Monday, June 30, 2008

NPR Bucks the Trend & Bumps Up Book Coverage

At a time when American newspapers are cutting back on book news and reviews, it's great to hear that National Public Radio is bucking this mainstream-media trend.

Publishers Weekly reports today that the NPR web site is beefing up its literary features and reviews and adding original online content to the site.

"Books are among the top three topics attracting traffic to the NPR site," NPR's senior supervising producer Joe Matazzoni told Publishers Weekly. "Book content really works for our audience."

Where do you get your book news?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Word, According to Humpty Dumpty

In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with Humpty Dumpty...

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that’s all."

Alice was too puzzled to say anything; so after a minute, Humpty Dumpty began again.

"They’ve a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!"

"Would you tell me, please," said Alice, "what that means?"

"Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. "I meant by 'impenetrability' that we’ve had enough of that subject and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life."

"That’s a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

"When I make a word do a lot of work like that, said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

~ Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

What's your relationship with words? Do you take charge of them, as Humpty Dumpty did? Or do you trust in their innate wisdom?

It wasn't so much over the words themselves that Humpty Dumpty claimed mastery. It was over rigid definitions. Are you a slave to those definitions? Or are you willing to free yourself to be as creatively playful as was Lewis Carroll?

Whichever, you'll find 50 words and phrases to jump-start your writing on page 40 of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Feeling Rejected? Don't Be Dejected!

Author Madeleine L'Engle received two years' worth of rejections from 26 publishers for her novel A Wrinkle in Time, which, once it was finally published in 1962, went on to win major awards and be translated into more than a dozen languages.

Toward the end of that two-year period, L'Engle covered up her typewriter and decided to give up -- on A Wrinkle in Time and on writing. Then on her way downstairs, a revelation: an idea for a novel about failure. In a flash, she was back at the typewriter.

"That night," as she explained in April 1993 on the PBS documentary Madeleine L'Engle: Stargazer, "I wrote in my journal, 'I'm a writer. That's who I am. That's what I am. That's what I have to do -- even if I'm never, ever published again.' And I had to take seriously the fact that I might never, ever be published again. ... It's easy to say I'm a writer now, but I said it when it was hard to say. And I meant it."

Today, the bibliography on L'Engle's web site lists 62 works spanning the period from 1944 through 2005, plus a 63rd, published posthumously in 2008. Madeleine L'Engle died in September 2007.

"I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write A Wrinkle in Time," her New York Times obituary quotes her as having said. "It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice."

~ Listen to the guided meditation, "You Are A Writer"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is the Write Idea the Right Idea?

There are many good ideas out there in the ethers -- ideas for books and screenplays, ideas for songs, articles and poems. Your friends will suggest them. Your partner will suggest them. Your logical mind will suggest them.

You'll see something or hear about something and you'll think, "Wouldn't that make a great story?"

Maybe it would. Maybe it's yours to write. Maybe it's not.

There's a difference between a good idea and the right idea, between an idea that is anyone's for the taking and one that is uniquely yours, one that's right for you, right now.

Before you launch into a frenzy of research and writing, ask yourself: Is this what I’m called to write? Is this the call of my Muse, the story only I can tell? Or is this anyone's? Is this another good idea or is this the right idea for me?

Anyone can take a good idea and give it shape and substance. Some can do it better than you, some not as well.

Nobody can take the idea that sings to your soul and perform the kind of alchemy on it that you can. Only you can transform that idea into the one-of-a-kind gem it longs to be. That is why it, through your Muse, called to you...chose you.

Accept that you were chosen. Perform your magic. Let the right idea be the idea you write.

Right now.

~ from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson

Friday, June 20, 2008

True Stories

"Tell them stories. ... You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well. Just tell them stories."

~ Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Contests from Writer's Digest

These three writing competitions from Writer's Digest magazine are now accepting entries:

~ 4th Annual Pop Fiction Awards: Entries accepted in Romance, Mystery/Crime Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller and Horror. Deadline: Nov. 3, 2008. Details here.

~ 4th Annual Writer's Digest Poetry Awards: Any style, as long as the poem has fewer than 33 lines. Deadline: Dec. 19, 2008. Details here.

~ 9th Annual Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: Fiction that's "bold, brilliant...but brief." Deadline: Dec. 1, 2008. Details here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Meditation Retreat for Writers

What do writers want more than anything in the world? Time to write. Yet even if such precious time could be found, it's not always easy to settle into the writing groove. Meditation can help synchronize mind and body in a way that truly supports the creative process.

For an event that truly supports the creative process, please join my friend and New York Times bestselling author Susan Piver for Meditation and Creativity, a week-long retreat for writers at Vermont's Karmê Chöling Shambhala Meditation Center. The retreat starts June 29 and is open to writers of both fiction and non-fiction, whether published or not.

For more information, click here.

If you can't make it to the retreat -- and even if you can -- please check out The Voice of the Muse Companion, my 2-CD set of guided meditations for writers. You can hear a sample meditation here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Music of Revision

Paris Review: What do you look for when you revise?

J.P. Donleavy: What I look for is a kind of inevitability, the words and sentences falling into an inevitable place that relates to what's gone before and that will presage what follows. ... This is the inevitability -- the words on the page, which lie there naturally, which don't you jar you, and find their own naturalness when they're said or read.

I suppose I think of myself as a sort of scientist, working with words, relating what is going on in my consciousness to what I put on the paper. It's like music . . . an orchestration. As in bell-ringing, when you ring, peal the bells, one echoing sound from one word will echo and sound in another. ... I work a long time on the sound-sense of words.

Occasionally I find myself trapped trying to get the rhythms down properly and sometimes something just won't work. There's one spot in The Ginger Man that I've never been able to solve to this day. It isn't perfect. ... In some ways, I was relieved to know, coming back to that passage ten years later and deliberating over it again, that it couldn't be solved even now till this day with what one assumes is one's accumulated masterliness.

~ The complete Paris Review interview.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the Air with Mark David: Santa Fe Radio Café

Hear Mark David speaking about writing and about his two books on the Santa Fe Radio Café, a Santa Fe public radio interview that first aired June 12 on KSFR.

~ For a schedule of Mark David's upcoming interviews and other events and appearances, please check out the events widget in the sidebar.

~ For audio archives of other interview and links to audio excerpts and reviews/news stories, click here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Write What You Know...If You Dare

Write what you know. How often have you heard that? How often has it frustrated you?

"I can't write about a black man unless I'm black."

"I can't write about a woman unless I’m a woman."

"I can't write about flying an airplane unless I'm a pilot."

"I can't write about a gay man or a lesbian because I'm not one."

"I can't write about an historic incident until I research it fully and

How much research do you think Leonardo da Vinci did before he painted The Last Supper? Of course he knew the story, from the Bible.

But there are no physical descriptions of that scene or those individuals anywhere in any credible book.

Da Vinci knew The Last Supper. He knew it as well as if not better than any biblical source written decades after the fact. He knew it in his heart. Not in his head, which would have cautioned him against attempting anything so out of his experience, but in his heart. He had lived the emotions he represented and those emotions are the only truth in that masterful painting.

So you've never experienced the discrimination a black woman or gay man might have felt? Have you ever been attacked for who you are? Have you ever been denied what you believed was rightfully yours? Have you ever felt your personhood and humanity under attack?

No? Think back to your childhood. Think back to the emotions of childhood, to the bullies in the schoolyard, to the adults who criticized you.

Do more than think back. Relive and re-experience those emotions. You have lived some of those same emotions you feel you dare not describe in someone else.

Accept the dare. Step up to the challenge. You owe it to yourself to at least try. For if any character — however far removed from your life and lifestyle -- comes to you and demands that his or her story be told through you, then you can only trust that all you need lies within you.

Of course, research may be required. Remember, though, that unless you are writing a dry recitation of history, it's the emotions that will touch your readers, that will affect them, that will move them to deeper places within themselves. And we all -- whether we’re black, white, green or purple -- draw from the same pool of emotions.

If you can give yourself permission to tap into that pool within you, you will always write what you know. For all you need to know lies within you.

Now. At this moment.

Write what you know -- what you know in your deepest heart. Write your fire. Write your truth.

The only knowledge that’s unique to you is the knowledge of your heart, the wisdom of your soul, the force of your passion. Write from those places that no one else can and you will touch readers in ways that no one else can.

Go ahead and write what you know...if you dare.

~ from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson

Friday, June 13, 2008

Inspired Quote: Surrendering to the Story

"It is best not to know too much too soon," O'ric repeated. "It is best to know only that the story continues and to follow where it takes you."

~ The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Inspired Quote: Do You Know What You Think?

"I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it."

~ William Faulkner

Thanks to Creative Screenwriting's CS Weekly newsletter for the quote.

The Humorous Art of Revision,
or How to Write Good

This apocryphal list has been credited to Frank L. Visco, allegedly a vice-president and senior copywriter at USAdvertising

1. Avoid alliteration. Always.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)

4. Employ the vernacular.

5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

8. Contractions aren't necessary.

9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

10. One should never generalize.

11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

13. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

14. Profanity sucks.

15. Be more or less specific.

16. Understatement is always best.

17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

20. The passive voice is to be avoided.

21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

24. Be careful to use apostrophe's correctly.

25. Do not use them pronouns as modifiers.

26. And never start a sentence with a conjunction.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Heartful Art of Revision I

Let these seven principles guide you as you shape, hone and polish your work.

1. Be detached but loving.
Let your work sit quietly for a time before you launch into revision. That time could be a day, a week, a month or six months. And it could be longer or shorter from one piece of work to the next. The key is to give both you and your work the space and distance that allow you to approach it heartfully, objectively and discerningly. Respect your initial draft. Respect all your drafts. Don’t be a slave to them. Allow your work to grow, change and mature.

2. Read aloud.
Whenever practical, read aloud. We are always more attuned to language, rhythm and flow when we read aloud. We often read more thoroughly when we read aloud. You will want to read your work silently as well, of course. But particularly at the beginning and each time you make major changes, your voice will tell you where you have strayed off course.

3. Be respectful, gentle and firm.
Treat each draft as you would your child — with love and without judgment. Revision is not about taking a broadax to your creation. It’s about treating each draft as a necessary stage in its growth toward maturity. Just as you gently, sometimes firmly, guide your children toward the fulfillment of their unique destinies, guide your work with that same spirit of respect — for yourself as creator as well as for your creation, which has its own vision and imperative.

4. Accept that language is not perfect.
Do your best to bring your heart and vision to the page. Do your best to write the words and paint the images that most accurately reflect your dream and intention. As you revise, never hesitate to seek out more forceful and evocative ways to translate your vision onto the page. But remember that translation is an art and that language can rarely more than approximate emotion and experience. Think of the most wondrous scene you have ever witnessed and imagine trying to recreate that in words. You can come close. Yet whatever your mastery of the language, you will not recreate every nuance of your vision, emotion and experience. And that’s okay.

5. Respect your intuition.
As you become more adept as a writer, more in tune with your work and its vision, and more in touch with your Muse, you will gain an intuitive knowingness of what works and what doesn’t, without always being able to articulate why. That inner compass will direct you to the appropriate improvement or solution — again, often without explanation. Trust your intuition. It’s the voice of your Muse, the voice of your vision. And it won’t lead you astray.

6. Do your best.
Do your best to commit your vision to paper. Do your best to polish, enrich and enliven your work so that it aligns with that vision. Do your best on each piece of writing and, when it’s time, let it go so that you can create a new work and do your best on that one as well.

7. Be the writer you are.
Each piece of writing will teach you, and from each piece of writing you will mature in your art and your craft. Strive for excellence not perfection. Be the writer you are.

Excerpted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Revolutionary New Invention...Certain to Replace the CD-ROM

Announcing the new "Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge" device, otherwise known as the B.O.O.K.

It's a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Just lift its cover. Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere -- even sitting in an armchair by the fire -- yet it is powerful enough to hold ass much information as a CD-ROM disk.

Here's how it works: each B.O.O.K. is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. These pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. By using both sides of each sheet, manufacturers are able to cut costs in half.

Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. The B.O.O.K. may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. The "Browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Most come with an "index" feature, which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional " B.O.O.K.mark" accessory allows you to open the B.O.O.K. to the exact place you left it in a previous session -- even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus a single B.O.O.K.mark can be used in B.O.O.K.s by various manufacturers.

Portable, durable and affordable, the BOOK is the entertainment wave of the future, and many new titles are expected soon, due to the surge in popularity of its programming tool, the "Portable Erasable-Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language" stylus [P.E.N.C.I.L.].


Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Future of Publishing?

Will traditionally printed books go the way of the CD, whose sales are plummeting as music lovers find new (read "cheap") ways to listen to their favorite artists?

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman thinks so. In a June 6 column titled "Bits, Bands and Books," he writes, "Bit by bit, everything that can be digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we’ll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account."

Food for thought. Click here to read the complete article.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Beware the Mindless Spell-Checker

The spell-check program in use by the editors of a Pennsylvania high school yearbook decided to take matters into its own hands this spring, determining that several graduating students' names could not possibly be correct.

Thus, Alessandro Ippolito was listed in the yearbook as Alexandria Impolite, Max Zupanovic as Max Supernova, and Kathy Carbaugh as Kathy Airbag.

Nothing beats a humane, er, human proofreader

Source: The Week

Friday, June 6, 2008

Inspired Quote: On Writer's Block

"There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded.

"It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself.

"There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."

~ Mark Twain

See also Writing Do's and Don't's. You'll find more about this and other causes of writer's block in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call To Write

Thanks to Creative Screenwriting's CS Weekly newsletter for the quote.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Win a Signed Copy of The Voice of the Muse!

Congrats to Dave Rhodes (aka the Rhodester) who won first prize...and a signed copy of The Voice of the Muse!

A signed copy of The Voice of the Muse, my critically acclaimed book of tools, tips and inspiration for writers (from novices to published writers) is one of the prizes in a nifty "twitlit" contest just announced on the Smithereens blog.

To be precise, and concise, you need to write your best example of witty wordplay in 140 characters or less and post it on Twitter to enter.

Which means, of course, you'll have to join Twitter if you're not a member (but it's pretty painless and, hey, the chance of winning my book -- and others’ -- should make it worth the effort). Once you do join Twitter, be sure to look me up and add me to the list of folks you're following.

Remember: 140 witty characters could make you a winner! Enter today!! Click here for instructions.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Inspired Quote: The Writer's Life

"There is no way writers can be tamed and rendered civilized or ever cured. The only solution is to provide the patient with an isolation room where the creature can privately endure the affliction and food can be poked in with a stick."

~ Robert A. Heinlein
(photo credit: The Heinlein Prize Trust)