Saturday, May 19, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

11 Mistakes Writers Make When Approaching Literary Agents

Literary Agents
From Writer’s Relief staff:

Let’s face it: Writing a book requires different skills than writing a query letter. While there are no “rules” about writing queries, here are the top 11 questionable tactics that we at Writer’s Relief commonly see in query letters"
Cheesy Lead: Rhetorical questions—who doesn’t love them? (Answer: Pretty much everybody.) It’s easy to ask a silly question about your story as the first sentence. But it’s better to stick to the facts of your story lest your readership get the impression that the facts alone aren’t exciting enough. Avoid clichés as well—if you can’t be original in a one-page letter, the agent will doubt your writing abilities.
Bobbled Blurbs: When writing your summary, choose your words carefully. Focus on your main character and his or her conflict, and only subtly hint at—if not leave out entirely—your secondaries. For synopsis purposes, plot trumps theme; tell us what happens, not what it means. And don’t ever spoil a good ending!
Groveling: Lack of experience is not a selling point. Show some confidence! People like that..... See the rest of this article at Huffington Post Books.

Tips for Writers

Some essential tips for writing that you may have forgotten since school.

epic fail photos - School of Fail: English 101: How to Write Good All the Time Forever
see more epicfails

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Typewriters of the Stars

I used to have an old govt. surplus Underwood typewriter in the 1980s. It needed some sort of mechanical adjustment and, as a result, would run through a spool of ribbon in a few hours.  Fortunately I was able to just flip it over and start again. It was a pretty awesome machine -- indestructible. 

But I'd NEVER go back! 

It would be interesting to see what these dead writers (three of the above are still alive) would have done with a good word processor.

I, myself, like a little app named IA Writer. It runs only on Apple products (iMac, iPhone, iPad) and combines the best of typewriter and PC. That is to say that it does nothing but write. There's not fancy formatting, fonts, shit like that, but you can easily edit and move text around. There are two modes. FullScreen gets rid of the menu bar and just gives you a page width (not window width) of what you are typing. The other, Focus Mode, only shows you about 4 or 5 lines of text -- the rest is grayed out. Nice for those of us easily distracted.

The app is 99cents and, if you have a bluetooth keyboard for your iPad, leaves you with a pretty nice little writing machine. The desktop version runs $8.99 and is well worth that drop in the bucket.

Available from Information Architects

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Knowing When to Say When

From today's Washington Post
Knowing When to Say When: In which a writer of crime novels contemplates killing her ace PI.
A Conversation with Laura Lippman

Would-be novelists need to bring equal parts arrogance and ignorance to the task before them. The arrogance is almost self-explanatory. Walk into any bookstore or library, calculate how many lifetimes the average person would need to read all the fiction contained therein. To think that one has anything to contribute, to any genre or tradition, takes genuine hubris.

But the beginning writer requires ignorance, too, especially when it comes to the long odds of a long life in publishing......

To read the rest of this story, click here

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I forgot where this came from. Possibly the Total Dickhead blog.

PKD was also an influence on some of my earlier writing -- specifically the book VALIS, but moreso for the ideas in the book, the leaving you wondering where truth left of and fiction began.

Some of the great ones...

Hughes and Plath. Back when writers were somehow above us all.
"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
~ Sylvia Plath
"Most writers of verse have several different personalities. The ideal is to find a style or a method that includes them all."

"What happens in the heart simply happens."
~ Ted Hughes

From This Isn't Happiness blog

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Chelsea Hotel

At various times, home to home to many great writers and thinkers including Mark Twain, O. Henry, Herbert Huncke, Dylan Thomas, Dale Beran, Arthur C. Clarke, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Arnold Weinstein, Leonard Cohen, John Patrick Kennedy, Arthur Miller, Quentin Crisp, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, K. Charles Graham, Jack Kerouac (who wrote On the Road there), Robert Hunter, Jack Gantos, Brendan Behan, Richard Collins, Simone de Beauvoir, Robert Oppenheimer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bill Landis, Michelle Clifford, Thomas Wolfe, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Kennedy, Matthew Richardson, Stephen Mooney, Jan Cremer, and René Ricard. Charles R. Jackson, author of The Lost Weekend, committed suicide in his room at the Chelsea on September 21, 1968.

The Chelsea was also immortalized in Leonard Cohen's song "Chelsea Hotel No. 2":
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.
Those were the reasons and that was New York,
we were running for the money and the flesh.
And that was called love for the workers in song
probably still is for those of them left.

Ah but you got away, didn't you babe,
you just turned your back on the crowd,
you got away, I never once heard you say,
I need you, I don't need you,
I need you, I don't need you
and all of that jiving around.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."

And then you got away, didn't you babe...

I don't mean to suggest that I loved you the best,
I can't keep track of each fallen robin.
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
that's all, I don't even think of you that often.

Photo found at This Isn't Happiness

Ooohhh! SNAP!

Of course, I'm sure the literary crit folk think the same about the writing crowd. (Their lit heroes excluded, of course!)

From the ever-brilliant xkcd webcomic.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One of the Greats

I still love Kerouac. "On the Road" and "The Dharma Bums" are really wonderful reads.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

"I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down."
Letter to Ed White (5 July 1950) as quoted in Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster (1996) by Steve Turner, p. 117

"I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling. Ecstacy, even, I felt, with flashes of sudden remembrance, and feeling sweaty and drowsy I felt like sleeping and dreaming in the grass." From The Dharma Bums

Mapping the F#@% Out of a Sentence

7/29/2009 5:26:18 PM

by Bennett Gordon
Tags: Science and Technology, linguistics, curse words, Language Log

At a recent concert, Van Morrison uttered the vulgar phrase, “Fucking shut the fuck up.” The sentence presents a challenge to the linguistic minds at Language Log. The different uses of the word “fuck” don’t affect the meaning of the sentence, since the sentiment could be conveyed simply as “shut up.” According to the blog, “The main syntactic problem is to determine whether the fuck is being used as an pleonastic (semantically empty) direct object of shut or as a pre-head modifier of the preposition phrase (PP) headed by up.” The author concludes the latter.

My Source: Utne Reader

Original Source: Language Log

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who is John Galt?

No. Really. Who is he? I never finished the book.

Some of the Greats

Jerzy Kosinski, Nikki Giovanni and Kurt Vonnegut

A building for writers and readers

Seems like it would be a good place to write...

Photo courtesy of Village of Joy

One of the Greats

"Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic."
~W. H. Auden

Photo from "If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger,There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats"

One of the Greats

"Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."
~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


As I may or may not have mentioned on the blogspot version of this blog, I'll be starting in the MFA program at UNM this fall. I was awarded a Teaching Assistantship, which means I'll teach a couple of sections of English classes each semester in exchange for tuition remission, health care, and a paycheck. Basically it is like getting paid to go to school. Not too shabby.

For the first semester, I'll be teaching one section (one class) of English 101. I'll also be taking "Teaching Composition," which is a pedagogy class that one takes concurrently -- a sort of "learn as you go" process. The teaching composition class counts as teaching a second class. The following semester, theoretically, one would teach two sections of English 101 and/or 102. I have a possible Graduate Assistantship lined up which would get me out of teaching one of those sections.

Part of the reason I started the blog was a request from a friend who wanted to know more about the process and what it was like. You can read about some of the early bits on the wordpress version of the blog.

My TA contract had gotten stalled for a while -- panic striking!! -- because, as an undergraduate, I had been employed for a semester by UNM. The problem was that they never officially terminated my employment. Even though I hadn't drawn a check from them in 6 months, they felt that that job plus the TA position would put me over .75 Full-Time Employment, which is a no-no. I got it straightened out though and now my TA award is showing on my financial aid.

Kind of stressful to say the least.

Monday, July 6, 2009

sage advice

"If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy."

~Dorothy Parker

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Advice to writers from Susannah Breslin

“Fuck the pyramid, fuck j-school, fuck writing for a living. Fuck your computer, fuck your rent, fuck whatever your parents said. Go and live. Go be in the world. Go push yourself until you cry and then go back for more and then write about it. Because that’s what real writers do. They don’t just write about it. They live it.”

- “Letter to a Young Writer”

The Writing Life

I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.
— The Purple Rose of Cairo

From Luminol

The Writing Life

Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again.

~V. Woolf

Most certainly

This photo came from elsewhere. I don't know who she is, but the picture reminded me of a certain smell of a certain brand of cigarette (perhaps Players?) on a certain day of a certain humidity and a certain lighting and there was a certain hopefulness in the air, a certain feeling that life might just turn out alright.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Review: A Poetry of Remembrance

A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works by Levi Romero
Foreword by V. B. Price
Preface by Rudolfo Anaya
Afterword by Genaro M. Padilla

¡iii, este vato!
“A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works,” part of the Paso por Aqui Series on the Nuevomexicano Literary Heritage is the latest (published last year) collection by Embudo Valley native Levi Romero. This 45+ poem volume is a must read for locals. It took me a while to get around to reading it—I couldn’t afford the hardcover edition (which sold out quite fast) and even after the trade paper edition we released, times were tough. But on a trip to the UNM bookstore one day, I came across it, and laid out the twenty dolares. Well worth it.

I have to admit to having a wee bit of prejudice in favor of the poet, as he was the instructor for my 300 level poetry class at UNM a few years ago. Levi is a laid back vato whose laidbackedness sometimes belies the intelligence, knowledge, and passion for poetry that dwells in his soul.

As I said, it is must reading for locals, and despite the beauty of the words, much of it might be lost on someone not familiar with the Southwest. Or maybe, more fairly, it might not sink as deep. Even a pinche gringo like me, who has lived in Burque since 1973—rarely setting foot in Dixon or Española or, even, the South Valley, got it, got the meaning, felt a part of the culture, and understood the mystique that is familia y vida en Nuevo Mexico.

In “Unemployment Lines,” Romero relates a trip—in his hands, an extended stay—to the unemployment office. He gives us the snippets of overheard conversations that, we might not really want to hear, but are pulled into anyway.

and Leonard, is he still in prison?
yeah, he’s still doing time
well, that’s good, I guess, means he’s still alive

“Lowcura: An Introspective Virtual Cruise Through and American Subculture Tradtion” is a collection of recollections and remembrances told in prose and poetry, in English and Español. Here we get stories of bottles of vodka shop-lifted from an Allsup's, a trip to an Albuquerque swap-meet, lowriding of an evening in Chimayo, or trying not to sound too excited when that firme ruca you gave your number to gives you a call and wants you to bring some Easynights wine and a pack of frajos.

A Poetry of Remembrance is like the smell of the bosque on an early autumn day and it’s like going home to visit your mom for some pintos and tortillas and it’s like a road trip with a friend, a case of beer in the trunk and bag of something fine in the glove compartment.

The book is available from UNM Press and other sources.

James D. Houston: in memorium

(photo: Greg Pio/Alfred Knopf)

James D. Houston is dead and it came as more of a shock than to hear of the deaths of Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon combined…. And you’re looking at me like you don’t know who James D. Houston is.

I was flipping through the most recent issue of Poets & Writers and their “Memorium” column caught my eye. It seemed longer than normal, but that may have just been an illusion. Of the 26 or so names, there were three I’d heard of; J.G. Ballard, Phillip Jose Farmer, and Houston.

There are names I think of when I list my writing influences. Names like Hemingway, Cheever, Updike, Carver, Proulx. It wasn’t until I saw Houston listed among the dead that I recalled what an influence he actually was.

Back in the mid-1970s when I was in the Army, I came across a little paperback novel titled “A Native Son of the Golden West.” It was the story of Hooper Dunlap, a surfer, who traveled to Hawaii. It was really a great novel about the westward movement of our country, telling how Hooper’s forbears had travelled a little further with each succeeding generation until Hooper himself ended up going as far west in America as one could.

The story was told in a wonderful manner, with generational flashbacks and cinematic vignettes interspersing the main story. But, honestly, for me, it was the characters who made the story. Hooper Dunlap and his friend reminded me so much of my friend, Vance, that, as I wrote in a letter “I could just shit.” Hooper and friend have an ongoing contest with one another on who can have the rattiest beater truck, the one that could go the farthest with no air-cleaner, or on 5 cylinders, or 3 tires. It was never a blatant competition, nor one spoken about. It was a silent attempt at eliciting awe through the hippest/shabbiest, and a silent expression of that awe. And that was kind of Vance and I—always trying to outdo one another but without making a big show out of it. Even years after we (temporarily) parted company, there was something of that competition in all that I did.

It was that book though, as a whole, that really influenced my future writing. The beautiful characters, the author’s treatment of setting, his intricate weaving of the historical into the tale, it was all amazing and it MADE me want to write, to be a writer.

I lost my copy, I think somewhere in Germany. I may have lent it to someone who left town with it. I’ve searched for another copy for years, though until about a year ago, I could find nothing on it—or the author. Eventually, through the magic of Google, a copy surfaced. I didn’t get it then and I regret it. (It's now $25 to $100 online.) I have to admit a fear of going back and reading it again—what if it’s not as good? Very little of what I considered good literature, cinema, or music has passed the test of time.
Still, can one let go of something that had such an influence? Even if it just sets on my desk as a type of touchstone, I think it will continue to inspire my writing. I just need to find the shabbiest copy there is.

Houston died in April from complications resulting from Lymphoma. He was 75.
A blurb on the book from his website:

The Dial Press, NewYork, N.Y., 197l. Ballantine Books, New York, N.Y., 1972
The native son is Hooper Dunlap. Born on the coast of California, he has inherited a restlessness that kept the generations of his forebearers leapfrogging west, first across the Atlantic, then across North America. For him the next step is out into the Pacific and to Hawai'i of the l950s before it was a state. There he falls for an island woman, but in this young man's adventure story his deeper love is for the sea itself. Both comic and tragic, it interweaves fearless surfers, oldtime song lyrics,brief prose poems, and ancestral flashbacks. (Out of print)

James D. Houston's Website
NY Times Obit
LA Time Obit

UPDATE: I picked up a copy. It's a withdrawn library copy and I got it for $20. I've read just a few bits and pieces, and it's every bit a good as I remember it being.