Monthly Archives: June 2012

Twitter for Writers: Top People to Follow on Twitter (and Useful Hashtags)

I’ve posted before (Why Writers Should Use Twitter and Social Media for Writers: Twitter v Facebook) about the ways I’ve come to value Twitter.  I’ve gathered a list of the people and organizations I’ve found most interesting to follow on Twitter this year.

I recommend them based on interest, usefulness and activity level on Twitter.  That is important to say, since, for example, the lit-mag and writer lists clearly leave off many magazines and writers I love.

The list is partially annotated, and loosely categorized (nearly all of those listed might fit in more than one category) and includes some related hashtags.  Also, there are links to my lists within Twitter, to find more writers, magazines and more.

I hope it is useful to you, and would be interested to hear  your own recommendations in the comments — better yet, look me up!  Elissa Field on Twitter: @elissafield.

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Agents:

(Some agent specialties are listed, although I follow many agents outside my genre, based on the information shared in their tweets.)

@RachelleGardner – an agent whose advice on everything from querying to income is thorough and honest.

@DonMaass – ubiquitous agent, Donald Maass

@SaraMegibow – a lovely agent at Nelson Literary Agency, who shares sample replies by posting #10queriesin10tweets (Thursdays)

@michellewitte – MG & YA lit

@sarahlapolla – associate at Curtis Brown

Michelle, Sarah and other agents share advice in open Q & A #askagent chat (Wed evenings)

@greyhausagency – represents romance and women’s lit, and shares sample replies with #GLAQueries

@NepheleTempest – CA lit agent, writer, reader

@QueryShark – a great resource, offering frank critiques of queries submitted by writers

(Note: you can find more than 30 agents and junior agents by checking my list of agents .)

Editors:

@mpnye – Michael Nye is managing editor of Missouri Review, and author of Strategies Against Extinction

@HannahTinti – editor of One Story, author of The Good Thief and more

@robspill – Rob Spillman, Tin House editor

@MargotLivesey – editor of Ploughshares, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy (on my reading list) and other novels

Also, check out my list of editors, and publishers.

Literary Magazines:

@parisreview – The Paris Review

@GrantaMag – Granta

@_conjunctions – Conjunctions

@Missouri_Review – Missouri Review

@haydensferryrev – Haydens Ferry Review

@mcsweeneys – Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly

@NERweb – New England Review

@asfmag – American Short Fiction

@TheReviewReview – a review of literary magazines

@Tin_House – Tin House

@PaperDarts  – Paper Darts

@onestorymag – One Story

(In addition, here is a listing of 70+ literary mags I follow.)

Writers:

@NathanEnglander – his Ministry of Special Cases (2008) was one my best-reads last year

@meganmayhewbergman – has been featured in BASS and has a great short story collection out (2011). Her tweets about writing and life on a New England farm with tiny daughters and vet-husband are elegantly genuine.

@Benjamin_Percy – a great writer, on my list of great workshop leaders as well

@alexanderchee – author of Edinburgh (2002), with new novel coming

@alanheathcock -award winning author of highly charged collection, VOLT (2011)

@CherylStrayed – author of the memoir Wild

@tayari – Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and more

@SalmanRushdie – does he need introduction?

@Shteyngart – most enjoy his tweets in exchange w others, like Rushdie

@novaren – the writer of YA novel, Imaginary Girls, and more

@katemessner – a children’s writer and TED2012 speaker, who hosted TeachWrite! camp this summer

@alexizentner – author of Touch and The Lobster Kings (coming 2013)

@unitedirishman – Irish ex-pat writing crime noir (his The Cold Cold Ground is on my reading list), whose blog is fierce with wit and intelligence

I will read anything this witty writer posts:

@mat_johnson – author of the novel Pym, whose twitter profile reads, “Because it amuses me to say so.”

@emmastraub – author (on my summer reading list: Other People We Married (2012)), bookseller, @RookieMag  staffwriter, with a lovely wit.

(I follow many more writers than this, so check my list of writers.)

Writer-Resources:

@Duotrope – a powerful writers’ resource listing 3,500 publications, with submission tracker — posts updates about publication reading periods, etc.

@newpages – tweets updated info on litmags, booksellers and more for writers, editors and readers.

@GrubWriters – Grub Street center for creative writing in Boston, hosts the MUSE conference in May (hastag #MUSE2012, or -2012

@poetswritersinc – Poets & Writers magazine – the only “how to” magazine I’ve ever liked for writers

@galleycat – “first word for news in the publishing industry” from Mediabistro

@PublishersLunch – tweets for Publishers Weekly

@BTMargins – Beyond the Margins literary blog

@janefriedman – has been an editor, current role changing, she posts frequently on all aspects of publishing and promoting literature

@Porter_Anderson

@JonathanGunson – a writer, sharing publishing, writing & emedia advice

@ErikaDreifus – author of The Quiet Americans, collects and shares useful information for writers

Teaching & Teaching Writing:

@writingproject – National Writing Project

@edutopia – “what works in education” – the George Lucas educational foundation

@RWTnow – Read Write Think. org

@nytimeslearning – New York Times Learning Network

Social Media or PR:

@robertleebrewer – a poet whose blog My Name is Not Bob is generous with advice on social media and more

@kmullett – Kevin Mullett – a developer/designer tech guy, not PR, who just… well, seems to get all those things folks have questions about

@wordwhacker – Linda Bernstein – writer, editor, blogger, posting about all this and social media and parenting

Look for Kevin and Linda on SM & tech chats using hashtags including: #pinchat #toolschat #tocc (tools of change)

Indie Booksellers:

@TatteredCover – an indie in Denver, with great online content

@indiebound – use indiebound.org to locate your neighborhood indie bookseller online, or purchase books online from any indie in the network.

(Raid this list to find all the independent booksellers I follow. Find one near you to do your shopping.  Find one to order from.  Connect with these guys to build your reading tour when your book launches.)

News Sources:

My two favorite sources for news:

@nytimes – The New York Times

@guardian – The UK’s Guardian

Other sources I follow:

@reuters – Reuters top news

@the_irish_times – Irish Times

@washingtonpost – Washington Post

Book News & Reviews:

@nytimesbooks – New York Times Books

@nybooks – NY Review of Books

@latimesbooks – LA Times Books

@guardianbooks – Guardian Books

Online Curators:

@brainpicker – Maria Popova shares one brilliant thing found online

@FridayReads – use the hashtag #fridayreads to share what you are reading each week

More Hashtags and Chats I Follow:

#toc variations – Tools of Change discussions and conferences

#litchat – literary or book chats held several times each week – great to visit, or to add to your book release tour

#YAlit, #MGlit or #kidlit – chats about young adult, middle grade & children’s lit

#amwriting #writetip – for kindred spirits at work on writing

#WSchat (formerly #MNINB) – Used by Wordsmith Studio, a writers’ group formed by participants from Robert Lee Brewer’s April 2012 Platform Challenge

#educhat – matters related to teaching and education

Twitter trick: Have you ever wondered what a hashtag stood for and didn’t know how to look it up?  Try this: http://tagdef.com/

(If you’re curious about a meaning and the tag is not listed on the tagdef site — as happened for me with #WTLconf12 — you can always tweet someone using the tag to ask them the meaning.)

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Feel free to add your suggestions or your own Twitter ID in the comments, and do look me up: @elissafield

Housekeeping takes time: if we are already connected on Twitter, check to see if I added you to the twitter list you would fit on by checking here. If not, private message me so I can add you.

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Related Posts:

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!

Coming next:

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Filed under Reading, Seeking Publication, Social Media

From my Parenting Blog: Parenting Gets Existential

I’ve never loved candy-stripe carnations as much as these that my sons gave to me to celebrate the end of our school year. (That great vase is a bar glass that makes me crave a trip back to Mama Kwan’s bar in Kill Devil Hills, NC.) c Elissa Field

Because it is summer, and because summer has me of the mind of young children, free for long days of unscheduled abandon, today seemed a good day to share an essay I posted originally on my old parenting blog. As I enjoy long days with my boys, I was reminded of this one day with them that so captures how non-writing days serve as inspiration.

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I was the first one pregnant in our generation, on either side of our family.  From those first weeks of confessing it, I ran the steep hill of all the things I would learn about what it took to parent.  Diapers, pack and plays, how to know if it’s sick.  And then they grow up a little.

You work on which vacuum has large enough bore to suck up Cheerios without clogging, teaching yourself to say sugar! instead of shit, and truisms like “hands are not for hitting.”

Mysteriously, I discovered I absolutely love parenting.

Not the least of which is the way its existential challenges never cease to amaze.

This month’s challenge: answering the question, “Mom, what is a hippie?”

My five-year-old said, “It means ‘an old man’.”

His eight-year-old brother corrected him:  “No, it’s a teenager with long hair…  and funny clothes… and…”  He accurately described Shaggy, from Scooby Do, then faltered, breaking down to ask, “Mom, what is a hippie?”

And here parenting becomes existential – because even in their little boy way, they were grasping at something they could not articulate but could sense.  They got that there was some socio-political, socio-historical implication behind the meaning.  That it signified something they did not understand for there to be a hippie in their cartoon.

I begin to answer, but it’s the ubiquitous sound of one hand clapping.  Any explanation of what a hippie is means nothing without understanding the context of the culture they were rebelling against.  In our current environment where the two long-haired boys on my sons’ baseball teams are the sons of fashionista mamas, not grunge, how can they get what a statement it was for a guy to let his hair and beard grow shaggy in an era where hair didn’t touch one’s collar?  Where men and women still wore hats in public, and my grandmother and even my mother still carried spotless white gloves?   Our kids know hippie images as neon flowers on paper cups and napkins at the party store, or the peace signs in rhinestones on the neighbor’s jeans, without seeing them as re-imagined icons of what was once a radical attempt to move toward a gentler, more natural way of being, at a time of corporatization and war.  How do you explain the experience that I remember intangibly as paper butterflies on my young aunt’s wall, fanning out above her black and white poster of “A Bridge Over Troubled Water”?

In attempting to find simple words to explain it, my understanding grows expansive in memory of history lessons and personal experience growing up in the 70s, touched with hindsight and the newer context of the world we have become since then.  I was not a hippie or flower child or child of hippies; my parents were primly republican.  As a child, I associated hippies with broken bottles on the pavement at our playground.  Yet here I am, forty, riding along in my SUV with little boys rattling about in the back (who are fascinated we did not have to wear seatbelts as kids), and feeling a wan tenderness in memory of avocado kitchen appliances and trying to remember what the whole affection for rainbows was about.

My world becomes larger with children.  Not just because more square-footage is required to be able to move around highchairs and train tables and strewn Legos, but because the whole expanse of the universe is new again in their eyes.

Soil that clearly belongs nowhere but between the roots of the hedges and flowers outside is now meant to be dug up, spread apart, carried about and stored in little containers that just would not have occurred to you as meant for analyzing dirt.  That is, not until you have a playdate with brightly dressed, neat little girls who open the little play kitchen and find it caked with dried spattered mud and your son smiles and explains it to her – proudly pointing out how when he shook the soil in a jar with water, the mulch, peat and sand separated into layers, creating a distinct grey, tan and brown rainbow that he’d just been dying to show someone.  He discovered density, you think with pride, at the same time you apologetically wash away the filth and reassure the little girls that there are clean toys here somewhere.

Life is a mystery.  Full of dark turns and surprises and joys and tragedies and things so beautiful and amazing.  You go on vacation and see a sunset or painting or giant gorge in the earth so startlingly beautiful that you honestly could not have borne seeing it without someone meaningful beside you to touch and say, “Look at that!”

Children find this not only on vacation, but in the mundane, the sagging days of life that might otherwise be only about when to fit in grocery shopping and whether a successful day at work was enough to qualify for bonus and if you will be able to sleep soundly tonight.

“Look!” they say, all the time.  “What is that?  Look!”  They pick out the plainest flower at the market and fall in love.  You find rocks in the bottom of your purse, a wilted  feather left for you beside your bed, stray bits of hardware clanking in your dryer.

And they take what we have known always in our lives – something as irrelevant and silly as a hippie – and hand us a whole cosmos of depth and meaning to wrestle with.

“What is a hippie?” I repeated, ready to say something about how people sometimes choose their clothes to express their feelings about the world, or maybe share something about what it was like to be a child in the 70s, or how the times then were or weren’t like our times now.

But they were laughing at something.

Just at the point they had me thoroughly wrapped up in the riddle of it, the boys moved on.

In the same effortless way they expand our lives with depth and complexity, they model for us simplicity.  My boys decided, simply, that “hippie” will be their favorite new word for anything weird… whether or not they really get what it means.

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Related Posts:

More on finding inspiration when least expected: Writing Life: Today’s Job – Non-writing Days

Reading this summer, including with my boys: Summer Reading List 2012

Another post on challenging conversations with kids: Reminders of What We Wished Lost

Are you a writing parent? Where do you find inspiration or challenge in balancing family with work?

 

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Enjoy your summer day, all!

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Filed under Culture + World, Inspiration, Setting Place Roots, Writing Life, Writing Mother

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Falling jet trails & rocket boosters, lit by sunset, after Discovery launch 3-15-09. copyright Elissa Field

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”  – Ray Bradbury

To Ray Bradbury, I say thank you. Reading Martian Chronicles in Mrs. Ruebens’ sophomore English class in high school, I learned what it was to capture the ethereal without losing sight of intellect, of logic. You captured dream state, with your words. You captured imagination.

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Filed under Inspiration, Reading

Living With Books 03: Books as Portal into Another World (or Just the Next Room)

Down the rabbit hole, into another world through books. (National Geographic)

I began the Living With Books series with the humble truth that my mother’s interior designs include a little stash of books in every room. As modest as these collections most often are, today seemed a day to tip the scale in the other direction.

Designing a room with books is an act of referential art: the mere presence of a book, without need for melodrama or emphasis, asserts the potential that whole, imagined worlds might, at any moment, unfold within a room.  An elegantly styled room is perfectly punctuated by the presence of a biography on Frank Lloyd Wright or Cartier, or a tabletop perspective of the interior design of Charleston, Chicago or Jaipur. With that, the accent of books in a room is yet sublime.

But what of the fantastical?

How fitting is it to have a doorway through books — even a doorway made of books — when books open whole new worlds of possibilities?

A beautiful portal through books, from Hungary

Beautiful portal through books, from Hungary. (http://beautiful-portals.tumblr.com/)

Magically suspended books through a Swiss tunnel. c. overthemoon at flickr.com.

Shared by designlovefest.com; original sources unknown.

Archway into a bookstore in Lyons, Rhone-Alps, France, by Noel Joyeux. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/isaius/904947982/in/faves-tickledpinkknits /)

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Prior posts:

Introducing the series with my family’s traditions: Living With Books

Installment 2: Living with Books 02: Dreamt into Our Travels, Too

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Have you seen great examples of books in homes, travel or otherwise? Let us know in the comments, or find me on Pinterest.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!

Coming next:

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Novel Writing: Grace Paley — How Internal & External Conflict Build Story

I came away from my workshop with Ann Hood last month with a legal pad filled with notes covering much more than the workshop’s promised topic of “beginnings,” and I promised to share many of those insights, here. So far, this is unfolding in the order in which I apply them to my own writing, rather than any logic better suited to an audience, so apologies for that.  Today was meant to continue with Character (see links at the bottom, for prior posts), but instead responds to a single, powerful margin note on Conflict.

Story is Made Up of Two Conflicts

On our first workshop day — prior to questions, discussion or critiquing — Ann Hood began with a lecture on ten successful ways to start a novel or story, and pitfalls to avoid. The hour-plus lecture was equivalent to a jeweler passing us diamonds while digging through a cart to find gold, as the “minor” points Hood used as illustration were entire lessons in themselves.

Within context of another point, Ann made reference to a lecture or workshop she herself had attended with Grace Paley decades back, in which Paley declared that every story is made up of two conflicts: the external conflict (war, the need to get free, search for a lost possession, argument) and the internal conflict (fear, insecurity, memory, rage).  The climax occurs when those two conflicts converge.

Much is made of plot points, of the actions and events that make up scenes, building the story’s arc toward climax.  And a line is often drawn (particularly in attempts to define literary fiction versus commercial fiction) between stories that derive from internal, character-driven conflict, and those deriving from external conflict and action.  What I could not remember hearing before, although instantly believed and understood, was this idea that both conflicts are at play, in layered tandem within a work.  Certainly I’d given attention to both internal and external tensions in my work, but it was new to hear them described as separate and equally important storylines: that internal conflict had its storyline and external conflict had its storyline, and that their related tensions and ultimate collision is what builds the depth, suspense and resolution in a story.

I immediately applied this to question my novel-in-progress, Wake. The draft is just now reaching a fully fledged form, and Paley’s standard provided the first clear questions I asked to define the structure I intended, and whether it was succeeding.

What is the external conflict? 

In Wake’s case, the external conflict is the search to discover if the ‘fatherless’ boy’s father is actually alive, and reunite them.  Saving the father’s life involves solving the mystery of whether he’d committed a crime during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  The search for the father is what propels the initial story, and the question of the father’s survival runs in essential opposition to the son’s need to have them all live happily as a family.  Side conflicts cause obstacles and tension, but this is the central conflict.

Oddly, the value of workshops or peer feedback is that, until being asked the question, I’d never recognized this was the actual conflict.  In my mind, Wake began as a love story and I was, well, rooting for the girl to get her guy back.  But I’d suspected for awhile that romantic love is not the true conflict.  It was the boy.  It was the crime.  It was the question whether the father would live.

What is the internal conflict?

You won’t find mention of Paley’s differentiation between internal and external conflict in Ann Hood’s book, Creating Character Emotions , but Hood’s discussion on page 11 of the range of emotions a character progresses through in the course of a novel offers insight into internal conflict.

Hood makes the point that characters develop through “a range of emotion, that [gives] them depth and complexity.”  She uses one of her own characters to show that characters progress or mature, from one emotion to another in the course of a novel.

In her example, the character starts as unhappy.  Then, “She moves from hope and excitement to loneliness and even despair before she matures emotionally,” ultimately reaching resignation.

Earlier, Hood portrayed the same character as moving into a stage of jealousy, noting that each emotion has its own point of maturity: she could not become jealous until she had felt hope, nor could she reach resolution without passing through that moment of jealousy.  Hood describes each emotion a character struggles with as “one step on an emotional ladder” that “characters should climb, emotional rung by emotional rung.”

Progressing through those emotions to resolve a single internal question (fear, desire, guilt) would be one way to explain internal conflict.

In my novel-in-progress, I thought the internal conflict was the longing of the female character to reunite with the lost lover — but isolating the external conflict, above, helped me refine this.  Love may motivate her, but the real internal motivation is the desire for the son to have his father, and this is in direct conflict with the father’s internal struggle with guilt. While the external conflict asks, “Will the father live?” the father himself asks should he be allowed to live, as his hidden guilt (for a crime other than what he was accused of) will not allow him to share in the happy-ever-after he has denied someone else.

Where external and internal conflicts converge = climax

In Wake, the two conflicts converge when the external world refuses to find the male character guilty of a crime. His inner guilt surfaces and must be resolved, pressing resolution of his inner (and external) mystery.

As you read this, the examples from my work may or may not be meaningful, but what’s worth saying is how much more clear the story’s organization became after naming the external and internal conflict.  Both conflicts could be seen mapping naturally like veins through existing scenes, clear where they converged, and how that convergence located the resolution.  It became clear where the story should start, how much was needed to get into the action, when certain information should be divulged, and where the story would end.  Identifying how resolution hangs on the male character’s inner conflict confirmed opening lines I’d just written, which plant the seed on the first page that he believes “memory is fickle” and is certain of his own guilt.

The idea of internal conflict as rungs on an emotional ladder has helped me clarify the internal journey the male character goes through — particularly that the emotion he is experiencing or demonstrating in each scene is a progression of maturing experience.  I might have been attempting to portray him ‘consistently’ in earlier drafts, but now see where his internal storyline would have him confused, then resigned, then hopeful, then dutiful, then penitent, etc. The clarity of this has rendered more vivid scenes, and provoked different interactions than I was originally imagining with the characters around him, including his memory of a single moment of fury (which I wrote about in my last post).

For all that “clarity,” the work is still messy, at the moment. I’ve had some great writing days, but must confess frustration the past couple days while rereading a large patch that was much less finished than I hoped…  So I post this with well wishes for all of you and your writing.  I will clearly be busy with it, myself.

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What do you think?

I’d love to hear questions or your insights in the Comments.

Thanks to Gerry Wilson, who replied to the last post asking about Hood’s advice on writing characters most like oneself.  I’m getting through the stretch of notes that provoked this post, and hope to have that one up next.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!

Prior post:

Coming next:

Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions: Amazon  Powells    Indiebound.org

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Filed under Novel Writing, Relentless Wake, Writing Character, Writing workshop

Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy

Notes of scene and personality of my character, scribbled in the margins while reading Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions.

My writing hours are all about budgeted time — hours or whole days declared for fiction, versus blocks of time commanded by the kids, teaching writing, client work, and the daily grind.  While teaching usually yields hours every day for me to write, the last two weeks were forfeited almost entirely to the end of the school year.  As Friday was finally the last day of school, it was interesting to see what writing work I would land on, in my first days of freedom.

My main goal for summer’s longer hours focuses on the two novels I am revising

That work craves larger blocks of hours for rereading drafts. I last left off rereading the more finished draft, Breathing Water, needing to decide between two voice options, then delete some random chunks in the middle, and fix any broken transitions. The second novel, Wake, is still working its way to becoming a first, full draft, so there is a veritable carnival of piecing together the written portions, replacing original ideas with newer scenes, now curious to chart plot points and track how effectively the story unfolds.  Revision to three short stories is also on target for the summer, as it has now been nearly 10 months since the last time I submitted work.

With those clear goals, you’d think the first free days would have been spent rereading those drafts.   There will be days that I do exactly that.

But today was messy. Messy to wake from the deluge of the past weeks: blearily checking email, voicemail and social media to see what was going on while I was otherwise occupied.   Messy to face the end of year mess my house becomes, with two wild monkeys disguised as sons co-habitating with me.

Messy to greet the twine-ball of pent up ideas my writing mind is today.  Apparently, a mind antsy with ideas, made to wait days to write, does not reach its turn ready to proceed in an orderly fashion.

Writing Character

Today’s writing job, instead, is to re-open the copy of Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions that I’ve been reading for the last week. I attended a workshop with Hood in Miami, last month, and bought the book from the Books & Books table at her reading.  While the workshop focused on novel beginnings, Hood’s lectures and responses to workshop questions shared a wealth of advice, both from her own experience and drawing on advice from dozens of other fabulous writers she has worked with or learned from in her roughly 30-year career.

In that vein, a single line of advice she offered (how to avoid writing flat characters, when writing those most like yourself), piqued my curiosity to read her book, which explores the full gamut of how to write characters with complex and authentic emotional resonance.

As I pick it up today, however, it is not to continue reading, but to face the rampant notes I scribbled wildly in the margins when reading last week. The picture accompanying this article is modest compared to the extended scene scrawled in the margins stretching 6 pages, between headings for “Anger” and “Confusion.”

Creating Emotional Characters:  Hood on Anger

Ann Hood begins the section on writing Anger with a quote from Margery Allingham’s Death of a Ghost: “‘Outrage, combining as it does shock, anger, reproach, and helplessness, is perhaps the most unmanageable, the most demoralizing of all the emotions.'”

Applying this to writing, Hood says, “Anger has so many gradations, so many levels, it is indeed — for the writer at least — one of the most unmanageable emotions.”

The paragraph following this lists words for the myriad levels of anger people experience (from pique, ire and exasperation, to madness, wrath and ire), with the warning that writers “tend to write anger as a flat or simple emotion, something closer to rage.”

By contrast, she says, “What makes the emotion so interesting — and challenging — is that it has many different levels.”

This idea that emotions are not one-dimensional, not predictable, but composed of complex gradations, unpredictability and even contradiction, is key to her advice throughout the book.

Messy Writing: Scribbled in the Margins

Roonan, the enigmatic male character in my draft, Wake, is confused, guilt-ridden, self-condemning, but rarely angry.  Still, a single line at the end of those three paragraphs in Hood’s chapter on Anger triggered a newly-revealing scene.  Roonan cascades through layers of emotion, through the tiers of family history he has previously misunderstood.

In one fit of messy scribbling, I tied together a series of tropes that have been disconnected references scattered through the story.  Roonan now connecting the inner (and reflexively external) conflicts signalled by his father’s racing motorcycle, his mother’s reaction over evidence of a death, memory of cleaning up to protect her, facing the day his brother died, discovering the bag of locks his father had left stashed beneath the bed… the guilt he lives with keying back to a single, fierce moment of fury, in which he sees himself fulfilling everything he had set out to avoid.

In my head, I understand each of these elements, but in this baby-draft, they were as-yet unwritten.  Magically, this dam of understanding burst in reaction to a single line at the end of those 3 paragraphs of Hood’s advice: “Sometimes anger leaves you sated.”

So it is that today’s job is to return to those notes, transcribing them into the “add-on” document I keep in Word as new material to be added into the draft. The work may remain messy after that, or may fall into a neat pattern of revision as planned.  The key, I’ve found, is to respect where my head is — most of all, to get all fresh material recorded, so not lost, before pushing myself back to revision.

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More on Character, and Hood’s Advice on Beginnings

I’ll share more of Hood’s advice on character, as well as advice on writing beginnings in coming posts.  If you have specific questions (such as Hood’s advice regarding the challenge of writing characters similar to yourself), let me know in the comments.

Want more?

copyright Elissa Field; all rights reserved, no repro without written permission

Father and son. copyright Elissa Field

 

Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions: Amazon Powells    Indiebound.org

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Also on this site:

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Filed under Novel Writing, Writing Character, Writing Life, Writing workshop

What I’m Reading: Summer Reading List 2012

School is out. The boys are making snowcones. And, along with plans to head out of town or to the beach, with time suddenly available, it’s a reader’s tradition to ask: What were those books I’d been meaning to read?

Dress of books: often posted without credit, this pic was taken at the Dallas Home Show 2011, by Lori of Katie’s Rose Cottage Designs. The dress was part of a display, by a vendor unknown.

My list isn’t summer reading in the “beach” reading sense, but an accumulation of great books I’ve collected during a busy winter and can’t wait for summer’s freer days to savor.  Most titles are linked to Amazon; options for Indiebound.org or Powell’s Books are available on my Links page.

Fiction:

  1. Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy (2009, winner National Book Award for Fiction).  I had not read McDermott before, but began reading Billy a couple weeks ago to understand a comment Ann Hood made in workshop comparing the opening pages of my draft,Wake, to some aspect of McDermott’s writing. (Update this made my Favorite Reads list for 2012: I learned some interesting things about action/reaction in writing scenes from McDermott’s novel, which is rich in authentic character.)
  2. Aleksander Hemon, The Lazarus Project (2009). I first became curious about Hemon, a MacArthur award-winning writer, after reading his painfully beautiful essay, “The Aquarium,” in The New Yorker online, about the loss of his daughter. (Update: This made my Favorite Reads of 2013 list, as one of the most complex, subtle and sophisticated novels — well worth the praising comparisons to the like of Nabokov. Expect a slightly slow, even confusing start — but note quickly how two novels entwine in one, to create a haunting and very personally told story. I look to read anything else Hemon has written.)
  3. Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (2012). Billed as “a love story set in Burma,” this was named an Amazon best novel in February. I fell in love with Berlin foreign correspondent Sendker’s writing after reading a single description he gave of riding a train so slow he sometimes jumped off and walked alongside.
  4. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008).
  5. Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists (2011). Both Hedgehog (#4) and Imperfectionists won me over on a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, confirming them to be intriguing in the way I’d heard others speak of them.
  6. Thrity Umrigar, The Weight of Heaven. I have this 2010 novel downloaded onto my ereader, although others might be interested in Umrigar’s latest novel, The World We Found, which came out January 2012.
  7. Bradford Morrow, Fall of the Birds (2011). On a personal note, Bradford Morrow was the first editor to publish my work in a national forum. He is an acclaimed writer, and I was glad to discover this novella of his, available as a Kindle single.
  8. Margot LiveseyThe Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012). I first got to know Livesey as the Fiction Editor at Ploughshares, and have been eager to read her January novel, Gemma Hardy.  I’m equally interested in reading one of her earlier novels, Banishing Verona (2005).
  9. Emma Straub’s, Other People We Married (2012). Emma Straub is one of the writers I’ve discovered through Twitter.  I’ve come to trust her wit, so am eager to read anything she writes. Other People is a collection of stories.  Her novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, will come out in September and I believe will be featured as a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection.
  10. Laura Maylene Walter, Living Arrangements (2011). I can’t wait to read this collection of stories.  She is winner of the 2010 Chandra Prize for Stories.
  11. Adrian McKinty, The Cold Cold Ground (2012). Along with writers like Declan Burke and Stuart Neville, Belfast-born McKinty is among a group of edgy, intelligent writers who’ve turned the energy of post-Troubles Belfast to a new era of crime noir writing. If Cold Cold Ground is not yet available in the U.S., I’d consider reading Falling Glass.
  12. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895). I believe Wells’ book just came into the public domain, as Time Machine is in the list of classics available as a free download.

Non-fiction:

  1. Ann Hood, Creating Character Emotions .  One chapter into this book of advice for writing emotionally authentic characters, I have filled the margins with notes provoked by Hood’s advice (which you can read about in blogs here and here).  (Update: this book made my Best Reads of 2012 list, and has provoked more immediate, effective results in my writing than any other writing book I can remember, so I highly recommend it).
  2. Kate Messner, Real Revision: Author’s Strategies to Share with Student Writers (2011). I’ve followed writer Kate Messner for awhile, and found out about this resource to teaching students revision from comments during the TeachWrite! summer challenge for teachers and librarians.
  3. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I first encountered Cheryl Strayed years ago as a participant at Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum. While changes in the forum have slowed participation, Cheryl was part of a vibrant and generous group of writers back in the day. I was therefore thrilled to see the immediate and rousing reaction her memoir Wild has received, and can’t wait to read it.
  4. Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2011). Skloot’s well-researched story of the scientific life of cells from Henrietta Lacks made the New York Times bestseller list as #1 for paperback nonfiction this week. Curious, I was blown away, reading this review of Skloot’s book from the New York Times, which describes her narrative as being “far deeper, braver and more wonderful” than just the scientific facts.

Poetry

  1. Saeed Jones, When the Only Light is Fire (2011). Saeed Jones, a Pushcart nominee in 2010, has captivated me with his refined snarky wit on Twitter.

Young Adult/Kids Fiction:

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past year have been young adult fiction. The first 3 on the list below are books I’ve bought for my classroom library, and am “stealing back” to read myself.  I also read with my sons, who are rising 3rd and 6th graders, so the last three books are ones I’ll be reading with them.

  1. Nova Ren Suma, Imaginary Girls (2011). A novel about two sisters, which sounds magical and intriguing! I can’t wait.
  2. Alyson Noel, Shimmer (2011). I bought this during book fair, looking forward to reading when students were done with it.
  3. Sara Shepard, Pretty Little Liars (2009). Okay: guilty. I’ve caught a few episodes on tv and now want to read the book(s).
  4. Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain (1959). This and #5 are assigned reading for my rising 6th graders, which includes my son this year. It’s a perennial favorite, about a boy who runs away from the city and creates a life for himself in the wilderness.
  5. Gloria Whelan, Listening for Lions (2006). I’ll be intrigued to read this book, set in British East Africa in 1919, and assigned as summer reading for my son and my rising 6th graders.
  6. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861). Not really YA or kid lit, but I’m up to chapter 4 of reading this with my boys, since they fell in love with the Masterpiece Theater version this spring.

Literary Magazines & Anthologies:

  1. Silk Road.  I downloaded vol. 7.1, to read Jennifer Kirkpatrick Brown’s story, “The Roots of Grass.” (Update: Jennifer’s story is fresh and intriguing – I was glad to get to read it, and look forward to reading more from this writer.)  Silk Road is a great publication. As much as I would love to have had a print edition in hand, it’s great to have such easy access to it via download.
  2. Best American Short Stories 2011. I am especially interested to read stories by two writers I follow: Rebecca Makkai (her 2011 novel, The Borrower, released in paperback on May 29th) and Megan Mayhew Bergman (whose acclaimed story collection, Birds of a Lesser Feather, came out in 2011).
  3. Back issues waiting, from Lit and Southern Review.

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Want more information?

In keeping descriptions brief, I’ve mostly noted what drew me to the books. If you want to know more about a writer or book, let me know in the comments.

What are your recommendations?

I’d love to hear what makes your reading list this summer, or books you’ve read recently and would recommend.  Share them in the comments and I may update this list through the summer — especially as I am sure I have forgotten a couple from my own list!

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Filed under Books, Reading, Teaching Writing