March 22, 2005

boy crazy

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones likes to use timed writing, or 'flash' writing to jump start her writing sessions. She suggests taking a simple idea or memory and writing about it for 5, 10, 30 minutes at a time. It's a great way to get to the heart of the matter. From the concrete to the sublime. By putting a memory down on paper, it's then free to become something completely different and powerful. I like to keep a jar of writing prompts on my desk, little slips of paper with phrases written on them. Five minutes on your grandmother's yellow mixing bowl. Ten minutes on the shape of your brother's head. Thirty minutes on your first kiss. They come in handy. (You can always use the fortunes from fortune cookies if you can't come up with your own. ;-) The point is, use your memories in your fiction like an actor 'uses' his experiences to bring life to his work on the stage.

In Margaret Sweatman's, When Alice Lay Down With Peter there's lightning when her characters get together. When I had my first real kiss, (my first butterflies in the stomach kiss) there were books... stacks and stacks of library books.

Note to self: The location of a person's first kiss may hold a direct correlation to that person's passion in life, their life's work. Further, those who experienced their first kiss during a school dance may suffer from "I Don't Know What I Want From Life Syndrome" (or IDKWIWFLS). It's not their fault. They are merely victims of their student council's poor musical taste. Nothing sucks the life force out of a person faster than (insert title of a bland, top forty, soft-rock ballad here) Journey's 'Open Arms'.

Anyway, that first kiss was what jump started my short story, Christ on a Bike, a fictional tale of kissing, teen pregnancy, religion, and green m&m's.

Writer's Blog of the Week
Speaking of first kisses and boyfriends...
Emily Lockhart's novel, The Boyfriend List is now out in bookstores. Emily's had nine official boyfriends, if you count the boy who asked her to go with him at a 7th grade dance and then basically never talked to her again. She has never been on a sports team of any kind and got excused from gym class by going to ballet lessons. She has a tattoo, cuts her own hair, and has worn the same perfume since high school (Kiehl's Chinese Flowers). In her office are two Betty & Veronica dolls, a photo of a particularly fat bull dog, an official business card from “Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective”, and the 1920s flapper dress she wore to the prom.
Check out her blog.

March 12, 2005

Master Class

Little Love Notes
Before I get into the post proper...Thank-you to dear Mad Max over at Book Angst 101 for quoting my little love note. I meant every word. And I think that The Blogging Blahs happen to all of us from time to time. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be much of anything to say. I say wait 'til the spirit moves's the only way to keep it honest and real. xoxox

Master Class
The fabulous and gifted soprano, Measha Brueggergosman was at Acadia University this past week. A stellar talent, she's still a fun-loving daughter of the Maritimes (as well as a the tough, entertaining book-lover who served up Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman for CBC's 2004 Canada Reads competition). She graciously came to Wolfville, NS to give some of AU's fresh-faced vocalists a master class.

In my BW life (before writing), I was a would-be soprano, wringing my hands in the long minutes before auditions, recitals, opera performances, and master classes. A master class always gave me jitters as well as enlightenment. Standing on the stage, listening for the accompanist to play me into singing, I thought of every teacher I'd ever had, every lesson my parents paid for, every bus ride to every competition...and then I'd think, don't let them down. A master class is different than a weekly lesson or a cattle-call audition...suddenly somebody famous, someone who's paid her dues is standing with you in the crook of the grand piano, noting the openness of your mouth, the centre of your pitch, the energy of your vibrato, watching you breathe.

All these memories have come to me again not only from Measha's visit, but because I've been thinking about the guidance I've been given on my path to publication...the wonderful crew at WFNS, my amazing writing mentor, Richard Cumyn, and my never-settle-for-anything-short-of-spectacular agent, Helen Heller. Now it seems as if I've reached a new sort of master class in my life. This week I had my first speaker-phone meeting with two wonderful editors at Knopf Canada. Two people, who know the biz, have read my manuscript - they've gone over every detail, gotten intimate with my characters, noted the length of my sentences - they have watched me breathe.

Comments arrived in my email last night. The manuscript with notes arrives next week. It's time to get to the heart of it...moving the voice into a bright, open space, allowing it to soar.

Sometimes I've worried that maybe all those music lessons were a waste. What good have they been? Sure, it's nice to be able to land every note at the annual sing-along-Messiah, but is that all I've gained? Then I remember...

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice, practice, practice

and I realize that writing isn't all that different from singing.

Blogging Writer of the Week
Last winter when I was in the middle of one of my many rewrites, I sent Marnie Woodrow an email to let her know that reading her blog had helped to see me through the slushy cold days of slogging away at the keyboard. She was kind enough to respond with this advice,

I wish you all good things with the creation of your first novel.
Revisions and your awareness of the need of them: always a GREAT sign.(I've always thought that the writer unwilling to endure the labour end of the title wasn't really a writer, a view that may or may not be too harsh.)

Check out her blog, it will see you through 'til spring!
Marnie Woodrow