Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review of "The Outlaw Album" by Daniel Woodrell

A collection of short stories that is disturbingly beautiful. These pieces are raw writing at its most haunting and brutal. "The Echo of Neighborly Bones" made me ache and "Uncle" made me cringe. The shortest stories, "Florianne" and "Two Things" took my breath away. It is simply dazzling to see a writer create an entire world, engulf the reader completely, and be able to accomplish this is less than ten pages.  "Woe to Live On" made me uncomfortable in my desire to keep reading. When an author can elicit all of these emotions in a mere slim collection of short fiction, you know that he is golden. Read The Outlaw Album at your own risk, but if you are willing to dance along the edge, then be prepared to fall tragically in love with Woodrell's words.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trying Not To Be A Writer For One Night and Writing

This is why writers are an entirely different breed of people:

The other night my husband and went out to dinner (sounds normal, right? keep reading...) and later decided to go one of our favorite bars in downtown St. Pete to hear a blues band playing. We're sitting outside, the place is packed, it's a freezing cold, but beautiful night and the band is great. I go to the bathroom and as I'm washing my hands, minding my own business, acting like a normal person: bam! I suddenly see this killer scene in my head for my next book. I try and act all cool, thinking, "awesome, I'll have to write this down when I get home later," but as I'm walking back down the stairs to our table, the scene gets bigger and bigger and by the time I actually get back to where Ryan is sitting, enjoying the music, I've got a full-fledged plot element going on.

But instead of sticking with my original plan (be cool, write it down later, etc.), I am suddenly yelling at my husband "oh my god, I need paper, find me some paper!" Fortunately, he's dealt with this sort of thing before and calmly gets up to find me some. Remember, though, we're at a bar.... I'm sitting at the table, pretty much hyperventilating because I HAVE TO WRITE IT DOWN NOW, and here comes my husband with a length of receipt paper. I'm saved! I start writing at break-neck speed. Ryan goes back to watching the band. Yet, soon I am out of paper, on both sides, and I'm still not finished. Ryan gets up again, fights his way through the crowd, can't get the bartender's attention (he's a little busy pouring beers, not providing psycho-writers with paper), grabs a handful of pink Renaissance Fair fliers and comes back. Write, write, write..... And I still need more paper. The band has already taken a break and started playing their second set, but I can't stop. Round three. Ryan goes back to the bar, comes back with more receipt paper and is probably questioning the sanity of his marriage vows by now. I write some more and finally, finally... I'm done. I can go back to trying to have a normal night out, except that the night is almost over.

So beware: if you're thinking about falling in love with a writer, this is what you're in for. If you are a writer, well then, you know..... the ideas never cease, the character voices never shut up, the scenes never really disappear. It never ends....

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sleeping and Writing

When I was in graduate school, my motto was "you can sleep when you're dead." I wrote this out on the back of something (probably something important that I needed to turn in) with a big, black sharpie and hung up it up above my desk. It kept me going. Incidentally, it's the same advice that I give to my advanced placement high school students when they are looking on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. They think I'm being funny. I know that I'm really just preparing them for college....
But actually, this motto applies more to being a writer than anything else. Not because I have to pull all-nighters anymore, but because the mind of a writer never shuts off. Never. So sleeping can become an issue. Either it's waking up in the dead middle of the night with the realization that there was a typo on page 212 of the manuscript I just sent to an agent and now my life is over (so I can't go back to sleep....), or not going to sleep in the first place because I'm laying awake trying to figure out the elusive plot twist that my main character is about to run into and how he's going to handle it. Because I never stop thinking about the book I'm working on at the moment, inconveniences like sleeping, eating, having a social life, etc, can really get in the way.
To balance it all out, though, I often have dreams that really help out my writing. The catalyst for this last book came straight from a dream. Nothing from the dream actually ended up in the novel, but it set the tone for the book as a whole. How crazy is that? And that strange twilight space between sleeping and waking is probably one of the best tools for a writer if they can learn how to harness and manipulate it. I will be thinking about my characters (because I Always am, remember?), but I'm still halfway dreaming, so the characters can just sort of run around on their own while I mentally sit back and wait to write it all down when I finally wake up for real. It can be beautiful.....
So, sleeping and writing- a curse or a blessing? Thoughts?

                                   (Ahem, one of my dogs, Twinkie, clearly is not a writer....)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dogs and Writing

So, the other morning I went into the bathroom and it looked like a roll of toilet paper had exploded on the bathmat. This was not a little tissue pulled out of the trashcan, this was a full, brand-new roll of paper that had been decimated and left for me to find. My chi-wiener (half chihuahua, half dachshund) strolled through the door behind me, wagging his tail, clearly proud of himself. This is life with dogs. If you have even one, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Except that I don't have just one. I have seven. At least only one of them is into toilet paper art.

Dog owners themselves are a special breed altogether, but a dog owner and a writer combined? Times seven? Yeah, there's a reason people don't come over too often.... But this incident (or really, it was the incident of the night before- finding my jack russell terrier up on the table with her face in a full container of sour cream) that got me thinking about the writing life with dogs. Because they really do add a special dynamic to the writing process. Of course, there are the annoying times when I'm in the middle of writing the greatest scene EVER and all seven dogs decide they need to alert the entire universe to the fact that, yes, a mailman has dared to approach our house. Or when I'm at the tail end of editing a draft for the thousandth time and already at my wits end and they decide to gang up on me to sit and stare until I finally give up and feed them. But really, dogs are an incredible asset to the writer. Because:

1) They can provide you with endless distractions to help you avoid writing when you know you should, but really aren't in the mood. "Hey, I can't write because I have to walk/bathe/feed/poke with a stick/ the dog!"
2) They provide hilarious breaks from the monotony of writing. "Look at the two dogs stuck in the dog door going opposite ways...."
3) They sit by your feet and give you silent encouragement for every single word that you write. What more could you really ask for?

In the end, dogs + writing = total neurosis and happiness. Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Writing about writing...

This is a blog about writing. Kinda meta, huh? Well, when it comes down to it, writers think about writing a lot. Like, all the time.... While driving, eating, sleeping (I suppose that would be dreaming), trying to sleep, working, watching movies, watching television, trying to relax and not think about writing.... you get the picture. When all is said and done, writers can be pretty crazy people (those that are writers themselves or, God forbid, have to live and deal with a writer know EXACTLY what I'm talking about). It can be difficult sometimes to function in one world when your head is always in another. So this is a blog devoted to the writing life. Welcome to an inside look into the madness that is being a writer and feel free to join in on the conversation.