Thursday, July 22, 2010

publication devastation

Things are getting exciting over here. I have four stories out to six publications. I might have another story out tonight but I'm still working on the title. I hate titles. You have no idea just how much I hate titles. I can write and write and write, but unless I somehow have the title in advance, it's almost guaranteed that it's going to give me grief. Let's take a little peek into my head, shall we?

The thoughts I think:
One day I'll be a real writer. No, I am a real writer. I'll just be a paid writer. A print publication paid writer. Is this story any good? A title. Oh! Another story idea! Must. Reformat. Play. Oh! Another story idea! I think there's ice cream in the freezer. I need a title. The kids. Where are the kids? Applying for jobs, applying for jobs--Oh! Another story idea!!!! What is that beeping? Is someone cooking something? Wait--right. I was making a sweet potato. I really need a title. Submit. Submit. Play--the play! I have to format this play! Okay, if I don't come up with a title, I'm going to lose my mind. Did I walk the dog? I NEED A TITLE!!!!!!
(Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)

Yeah. That's basically what goes on, I'm sorry to say. But you know as well as I do that if you were to think about your own thoughts, they'd be just as fireworked as those. Or maybe they wouldn't. You know, maybe it's me. Maybe--wait. The point of this post. Oh yes.
So, I have trouble coming up with titles. I can get the story out. I'm not too bad at that. It's the titles that kill me. I mean, titles are tons of pressure. It's like when you're in school and you see this hot guy/girl who you want to like you in the worst way. And you have this one chance to really wow him/her. And you realize that this very moment is THAT chance. So you take a sip of Coke and you inhale just a bit too deeply and the Coke goes down the wrong pipe and now you're choking and sputtering and Coke is coming out of your nose and your friends are just staring at you and the whole world has stopped for an incredibly long second and the person whom you were trying to impress just stares at you with that expression of puzzled amusement, and then goes back to whatever he/she was doing--except now he/she is cracking up and has no idea what an incredible person you are. THAT is what it is to have a bad title. That knowing that the editor will never see past that horrendous phrase that has now just ruined your chances of getting into Perfect Professionally Paid Print Publication.
It can devastate you.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

setting: what's the point????

I'm working on a new story right now. (Yes, in the midst of reformatting my play--except that I've finally found a format I can live with, so I'm finally making some headway.) It's set in Ma'ale Adumim, the town in which I used to live when I was living in Israel. The interesting thing is how easy it is to recall many of the finer details of the place, down to the moment where certain hills begin, the exact spacing of certain fruit trees in certain gardens, the courtyards and the flowers lining the pathways.
I have this insane desire to take my subject and draw the setting in concentric circles around the action, almost so that it echoes outward.The problem I'm currently facing is the subject itself, which is difficult to separate from the setting. I have to wonder if perhaps the setting is what's causing the tension and if I were to take the characters out of the setting, would the conflict remain? I know the answer to this question. Maybe that's why this story needs to be written.
When I used to write in high school and college, it took a lot for me to focus on setting. It wasn't until I merged my experiences as a teacher of literature and writing with my experiences as a writer, did I realize the huge importance of setting. (I should add in that the problem with being a writer, a teacher and an avid reader is that it's hard to just sit down and enjoy a novel without little pop-ups entering my head with "oh, I like how this author did that!" or "that fact has obviously not been verified!" or "nice metaphor! I have to share this with someone!") I've taught my former students that yes, we need to know where and when a story occurs. It grounds us, helps us understand the characters a bit more, gives us greater insight into plot development, etc. Not knowing that Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (one of my all-time favorite books to teach) takes place during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s as the Joads travel westwards to California would be devastating to the plot. We wouldn't be able to place the story and we certainly wouldn't be able to understand the prevailing mood. In short stories, the setting sets the tone for that one major conflict that may be present. It's also important to note that pulling the characters from one setting and depositing them in another would completely change the story. I keep thinking of "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and how exciting it would be to stick the protagonist into any of Poe's stories....
Okay, enough. So my point is that setting is pretty important. For me, I just never realized the huge weight that we place on what seems like such a minor detail. I remember being a student in Mr. Youngman's "Short Stories and Essays" course and forgetting to list the setting on one of my assignments and thinking that it really wasn't a big deal. Yeah, well guess what...
In this particular story that I'm writing, the setting is almost as important as the characters because of the way it impacts on the characters and causes their reactions to be what they are. I think that this story, set anywhere else, would fail to have the same impact.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

making up for lost time

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I submitted a piece to an anthology recently. I also submitted something to The New Yorker and to an audio publishing company as well. I'm looking forward to finding out how I did, although I'm doubting that The New Yorker will accept my piece. I am not doubting that they'll find the subject compelling. But until that particular story is published somewhere, I don't think I really want to discuss any more than that. So I currently have three out.
My play is coming along slowly but (gaaah! cliche) surely. The biggest problem I've encountered is the formatting which, without the proper software, has taken me forever to fix. And then to have fixed it incorrectly, well, I'm totally making headway, but not as fast as I'd like. It didn't help last night that I had a dream that I was staging this new play that I'm anxious to write while I have my head buried in a half dozen writing projects all while looking for a teaching position for the fall. So basically, it's like this: I have theaters that I'm ready to call. I have a play that is written and edited, but needs a format fix. I'm almost done with the format fix. I have a play that is begging to be written but will have to hang on. I'm not messing up this time. I'm now researching play formatting software. I've got short stories in various stages. I've got the once every other week short story that cries to be written in one sitting and edited in the next.
I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining. I'm in complete creative turbo drive and I'm thrilled. Really. Honestly. There were many years that went by where I just couldn't write anything. It wasn't because I didn't want to, but more because I was in a pretty unreceptive place and too concerned with what people would think. I'd forgotten the lessons I'd learned as a writing student, to the point where I was allowing outside influences to stifle my creativity. I am lucky to live in a place where I have the freedom to write what I want and to think freely. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility. (Insert line about not screaming "fire" in a crowded movie theater here.)
While some may disagree, I feel that the work I've been producing lately, whether humorous or serious, is very important. My goal is to empower those with no voice (I'm sure there are many with this same goal) and to give strength to the weak. It sounds pretentious in sort of a Holden Caulfield-esque way, and my ego is not huge and I certainly don't see myself as an out of control messiah figure, but I do know that the best literature is that which speaks to the reader and touches the reader in some way. I want to shed light on issues in our society which often remain hidden from view. I want to open the eyes of those who don't know, to the plight of those who do.
I don't recall all of the titles of all of the books that I've read, but I love when I read a book that spurs me to research something further. I love that curiosity, that knowledge for knowledge's sake, those moments of excitement upon learning something new. (This right here is why I love teaching.) I love learning not because I have to, but because my own teachers passed on their own love for learning. (This is the part where if I continue, I'll break down in tears telling you just how much I love teaching and cannot wait to get back into the classroom, so excuse me while I end this paragraph here.)
Anyway, I believe I was mentioning the goal of my writing. And the truth is, not everything I write about involves repression or oppression. And happily, it doesn't have to. But don't expect happy fairy stories from me. A friend of mine complained after reading "Total Immersion" (I'll let you when it's published) about how I really should stop writing things like that. You know, things that make you think, question, that don't necessarily end with everyone living happily ever after. "Who is going to want to read that?" she said. The comments on other stories (not from the same person) were about having a disclaimer, about warning the reader about the story in advance, about not writing these things. Writers write because we have something to say, because we have a story to tell and because if we don't tell our stories, who will? For a while, I'd forgotten these lessons. Now I'm catching up.