much of my day Friday was spent teaching Pinterest to a client as a multimedia means for us to exchange work.

Which leads to this week’s Friday Links for Writers, with links reflective of new influences, venues and media in the publishing world — continually creating new opportunities (and challenges) for writers, editors and others in the publishing profession. As I run off to volunteer at #BinderCon this weekend, the theme of sharing resources and seeing writing potential in new ways seems fitting. Let me know what links resound with you, or share your own in the comments. I hope you have a fabulous writing week!

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The Newsonomics of the Millenial Moment

Speaking of continual change and adaptation, if you are a journalist or otherwise impacted by trends in news outlets, this piece by Ken Doctor gives great insight into the impact of millennial readership on news outlets, including the rising wave of news site start-ups. I appreciated his breakdown of why this impact matters as well as the individual significance of outlets including Vox, Buzzfeed, Vice Media, Mic and more. It’s a great piece for better understanding readership and markets.

2014 Most Influential People in Publishing

As long as we’re on business trends, this listing posted on Bibliodaze in May is a really interesting round up of a variety of influential people within the publishing industry. As with any list, it’s not so much about the individual people as the discussion of why each is considered to be influential — reasons which often reflect on the diversity and dynamic changes occurring (or not) — and, in some cases, how individuals have invented platforms of influence that did not previously exist.

Why You Need an Online Writing Portfolio

Some writers might find this a little basic, but I liked this article from FreelanceWritingGigs.com because it simplifies the questions many working writers have about online portfoli0s. The article is a brief read, but includes useful links to more specific advice and platforms.

On Professional Editing and Why I Charge My Friends for Advice

The last of our freelance-focused links: for anyone writing or editing freelance who has ever debated their hourly rate, this post by Jennifer Margulis makes no apologies for the cost of her services. It is the blowing-caped superhero for honorable remuneration, and a great reminder of your value for anyone starting a writing business. (Well, it was my blowing-caped superhero a couple weeks back when I was wide-eyed over a too many pro bono requests. Stood my ground and paying clients took the place. Yay.)

A Reader’s Manifesto: 12 Hard-wired Expectations Every Reader Has

Early in my writing years, (at the same writing conference when I met Donald Maass) I met with a seasoned Hollywood screenwriter who quoted the classic advice, “If you introduce a gun in the first act, it has to go off by the third.” I’ve carried this as an overall metaphor for the fact that readers have certain expectations as they read — an idea spelled out with effective depth in this post at Writers Unboxed by Lisa Cron. Understanding the innate expectations of readers is a surprisingly effective way to clarify understanding of strengths or gaps in writing.

On Feeding

On the heels of that link about sharing work online, I absolutely love the premise of this post that Kasie Whitener shared on her blog. Inspired by a conversation during Wordsmith Studio’s weekly #wschat, she brings out the voice of one of her characters by having him appear as a guest blogger on her site. It is such an engaging way to introduce a character or your writing to established readers.

Everything You Need to Know Before Applying to an MFA Program

In this post on the Associated Writing Program website, Elizabeth McCracken gives some of the most down to earth and effective advice for anyone applying to MFA Programs. Many who have considered the degree feel batted back and forth in the arguments over whether one should or should not get the degree; thankfully, this is not more of that — but really useful, supportive guidance, like, “Don’t move to a place that you know will depress you.”

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 What About You?

What have you read this week that either fueled your writing or gave you new insight into the profession? What were your favorite reads?

I’m posting this while gearing up to head into the city for #BinderCon tomorrow — I’ll be volunteering and pitching and otherwise connecting with other binder writers. Shout out in the comments if you are there as well. Or, what conferences or writing community are you inspired by this week, large or small?

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My Fall Reading List 2014

fall 2014 reading list

What a fabulous summer of reading! After 4 months so rich with reading that they merited two summer reading lists (My Summer Reading List 2014 and Mid-Summer Reading 2014), it’s hard to believe that Fall is here with more novels, nonfiction and young adult fiction clamoring onto the must-read list. My poet friends, note the gap in that series: we need your recommendations for poetry titles.

Here are the books I plan to be reading as I enjoy my first fall back in the north in years. Nice how the cooling, crisp weather seems perfect justification for stealing extra hours to read. Enjoy your reading, and do share your own recommendations!

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Adult Fiction

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013). This Nigerian-American author has won the Orange Award for her prior novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, and had her short fiction published in some of my favorite literary magazines and anthologies. The New York Times Book Review listed Americanah as one of the ten best books of the year, yet I kept passing it up until Julianne Stirling recommended it. Her big tip: Listen to Americanah via Audible, as Julianne says the Audible narrator, Adjoa Andoh, brings pronunciation of African dialects and names to life.
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (August 2014). A bit of booklove and… a pinch of guilt went into making this book an impulse buy. Guilt: too long I procrastinated tackling IQ84 (too many books to read and it was soooo long), so I was preconditioned to thinking I should read something by Murakami. Booklove: you have to see the hardcover in person to appreciate the publishing joy that went into the window-cut jacket and underlying map. Shallow reasons perhaps, but I am happy to have this renowned author from Kyoto among my reading this month.
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (September 2014). Author Erin Morgenstern (her Night Circus was among my favorite Spring reads) raved about Station Eleven on its release today, which had me exploring Emily’s author site… I have to say, I am just as curious about two of her earlier novels: The Lola Quartet or Last Night in Montreal. I love the genre-crossover elements of crime or mystery with the depth of character typical to a literary novel. Either way, it’s my plan to read one of her books.
  • Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (February 2014). I discovered this one in a tweet by Aragi, Inc., announcing the novel’s inclusion on the National Book Award longlist, which led me to a series of tweets and webpages ranging from a picture of Rabih, hands to either side of his head in joy on hearing the NBA news, to this description of the book on his author site: “heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way.” I’ve shared before my aspirational admiration of agent Nicole Aragi, so could have said, “You had me at Aragi.” For all these reasons, Unnecessary Woman makes my fall shortlist.
  • Ian McEwan, The Children Act (September 2014). I once lamented that I wanted to read McEwan’s Atonement, but had seen the film already and couldn’t get far enough past it to forget the ending, for it not to be a spoiler to reading. So, as a guest at a book club, I had McEwan’s latest novel added to my reading list in Atonement’s stead.
  • Benjamin Percy, Red Moon (2013). I’ve had Percy on my radar for a couple years as a highly recommended workshop leader, and his books are definitely on my reading list this fall as I will be in a workshop with him in January. Red Moon gets the most attention as his most recent novel (other than Dead Lands, due out in April 2015) but I could read one or more of his others instead: novel, The Wilding, or short story collections: Refresh, Refresh or The Language of Elk.

Fiction carried over from prior reading lists (links to prior reading lists are below):

Young Adult Fiction

  • lupica signing 1Mike Lupica, Fantasy League (September 2014) or Travel Team. For years, students — especially boys who swore they hated to read, but loved sports — have been telling me how great Mike Lupica’s books are. My sons and I waited an hour in line to meet with him at Fairfield University Book Store the day Fantasy League was released, so I will be reading this one or his basketball book, Travel Team, along with my sons. (BTW: If you are an author doing a book tour in the area, Fairfield University Bookstore is a beautiful indy on the walk-around main street in Fairfield – a great place to sign books.)

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

Nonfiction

  • Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (September 2014). I read an interesting interview with the author of this book, which makes me want to take a moment to remember this young Yale graduate, whose life of promise was cut short.

Having just started a Masters program in educational leadership, I’ll be reading these 2 over the next 7 weeks:

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

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What About You?

What is on your current must-read list, or what books have you read recently that you highly recommend?  How do you usually get your reading recommendations — suggestions from a friend? lists in the news? books on shelves in the store?

If you post your own reading list, feel free to share your link in the comments below. If you would like to join in a reading blog hop, let me know.

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Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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 If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I can be found on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Friday Links for Writers 09.25.14

Ah, the dreaded "blah" in the margin. c. Elissa Field

Ah, the dreaded “blah” in the margin. c. Elissa Field

It’s been a busy week for reading and writing — from a Hedgebrook application to receiving acceptance to a Masters program, to finishing one client project and starting a pro bono project… In the meantime, I’ve been shifting gears to take a season off from teaching which has meant taking on new writing and editing clients once again. Networking with fellow writers has been a great (and fun and inspiring) resource and I’m getting ready to head into New York for a kickstarter conference of women writers, the BinderCon (Binder Women Writers Symposium) the weekend after next.

With all the business in play at the moment, it’s not surprising that this week’s Friday Links for Writers includes some great writing resources I’ve stumbled across for working writers: two on freelance writing or editing, one on Twitter pitch wars and another on the kinds of topics to write about when building platform. Work on the novel continues to be the heart of my work, so the last two links are for fiction writers: on critique partners and endings.

As always, let me know what resounds with you, what you wish you could find more information about, or share your own links in the comments. Have a great writing week!

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From Full Time to Freelance: How to Make the Leap

This feature by Laura Lin via Forbes is a great cross-section of concrete advice for anyone contemplating jumping from traditional employment to freelancing — and serves equally well as a diagnostic for any freelancer, with ways to make sure your business is on track for success. Related articles are available in the footlinks.

Negotiating: Theory and Practice

While on the topic of freelancing, the Editorial Freelancers Association is a great resource for writers and editors. As part of a weekly #EFAchat, the association shared this article with tips for negotiating rates and scope for client projects. Other resources on the site include contracts and job listings.

 The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests

As a guest blogger on the site Writers in the Storm, literary agent Carly Watters shares some great advice for anyone throwing their novel into the fray in any of the half dozen or so pitch wars that take place on Twitter. First off: pitch war? These are scheduled days for writers to tweet the pitch for their novel — that’s right: your beloved masterpiece in less than 140 characters — using an established hashtag for the event (for example, #pitmad). As with all query tips, Carly’s advice boils down to, “You only have one chance to impress an agent.” She gives concrete tips for writing your pitch. Overall, she say, ” My big advice is that if your book isn’t done, don’t jump in. There are many Twitter Pitch Contests every year so don’t feel like you have to be involved in every one. Wait until your book is ready.”

34 Blog Topics Just for Writers

This post by Frances Caballo at Social Media Just for Writers is a great resource for writers wondering what topics are best to share about on a blog, to give a sense of their work and direction as a writer. The post includes topics for nonfiction, fiction and poetry writers.

Cheerleaders vs. Critique Partners

This piece by Heather Jackson at WriteOnSisters.com does a great job of establishing the difference a cheerleaders of our writing, who constantly eggs us on with praise, and an effective critique partner, who pushes us to craft our best work. Complete with a tool to assess which category your writing partner tends toward, the post also helps one appreciate the value in having both cheerleaders and critique partners in your corner.

An Anatomy of Endings

“Endings haunt us because they are mortality formalized,” concludes staff writer Adam Gopnik in this great piece on types of endings in the New Yorker. “Endings are what life cheats us of. As long as a sense of the ending hovers, the story goes on.” I love the philosophy of this line — but any writer working on the structure of their novel or story’s ending will appreciate the concrete type of endings his article identifies. (Karen Joy Fowler mentioned this article during a workshop at Brisbane Writers Festival.)

Want more?

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

Check out yesterday’s Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City.

Or, for great reading recommendations, check out tomorrow’s My Fall Reading List 2014 (link will go live Saturday).

If you’re curious what I’ve been working on, here are two recent posts sharing work or inspiration: Press Freedom for Journalists Covering Conflict: Free Austin Tice and Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said.

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What About You?

What writing goals are you working on this week — or what great reads did you stumble across? Feel free to share links (including to your own posts) in the comments.

Do you ever blog about the books you read or post your Must Reads list? Let me know in the comments or by using the contact sheet on the home page if you would be interested in participating in a reading blog hop.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I am a very visual person — I think in pictures — so writing setting is perhaps the last aspect of storytelling that I worry about. In writing a story set in India, details crept into every line without me thinking about them. I knew the exact color of shadows, the moment a bird would flush out of dry brush. A lot of writers can relate to this, especially if their drive to tell a story is inspired by place.

But that’s not always the case. In Friday Links for Writers: 3.21.14 , I quoted Anne Enright from a bit of advice where she said, “description is hard.”

Describing setting can be a powerful way to engage readers, conjure up surprising sensory details, reveal character, add resonance to a scene, develop internal and external conflicts… but it has do so in a way that moves the story, and that fits the voice and character(s)’ point of view.

Continuing the series on Novel Revision, today’s post shares a prompt for developing an important setting in your story, making it work to build character, motion and greater resonance. While many details may have come about in a first draft, midlevel revision is a great time to revise for ideas that were not yet clear in your first vision.

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Find a Place to Stand

Anne Enright’s advice was: “Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.”

This is a great starting point for thinking about setting: begin by knowing your character(s)’ point of view and seeing your setting from where the character stands.

Colson Whitehead on New York

Some of you may know I am working from my family’s house outside New York City at the moment, and felt the impact of this year’s anniversary of 9.11.01 in that context. On the anniversary, Jodi Kantor shared on Twitter a link to Colson Whitehead’s beautiful article from the New York Times that ran November 11, 2001.

As a New Yorker living in the city as it recovered, Colson wrote not directly about the event, but about what defines one’s connection to and identification as being from the city.

Read it because it’s beautiful — and because we’ll use it as our prompt. (Read it now, or in the prompt below: The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01)

The First Brick in Your City

Colson says, “You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” Anyone who’s spent time in New York knows what he means by “private New York,” as everyone comes to define their own sense of the city — a city so large that any of us sees it only in pieces.

But isn’t that true of each character’s response to setting?

In the paragraph that follows, Colson lists a handful of ways a person might have experienced their first moment in the city.

Freeze it there,” he says; “that instant is the first brick in your city.”

There is so much about writing setting that can be taken from his words. The point of details in your novel is not to inform a reader of what to see and do when visiting the place; you are not a glorified camera taking a picture for the reader. What matters about the places in your story are the ways your character(s) perceive and respond to them.

In Colson’s essay, each example of a newbie arriving in New York City presents a character you can view clearly in your mind, despite being limited to the details of a single sentence. They are details of setting, but they clearly define the interaction of people within that setting. The details involve objects, structures, qualities and even the kinds of actions and thoughts a character has within that setting. A detail could be as mundane as holding a piece of paper or a communication between friends, but the detail is not left vague. “The phone rang,” could happen in any city, but Colson made the same detail of a phone call place-defining, as: “there was some mix-up in the plans.”

Prompt for Developing Details of Setting

So let’s turn his essay into a prompt for your own writing today.

Interpret this for whatever you are working on: a novel, a short story, a poem, a detail in your memoir, a detail in an essay, details fleshed out for a travel piece, or start something new.  You won’t be recreating Colson’s format; you’ll just use the prompt for generating details in whatever scene you imagine.

  1. Read Colson Whitehead’s The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01
  2. Have in mind the place you will write about, thinking of it first as it is in the story’s present. Tip: Have in mind a specific place. For existing work, this will be an important location in your piece. For new work, be sure to have a single place in mind before writing. While Colson writes about a city, yours could be any kind of a place, real or imagined.
  3. What is the “first brick” in your character’s experience of this setting? Be vivid. Be true. Likely part of your backstory, what first memory comes to mind as the moment he/she began to define their own private version of their place? Freeze there. Think, then write where it feels revealing.
    • What emotion attaches to that first brick? Awe? Horror, pain, fear, injury…? Joy, excitement, beauty, anticipation, faith…?
    • What details attach to that first brick? Think of the stub of paper with a new address in the hand of the New Yorker arriving at their first address, or the limited view of a toddler in a carriage.
    • What actions or motion are involved? Are there details of arrival, communication, cross signals, movement? Are there broad sights or limited senses?
    • What does your character want (or think they want) in that first moment? This may be very different — distorted, more basic, more naïve — than later in the story.
  4. Moving through your story, how does your character continue to build their definition of the setting?
    • How does that first brick define the setting for your character?  Does it leave a ghost of emotion through later events? Does it start memory on solid or unstable footing? Do regrets haunt, long after, no matter how much success follows? Do later moments never live up to the first glow? Is there a sweetness the character carries from that first memory that lends forgiveness or blind faith in later experience? or..?
    • Does your character (or do you) come to measure later scenes against that first experience, or is it nearly forgotten as others take priority?
  5. Options for how this might create tensions, conflict development or structure in your story – where you might take it next:
    • What other “bricks” of memory, detail or experience define the setting for your character? Does this possibly suggest a structure for story events?
    • In what ways do these details define your character’s “own private” setting? Is your reader aware of a contrast between that private vision vs. other perspectives?
    • Do different characters perceive contrasting “private” versions of the setting? Does this lend structure, tension or just details to scenes? Would these different perspective ever cause missed understanding in dialogue between characters?
  6. Going beyond a single scene, how could you use this different private viewpoint to add details of how characters dress, what they carry, how they speak or what they do?

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What About You?

Are you working on setting this week? Did you use this prompt or what other inspiration helps you envision your setting clearly? Several of my friends work in photography or other media — how do you reflect on setting in your work?

Let us know how your work is going in the comments. Feel free to share a link to your own post, if you want to share an excerpt or other writing.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Press Freedom for Journalists Covering Conflict: Free Austin Tice

Several times each year I have friends ask me to share different aspects on what motivates me to write. Sometimes I halfway chisel out a post, but it rarely comes close to what I mean.

Certain themes in my current novel project, Never Said, are so large I can only imagine them through the one-inch-frame of individual character experience. War, all around us, impacting citizens despite peace. What pulls a person into participating in war — especially the wars dotting our planet at any time, where hate or fear stretch back generations until one day, one side begins to organize, to amass ammunition?

Journalists at Risk

There is another theme running parallel, that I haven’t often found voice adequate to share about.

When my son was one, I watched journalist Daniel Pearl’s wife interviewed on Oprah, telling about the morning he kissed her goodbye in Paris, patted her pregnant belly, and left on an assignment in the Middle East. She spoke of how a fixer led him into an ambush. Pearl was captured, a ransom video mailed to his editors. He was later beheaded.

I want to untype that sentence. More than ten years after hearing the story, it’s chilling. I want to undo that truth.

After that, I wrote about India for awhile.  I started Never Said in response to a trip to Ireland, and then to the emotion of a friend’s son deploying to Baghdad.

Somewhere in the rabbit holes of my research — international affairs, international treaties, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; even after that, something mild in passing — I met the kernel of a passionate cause.

I don’t remember which of these two I discovered first: the CPJ — Committee to Protect Journalists, who report on the continual disappearance, murder, imprisonment or interrogation of journalists around the world.

Or Austin Tice.

Freelance Journalist Austin Tice

AustinAustin Tice is an American freelance journalist who turned 33 yesterday, which I know from watching his mother and his father tweet birthday wishes to him.

Austin Tice is a Marine Corps veteran and Georgetown Law student, who was working as a freelance journalist providing photographs to the Washington Post, English Aljezeera or other media outlets.

I first heard of him when I stumbled on his Twitter stream some time last year.

It reads like poetry, each thread of his dedication to reporting, the worst days of violence, his own reactions, his momentary happiness in the last tweet, celebrating his birthday.

Syria, 2012

Austin is a talented photographer and covered several domestic and international stories in 2012. In the summer, he went to Syria to report on the war between the government and rebel soldiers.

Photographs on his Flickr account reveal Austin’s glimpse into the war. His personality is there as well: his sensitivity to an injured child, boys laughing as they rode bicycles, a community working together to clean up after a bombing, a tranquil little girl resting on a wall, his dry wit observing the personality revealed in the stylish outfit of a rebel soldier.

729 Days Missing

Austin’s parents spoke to him every day while he was on assignment. The stream above shows his last two tweets: the last, on his 31st birthday.

On August 14, 2012, he disappeared.

Syria was the deadliest country for journalists in 2012. The CPJ reports that 31 of the 74 journalists killed worldwide were in Syria.

But Austin is not on list of journalists killed.

Also according to the CPJ, “Cases of journalists missing in Syria are extremely difficult to track. Information is scarce, the situation is constantly changing, and some cases go unreported.”

On August 30, 2012, the CPJ issued a statement calling for Austin Tice to be released, which reported that he was believed to be detained by government forces.

RT: #FreeAustinTice

In all reporting I have seen, there is a continued belief that Austin is alive and detained in Syria.

The CPJ includes his status on their “Imprisoned” list. In August 2013, other journalists who had been missing escaped, adding encouragement of the possibility he could be held despite the government’s denial.

As his parents mark Austin’s 33rd birthday, their local news station provided this coverage, reiterating a belief that he is still alive, although his family does not know where or by whom he is held. FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

I’m not alone in the impact Tice’s story has had.  As Michigan Times staff writer Heeba Dlewati talks about dangers for journalists in her March 2013 article, “The Human Element: Missing the Truth” , she says, “The story of one journalist continues to haunt me, the story of Austin Tice.”

Austin’s story was repeated on the floor of Congress Monday and he is followed by journalists around the world, including Richard Engel, who has himself been detained while reporting on conflicts overseas.

What Can We Do?

You can show that Austin is not forgotten and support his friends and family by tweeting your thoughts using the hashtag #FreeAustinTice (you can follow @FreeAustinTice for more), especially this Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Beyond that, one of the most important things we can do is to realize the need to ensure press freedom throughout the world. Often, the frontline bravery shown by reporters to put the truth into words and images is the most powerful tool we have to battle the kinds of atrocities history has shown to take place when no one is watching.

Reporter Emma Beals shares her first-hand fears of abduction while reporting in Syria in “More and More Journalists Being Kidnapped in Syria.”

Journalists, photographers, translators and fixers covering conflict abroad need our support.

At the same time, you might notice there is often a “radio silence” around abductions. I’ll add a link if I find an explanation, but international news agencies often intentionally do not broadcast news of journalist abductions in order to prevent terrorists from using abductions as a means to gain media spotlight. It’s argued that this helps protect the journalists, but often diminishes public outcry in support of a missing person.

In a similar vein, on July 30, 2014, The New York Times featured this article, suggesting Europe Bankrolls Al Queda Terrorism by Paying Ransoms.

If you want to learn more about what can be done: You can offer your voice in support of individual journalists by connecting with web accounts like the ones set up to support Austin. Or, look for more resources from government agencies and NGOs through resources like the CPJ “Assistance” page .

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Respect for Austin’s Safety

In sharing this post, what matters most is the safe return of Austin Tice. I am not a frontline reporter and have relied on national reporting and the articles listed to share Austin’s story. If any family member of Austin’s or anyone else affiliated with his safe return believes that I have in any way misstated, overstated, understated or in any other way included details that could put Austin at risk, please use the contact form on the Welcome page to email me, and I will make immediate corrections.

 

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Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said

Running man

Some of you may know that I participate in a variety of writers’ groups online, which has been fabulous company and motivation as I pound through novel revisions this summer.

Novel Revision Process

I haven’t been posting about my writing process as often as I did last year, but regular readers may know that part of my obstacle is that I’ve taken on a daunting but very thorough revision process: rather than just continue tweaking draft 4-5, which I’d worked on through the winter, I am fully retyping the current draft. It has been an extremely effective process… but s-l-o-w, in the sense that it’s August 1 and I only have 24, 700 words in (last winter’s ms was 176,000).

What has been particularly exciting about the process is it has benefitted from the concentrated power of scenes written later in my understanding of the story, and I’ve been really excited, in particular, about the layer of meaning that have come about from expanding viewpoints.

I have been sharing about this regularly on Twitter (#SumNovRev), within Facebook groups and during daily writing activities at TeachersWrite! but have posted little about it here.

Sharing an Excerpt of the Work in Process

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonThat said, today I am sharing an extended scene from the last third of my novel in progress, Never Said. (I shared a short excerpt from this as part of Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback; revision to this scene was prompted by character description activity on Kate Messner’s blog for TeachersWrite.)

About the Excerpt

Michael Roonan is an elusive main character as the novel takes place at a point in his life when he appears resigned to his own death despite the community around him absolving him from blame. He goes along with his best friend’s insistence that he go on the run, but there’s the unspoken undercurrent that he doesn’t disagree with the man who is after him (Sean).  This excerpt is from Sean’s POV, but really is lead up to the reveal of secrets Roonan has been keeping all along.

I’ve written before about how I like to play around with POV, writing from several different viewpoints as I discover a story. This antagonist, Sean, was a fun surprise, as he had insights I hadn’t thought of.  (Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict).

 

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Excerpt from Never Said

(The following is an excerpt from an unpublished novel. Do no copy or use without express written permission from Elissa Field.)

Sean saw the back of Michael Roonan’s head from a distance, across the thin stream that split the village center.  Mick turned toward the marketplace on the other side of the stone bridge. Wind lifted his hair and Sean saw his face in full profile. Definitely him. His hair was heavy, coarse with the filth of a man on the run. It calmed his anger to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. His hair grown out like the mane of a horse, so unlike himself.

Unrecognizable from the man he’d last met on the jetty south of Wicklow, when he’d watched Mick dive off the stern of a trawler, knowing he was avoiding the Garda whose lights flickered fierce off the roofs of their cars, parked in jackknifed formation at the entrance to the docks. Sean had grinned at him, unseen: They’re not for you, Mick. It’s a body washed up against the headwall. Coppers wandered bored as farm dogs, no hints yet if it were a murder or just a ferry jumper or a man washed overboard. So tedious, waiting on coroners.

He followed the intermittent bob of Mick’s head beyond the concrete breakers, carried far south by the inlet currents. He might have drowned, another body to be fished out, but sputtered out of the surf along the strand amid coarse grasses and weekend strollers. Sean watched him collapse. Waited. Mick pulled himself to sit facing out to sea as if what chased him was yet panting in the frothing waves. Not behind him in the car park, where Sean  leaned back for a smoke. A think.

Shells or stones – he couldn’t see from this distance – rattled in the waves with a sound like dried bones. Mick’s hair was buzzed military-short, then. More stark than months Sean had seen him reported, imprisoned in isolation for all the players who wanted him dead.

This little man. Hunched along the shore line, thin thread of light blazing brilliant beneath the oyster shell gradations of the sky.

Water and sand fell from his shirt when he stood. He brushed kelp from his shoulder. Otter of a survivor. One summer in Ridell, there’d been one of the younger brothers – he was sure it was Mick –pulled in an undertow jumping off the tower at Blackrock. The black shadow of his head, like the back of a turtle or a skate, pulling deeper and sideways along the Irish Sea bottom that would be exposed, smelly with the decay of exposed mussels and whelks at low tide. Sean was the one to dive for him, a bolt through the current, wrenching him to the surface. Clear vomit of seawater sprayed over his forearm as he held the boy’s chin in the crook of his elbow, rolling onto his back, the boy buoyed on his chest as he waited out the current to let them go. The little brother’s head gagged and sputtered and cried, gasping for air. Struggled to get free, to swim, not knowing all you could do is relent and float until the current gave you up. “Easy,” he’d told the top of the boy’s head, fixing his face to the sky. “Look, there. See the gulls? How many is that?”

He was sure it was Mick. The Roonan son who covered his ears at the high engine whine of his father passing in a race, even as others took pictures or shook their fists to cheer.

There was no rush. Wait him out.

Mick’s head was down when Sean came upon him, nearly dried, on a bench along the roadside not quite into the adjoining village. Mick said, without looking up, without surprise, “How is it going for you, Sean? I’d heard you were out.” It was barely discernible: the faint shift of posture to check peripheral vision, clear enough one wolf to another, to be certain Sean was alone.

“You killed Stephen.”

There was a long silence. Cars passed, their headlights bilious green in the odd fog come in from the sea. That color got to him, always – color of the dead boy in the canal – and he wanted to shake Mick, to shake the whole world, the way Man and Ulster vibrated in the high-revved videos of Gerry Roonan at 200 miles per hour. How did Mick take this for granted? How did he not know how lucky he was, for what he had? Him and Stevie: they’d be famous racers, just like their da. What hate makes you blow that all apart? For what? Not even a cause.

Mick turned fully to him, no avoidance in his eyes. “I killed Stephen.”

“What the fuck, Mick. Can’t you even deny it to me?.. Why? Why would you do that to your own brother?”

Roonan didn’t answer that. Not yet. “How did you know?”

“I watched you. I saw you do it, you stupid fuck. Watched… I saw him…”

Both were in it, then. Graphic memory. Two men, brothers to Stephen in different ways, watching from opposite sides as the universe sucked inward on Stephen then exploded infinitely outward. The only two to have seen it plainly, true. Night stills for them as it does in sacred moments, letting damnation seep in.

“Why the fuck did you do it?”

A man climbs fully inside his eyes when come upon his truths. Sean knew as he stared into Mick’s face waiting for an answer: it was there. Mick was walking around inside it as if visiting an old room, testing what was remembered, what was broken, what was new. He wanted to punch him, deflate silence by crushing his head like a collapsed football. Fury at such deliberation, such unhurried reflection. Michael was a big man now: past twenty-two Sean guessed, strong from pulling nets on the trawler, taller than Stevie would have been. He’d heard stories of Roonan crushing an undercover cop’s head against a rock to stop the man from beating an informant. He’d heard rumors of his calm shadow in a doorway being enough to scare off provo gunners.

“You need to run, Mick.”

The man’s eyes rose to his face, but he was not there. Somewhere else, some other time, and a chill went through Sean. Remembering the boy in the hedgerow, when Rodgers hit the tree. Sean and Stevie and Mick were the first to the body, the racer’s attached hand still opening and closing in a fist, as his severed arm was further down across the road. The man’s eyes met their three faces through his visor, pleading for help. Mick would have been just eight when he heard that first gasping groan of a body giving up life, and his father’s road racer had passed them just after, front wheel lifting in the air at the surprise of finding Rodgers’ spent machine broken apart across the road, then whining away up Perry’s Hill.

He did not give away the gun tucked into his waistband. Did not acknowledge he could pick up a rock or that broken sign post just feet away and bash his skull. Could have done it then, that evening, as the high pressure sodium lighting came on over their heads, lighting them in a glow as if good friends reminiscing before walking home from the pub. He said as if he had yet to make a plan, so Mick had the benefit of a warning: “You need to run, because I’ll have you dead for it.”

Mick had stood. His feet were bare, having kicked off his white rubber fishermen’s boots when they filled like anchors with the sea. He looked up and down the street like an animal dropped from a car, dazed and recalibrating for home. He took a step toward the street to read a sign, he looked back to the car park where he calculated Sean’s car was parked. “I know you will,” he said to Sean. “But I won’t run. Not when you come.” Mick met the man’s eyes, held them to be certain Sean understood, and he’d walked off slowly in the direction of the main road.

If you want to share your feedback in the comments: 

If anything resounds with you, do click “like” or leave me a comment to let me know what you liked — it’s hard and lonely work, so I will love you forever for any encouragement. Seriously. Of course, the impact may be lost a little,  since this piece is from 2/3 through the book, and some details may reference earlier chapters (for ex: “hedgerow” is a frequent reference to where the boys stood when watching Roonan’s father race motorcycles) — but still, find kind words to let me know if any of the scene didn’t work for you and why.

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What About You?

What are you working on this week? Are their aspects of your writing process or writing community that help you get it finished?

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Mid-Summer Reading 2014

Midway between June’s Summer Reading List, and sharing a new list of great books to read in the fall, this week it seemed a good time to post a Midsummer Reading update.  A little feedback on some of the novels I’ve read so far this summer, as well as those great discoveries of books I’ve added to my reading list.

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Early Summer Reading

First, a little update on what I’ve read so far, from My Summer Reading List 2014 and a few carry-overs from My Reading List Winter 2014.

  • reading - long manAmy Greene’s Long Man (2014). I highly recommend this novel, which mixes an element of mystery and beautifully lyrical writing in unveiling the subtle secrets and loves of a small mountain village during building of a dam in their valley to introduce electricity and income during the Depression.
  • Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (2013). Yet another insightful novel from author of The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008). Although… it had a hard time competing against other reading favorites in the past month.
  • Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus (2011). I was slow to ‘discover’ this one, although readily captivated by the unique and mysterious community Erin creates — I loved this one and it makes my recommended reads.
  • Alice McDermott, Someone (September 2013). Actual sigh. I love Alice McDermott, and I also am familiar with her quietly powerful style. But I was so impatient the full first half of this novel. Tons of description of domestic detail (furnishings of rooms, mostly). There is a powerful, albeit subtle, payoff in the end, so I still recommend reading, but I don’t know that it is one of my favorites of hers. Beautifully written, just very quiet.
  • Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

    Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

    Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013). So far, my favorite read of the year (he catches a slight boost in that his writing structure and topic fit my writing mood at the moment). There’s such powerful accuracy in every sentence, with a masterfully balanced structure of varying timelines and points of view. I did a lot of underlining as I read. This one has had several nods for awards: long-listed, short-listed and awarded.  If you want details, I reviewed: Reading: Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

  • Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (2012).  This was another reading favorite. Beautifully told, it was most surprising for being a book so much about love without being about a romance between main characters: love between sisters, between uncle and niece, between a parent and the parent’s sibling… At all times, Brunt delivers authentic and new insights. It is particularly a fresh portrayal of homosexual partnership and the AIDS crisis of the 80’s. While not written as young adult fiction, it’s a book I would include in teen reading lists.

What I’m Reading Now

I just received delivery of a few of the books I couldn’t find in bricks and mortar stores, so am exciting to be reading these, this week:

  • Gae Polisner, The Summer of Letting Go (March 2014).  If you have a teen reader or read young adult literature, I really recommend this one. I was instantly pulled in by the endearing voice of the main character, who is stalking a beautiful neighbor, Nancy Drew-style, worried the woman has seduced her father. Sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, it is compelling, the weight this girl feels to hold her family together after her brother’s drowning. Beautifully written.
  • Colum McCann, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: Stories (1996).  This one was on my Summer Reading List 2013, but I’ve just now gotten ahold of it. Despite a factual detail that really undermined the plot of the first story, it’s so far delivering the voice I so admire McCann for, for its concise and subtle precision. He tends to be a favorite.
  • Colm Toibin, Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (2001).  I’m still waiting for this one to arrive as it was hard to track down. Kudos to small booksellers (and my ability to find them through Amazon) for having just the book I was looking for.

Newly Added for Midsummer Reading

Here are a few books I’ve added to my reading list since June’s list.

  • Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird (March 2014). I first ran across Helen’s writing with a really strong short story in a literary magazine a few years back. I’d put Mr. Fox on my reading list, and was reminded of her when I came across Boy, Snow, Bird, her new release. I’ve heard great things from other reading friends.
  • Colin Barrett, Young Skins (January 2014). This short story collection was just recognized with the Frank O’Connor prize, and Barrett’s writing has been praised by writers I love, like Colm Toibin.

Carryovers from Prior Lists

Some of these have carried over from prior lists as I track them down. Each is highly recommended.

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How About You?

What are you reading, what would you recommend, or what books make you to be read list?  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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