Friday Speak Out!: Voiceless in Storyland
by Elizabeth Harris
Imagine you’re in a mixed-gender group of writers and we’re talking about omniscience. I suggest that you each write the first page of a story as an omniscient author who openly expresses his/her own views of it—Jane Austen’s kind of omniscient author. My totally unscientific prediction—from experience—is, about a third of writers will inadvertently write from a different perspective, the third-person intimate, that of a single character. And more of that third will be women than men.
Most women writers are good at empathizing with characters: some men can’t imagine why anybody would do anything. But women tend to disappear into their characters, maybe hide in them. Men find it easier to speak out in a voice that acknowledges their presence and pretends to omniscience.
Writing as an omniscient author is a way to explore your own voice. It can haul you out of your characters, invite you to speak as a fictional “self” of your own. And— the best part—if you don’t like how “you” sound, you can change it by tinkering with your author’s attitude or style. The authorial narrator is not you: she’s a creation of yours.
If you’re up for this exercise, choose an omniscient passage where the author seems strongly present. Maybe the beginning of Pride and Prejudice
or Toni Morrison’s Beloved
or Alice Munro’s “The Love of a Good Woman.” Copy it out, in longhand (if you’re a purist) or (if you’re bionic like me) on the keyboard, noticing things.
Where does the voice of the author speak clearly, offering opinions, judgments, or explanations? At what points does she enter the perspective of a character or a group? At what points does she pull out afterwards to her own perspective or zoom into another character’s? At those points, watch where the “camera” of the story is pointing and whose eye—character’s or author’s—seems to be behind it.
Where does the author do other things that, in life, nobody reliably can? Maybe she says what a character doesn’t think (“it never occurred to him.”). Or sees ahead in time (“later, she would understand”). Or sees actions happening simultaneously in different places (“while he was trying to rob the bank, his children were at school, cutting angels out of silvery paper”). The omniscient author you’ll create could do any or none of these.
After saving a copy of your copy, revise the passage in some consistent way, changing the author’s attitude, to get a different tone (Jane Austen as a meanie?); or style (Jane Austen as street?) to get a more casual or contemporary effect. (Been done, I know.)
Then write an omniscient authorial voice of your own. Maybe try it on a story set over a long period or in widely separated places; it makes transitions easy. Maybe try jazzing around with it; it’s so flexible. You may find a story you couldn’t tell in a narrower voice.
You may find more. A newly freed voice may say the unexpected.
* * *
Elizabeth Harris is winner of the University of Iowa Press award for short stories. Her debut novel, Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman, releases October 5, 2015.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
Labels: elements of fiction, Elizabeth Harris, Friday Speak Out, omniscient, voice
Good Idea, Bad Idea
I was a big fan of the Animaniac
cartoons. (Um...yeah. I spent hours watching them while writing up this post. Still a big fan.)
The humor was subversive and super funny, and one of my favorite bits was called, “Good Idea, Bad Idea.”
As in Good Idea: Throwing a penny into the fountain to make a wish. Bad Idea: Throwing your cousin Penny into the fountain to make a wish.
So as I head out to a writer’s conference next week, I find myself thinking about good ideas and bad ideas, and how sometimes, the difference between the two can be a very small thing indeed.
Good Idea: Create a unique business card.
Bad Idea: Add glitter to your business card.
Sure, you want to stand out, grab an editor or agent’s attention. But keep it professional, and keep in mind that for the most part, you’ll be giving your business card to other writers you meet. If you want to be remembered, add your photo, not pink glow-in-the-dark glitter.
Good Idea: Take notes and ask questions in the workshops you attend.
Bad Idea: Take the workshop hostage by asking question after question after question.
Of course you want to get your money’s worth at every workshop you attend. You want to be the best writer you can be and if you don’t understand something, you need to ask questions, right? Well, sort of. The thing is, asking questions is like imbibing in adult beverages: you can get obnoxious fast if you don’t realize when to say when.
Good Idea: Be friendly and approachable and make new friends.
Bad Idea: Be friendly and meet lots of new people and then forget them five minutes later.
I know it’s hard to remember names and faces, especially when you’re nervous about meeting new people. But make an effort to be in the moment, to focus on the person you’re meeting instead of thinking of a hundred different things. Engage in conversation, even if it’s brief, and you’re more likely to remember that new person. And hey, if you struggle with what to say, ask for a business card!
Good Idea: Follow up on opportunities from the conference.
Bad Idea: Follow an agent or editor on social media to the point where you’re referred to as “Creepy Stalker Writer.”
Look, it’s fine to connect with professionals on Facebook and Twitter. They expect that sort of social media interaction. But don’t make a nuisance of yourself; you are not their new best friend. You are one of many writers they’ve just met, and if you really want to make a connection, work on your craft, then follow up on that opportunity to submit. You might be surprised where that
I’m sure that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Good Ideas/Bad Ideas when it comes to conferences, so come play! I’ll gladly give you my (cousin) Penny for your thoughts!
~Cathy C. Hall
Labels: Animaniacs, Cathy C. Hall, etiquette for conferences, writer's conferences
With All of Your Senses
by Bernadette Geyer
One of the best ways to experience a place is to be there. Outside of that, reading a wonderful collection of poems, or a work of prose, has the ability to convey a wealth of sensory information about a place. By stimulating all of a reader’s senses – not just one or two – you can captivate a reader and help them experience a place.
Consider how you experience a place. How do your senses shape your experience? Let’s look at some ways of writing about a place that can evoke all of the senses.
– Details about what can be seen at a place are very important. Use details that set “this” place apart from “other” places. There isn’t just “a bridge” across “the river”. What type of bridge? A covered wooden bridge? A steel suspension bridge? Which river? Is it a wide river, or a river suffering through a drought?
– Think about the layers of sound in a place. There is the layer that is most obvious, such as car engines, or helicopters flying overhead. Then there is the layer that is hidden by the louder layer. Are there children playing in a courtyard? Voices in the next room? Details here are also important as you may not want to simply convey that there are “voices,” but that these are the voices of two businessmen having a heated discussion about a project. You may not just hear children “playing,” but you hear the sound of a ball being kicked against a wall while a baby cries.
– Is there a smell particular to the place you are writing about, such as a Maryland beach boardwalk with the smell of fresh fish and Old Bay Seasoning? Perhaps you are writing about a summer fair and the smells of cotton candy, funnel cake, and sweaty children. In the town where I grew up, we could tell when the steel mills were operating because the stench of sulfur was nearly impossible to escape.
– Sometimes, how a specific food tastes is highly dependent on the place where it is being eaten. For instance, how would the taste of a hot dog from a baseball park vendor differ from the taste of a hot dog at a backyard cookout? Or the taste of a hot dog that’s been steeping all day in an iron pot full of sauerkraut at an Oktoberfest event in Bavaria?
– Even the feel of a windowsill as a character rests her hand on it will differ due to place. Following a dust storm in Tel Aviv, everything exposed to the outdoors is coated with a fine layer of dust. The windowsill of a cabin in the woods may be sticky with sap from the evergreens around it.
There are many ways to describe a place in your writing. These are just some of the examples. By considering how you would describe your environment to someone else, you will also be more attuned to the wonders of the unique space that you inhabit at this moment.
Bernadette Geyer is the author of a full-length poetry collection,
The Scabbard of Her Throat, and a poetry chapbook,
What Remains. She is the recipient of a Strauss Fellowship from the Arts Council of Fairfax County (Virginia, USA) and was a finalist for the 2011 Brittingham and Pollak Prizes. Geyer has served in the past on editorial boards of an independent press and literary journal, and has led workshops for The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She lives in Berlin, Germany, where she works as a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Her web site can be found at http://www.bernadettegeyer.com.
Labels: Bernadette Geyer, online class, sense of place, senses, WOW Classes, WOW instructor, writing about place, writing tips
WOW: Meet Maggie Veness, Spring 2015 Fiction Contest 2nd Place Winner
Maggie Veness was born in Sydney, Australia, and lives in a small harbour-side city on the sunny north coast of NSW, Australia. Coming from a nursing and community welfare background, she began writing as a hobby in 2007 and hasn’t stopped. Intrigued by an idiosyncrasy or peccadillo, her stories are often quirky or unpredictable. While Maggie has flash through to novella length fiction published, she has always enjoyed the challenge of writing compelling flash fiction. She has received several awards for her stories, and was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee. While she’s thrilled to say her fiction has been published (mostly in print) in literary journals and anthologies in seven countries to date, she would love to see a collection of her own published some day. Maggie works part-time, has two regular volunteer positions, and cycles many miles each week so she can keep enjoying chocolate and red wine. She has dozens of literary idols, including Miranda July, Sam Lypsyte, Cate Kennedy, Raymond Carver, Tim Winton, Kurt Vonnegut, and Helen Garner.
Maggie won second place in our Spring 2015 contest with a wonderful little seductive piece called GLASS: Heat Sand to 1,700°
. We invite you to read Maggie’s story, then come back to enjoy an interview with the author as we discuss the art of exploring emotional places.
WOW: Congratulations Maggie, and welcome to The Muffin! Did I mention how much I enjoyed GLASS: Heat Sand to 1,700°? The residual odd rippling of emotions left me wanting to read more of your work; it’s so delicious to trip over such talented writing!
You said that your writing began on a whim, the result of looking for a hobby. Since then you’ve created an impressive collection of published work. Can you share with us some idea of the personal transformations that were taking place during this time?
When I joined a writing group back in ‘07 I had no idea I was beginning a journey of personal transformation. Learning the craft was challenging and fun, but my stories frequently took me on an emotional roller coaster. Like most new fiction writers I was given that great piece of advice, write what you know. While drawing from our own life experience can certainly enhance our fiction it can also open the lid on stuff we’ve had safely locked away. For example, can we write credibly about how it feels to lose a child, if in real life we are even yet to be a parent? Or about how it feels to experience emotional abuse during a ten year marriage if we’ve only ever had one night stands? Of course, it is possible. A healthy imagination makes all the difference. I’ve killed off many a character but I’ve never actually murdered anyone. Promise!
WOW: You have a gift for painting emotions with words. What process do you go through to find the right ones?
That’s a great compliment. Thank you. This question is difficult to answer because it’s difficult to do. We’ve all had sweaty palms or an aching heart or clenched our jaw in anger. You need to slip your feet into your character’s shoes; think and feel for them.
WOW: I’m impressed with your ability to express the male POV in an intimate way. What tips do you have with someone struggling in this area?
Regardless of our sexuality, I believe all humans have a masculine and feminine side. Ying and yang. We women also have relationships with fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers, or male friends, etc, that help us imagine the way our male characters are likely to think, feel, or react, when faced with certain situations. Again, imagination is key. I’m proud to say that a couple of years back I had a piece of sensual, sweet, gay erotica published which featured two male characters.
WOW: While this story falls into the peccadillo category, I believe you’ve written about more intense situations—I remember reading that one of your favorite characters unleashed herself on a person who had abused her. What are your thoughts on the places we go as writers?
I must confess I almost didn’t enter ‘Glass’ in this competition, fearing the contents may be a tad risqué. Having said that, characters with quirks and flaws are way more interesting to write. Who doesn’t like a perfectly imperfect character? And yes, I’ve tackled some tricky issues in my fiction, such as child abuse, schizophrenia, drug addiction, and prostitution. My advice is, just bite the bullet. Be brave enough to let your writing take you to those uncomfortable places. Sometimes writing fiction can allow us to re-write parts of our own history―to give us outcomes we would have preferred. To right some of those wrongs. I find this part surprisingly satisfying.
WOW: Ooh, that's a great motivational quote to post above our desks! What are you working on now?
I’m working on part three of a three-part novella. Although I have had one novella-length story published I prefer writing shorter fiction, but each story just seems to take on a life and length of its own. We never stop learning the craft. Writing is lot of fun, and getting to share our stories feels amazing. Thanks, WOW, for the second place award as well as for the opportunity to publish my little story.
WOW: Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your story with us. We hope to see you back here again, either in the winner’s spotlight or perhaps with your novella!
Labels: Contestant interview, Maggie Veness, Robyn Chausse, Spring 2015 Flash Fiction Contest Winner
Tips for Article Source Success
It's one thing to research and outline an article idea and pitch it to an editor--but finding the appropriate sources to complete the piece once you've landed the assignment can be a different story. Over the years, through much trial and error, I've learned a thing or two about finding the perfect experts and anecdotal material necessary for turning in a polished article. Here are some tips to help you do the same.
Dig Deep to Find the Right Sources
Profnet.com is a great resource to find experts on any number of subjects, as is Peter Shankman’s “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) service. Search Amazon.com in your subject heading and see if you can find any recently published non-fiction books whose authors might make great experts. Keep contact information for every source you interview (and make a note of whether you had a positive or negative experience) so you can contact these subjects for any future articles where they could be a good fit. You can also find specific experts and research for your related topic by contacting the communications departments of places such as the American Cancer Society or Autism Speaks.
Always Double Check Quotes and Obtain Permission from Article Sources.
When you conduct an e-mail or phone interview, always double check your source is okay with her personal information and anecdotes going into print. Send your source any quotes you plan to use (not necessarily the whole article) from the interview for verification and clarification and keep all e-mail correspondence. Sources do sometimes have a change of heart, later, and may tell your editor they no longer wish to be quoted. You may need to have evidence to back yourself up.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Find Experts and Anecdotes.
Always find two to three more sources than you’ll actually need for the article. Once, I had planned to interview an obstetrician-gynecologist for an article and she had to cancel at the last minute. The public relations agency she worked with provided me with another source, in a time zone three hours behind me. I stayed up late the night before the article was due to interview the source on the phone, only to find out she really didn’t think my article topic had merit and refused to give me any pertinent information. I hadn’t lined up enough sources to cover off that bomb of an interview and struggled to complete the piece on time.
Make Sure the Source is a Good Fit For Your Subject Matter.
When a source or public relations firm contacts you, make sure they have the proper expertise to act as an expert source and aren’t just promoting their latest book, blog, or website. For example, a personal trainer with an exercise blog may not be the best expert for an article on children’s nutrition. I find experts who will include facts, anecdotes and research in their initial correspondence with you particularly promising. Over the years, I’ve learned how to comb through “dud” sources and spot which experts and anecdotal subjects will be the best fit for my articles.
What tips do you have for finding the right sources to interview for assignments? Please share in the comments below!
Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Charlotte Parent, Lake Norman Currents, The Charlotte Observer, The Writer and more. When she’s not working on client projects, she enjoys spending time with her family and writing young adult and middle grade fiction. Visit her website at www.FinishedPages.com.
Labels: finding sources for articles and blog posts, freelance writing advice, HARO, Profnet, Renee Roberson
Banned Books Week Should Live On
The official Banned Books Week just ended yesterday. But since my blog post day was today, I'm going to write about this topic near and dear to my heart anyway. Really, we need more than a week to recognize that banning books is never a good idea and
to talk about some of the issues that have come up this year.
In the beginning of September, I saw the following headline about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot, a book I read and reviewed for The Muffin back in 2010
Tennessee Parent: Acclaimed Medical History Book is Pornographic
If you haven't read the book, here's a bit about it from my review: "I'd never heard of Henrietta Lacks,
pictured on the book cover, before I picked up Rebecca Skloot's
wonderful book. Chances are, you haven't either. But you may have heard
of HeLa cells or at the very least, information about medical research
to find a polio vaccine or cure for cancer. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you finally meet the women behind HeLa cells, 'the first immortal cells ever grown in a laboratory,' as well as her family and key medical researchers."
That doesn't sound like porn at all, right? So what is this parent's beef with the book? The book is on the summer reading list for high school students who go to
L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. Local station WBIR reported
"Her son has been provided with an alternate text, per district policy,
but Sims said she wants the text out of the hands of all Knox County
Schools students." Providing an alternate text is how the district deals with book complaints and can still stand behind their educators' curriculum decisions.
Sims thinks the book is too graphic (it is written for adults, not teens), and some examples she mentions are when the author discusses Henrietta's husband's infidelity and a tumor on her cervix. The point that most articles concerning this mother's complaints raise and some parents have stated, whose children also go to this school, is that Sims has every right to stop her 15-year-old from reading a book she doesn't find appropriate, but she does not have the right to stop other kids from reading it.
As writers and artists, we know this is true. Everyone has their own morals and beliefs. There are countless books in libraries, at bookstores, and online to purchase and read for you and your family. It is no one's right or mission in life to stop anyone from reading a particular book.
The American Library Association's website has a lot of information on banned books--they have top 10 lists concerning the most challenged and banned books--contemporary and classics
. Check it out if you want to see a list of great books you want to read because that's what banning books usually does--it gives the book publicity and makes people want to read it even more. I love this about our society.
I could go on and on about this topic but here's an example of a parent whom I think is doing things right. The other day, her 11-year-old daughter brought home a Maximum Ride book, and since she's not familiar with the series, she asked her Facebook friends what they thought. I responded asking if her daughter had read other series, such as Hunger Games, and what she thought of it. We had a discussion, along with her other friends. And then she made a decision for her own family.
So even though Banned Books Week is over, let's remember that there are people who are constantly trying to censor everyone; and as writers, we have to speak up because this is not okay.
Margo L. Dill is a children's and YA author and an instructor for the WOW! Women On Writing classroom. Find out more at: http://www.margodill.com
Labels: banned books, censorship, Margo L. Dill, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Book Review Calm the F*CK Down: The Only Parenting Technique You'll Ever Need
Review by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
I was a bit taken aback when I received the book Calm the F*ck Down
as part of my BabyGuyBox
for September. The BabyGuy has never led me astray, so I tried to be open minded. I waited until all four of our children were in bed, poured myself a cup of decaf coffee and settled in to check this book out. It was absolutely hilarious as well as filled with real world, practical advice. I love giving expecting friends the book: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
, but now I can give them a copy of Calm the F*ck Down
Here's how I described Calm the F*ck Down
when I explained it to my husband:
It's just like having coffee with you (dear husband)
and with one of my Besties (who has 9 children).
Here's a quick illustration:
I say "Do you think it's a problem that baby hasn't pooped in 3 days? I'm starting to think something is wrong with me, my milk, her, or maybe its..."
Hubby says "Seriously, just relax, I'm sure it's no big deal" (loosely translated: Calm the F*ck Down!!!!)
Bestie says "Oh, that happens, especially with breastfeed babies. They can go up to 7 days without pooping and it's no problem. Crystal, it just means she is getting everything she needs and there's not much waste. Look at her, she's doing great"
Do you see what happened there? I freaked the freak out. Hubby did the eye roll with words, and my Bestie talked me down off the ledge and reassured me I'm a rockstar parent! That's exactly what happens as you read Calm the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You'll Ever Need
. This book is filled with real world advice and reassurance, as well as a reminder that you should probably just breathe every once in awhile instead of going off the parental deep end. I would absolutely recommend this book for parents, expectant parents, and even seasoned parents. We have four children and there are plenty of times I've gotten concerned over something and just needed a wee bit of reassurance.
This awesome book came in my BabyGuyBox but is available on Amazon
If you're a good parent, you probably drive yourself batshit with worry. This book is for you. Based on his viral blog post and addressing concerns from "my baby won't poop" to "my boy likes girl toys" to "everything costs too much," David Vienna's wise and funny parenting advice will amuse and inform and remind you that (almost) nothing is worth freaking out about.
Includes advice from actual experts!
Great new dad gift that'll keep him calm, cool, and collected
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Knock Knock (February 1, 2015)
About Author David Vienna:
David Vienna is the creator of The Daddy Complex, a parenting humor website where he chronicles misadventures with his wife and twin sons. In his eclectic professional writing career, he's penned everything from corporate marketing campaigns to reality TV scripts (that one really awesome episode of House Hunters--yeah, that was his), and he even wrote three stage musicals. His work also appears in exquisitely crafted drunken emails to his friends from high school. He likes long walks on the beach and his favorite color is green.
Quick shout out to the BabyGuyNYC
and the September #BabyGuyBox -
without you, I wouldn't have laughed nearly as hard this month!!!
|Crystal tandem babywearing Delphine (left)|
and Breccan (right)
Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 8, Andre 7, Breccan 2, and Delphine 7 months), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.
You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
and here: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
Labels: babyguybox, book review, calm down, calm the f*ck down, david vienna, parenting, parenting method, parenting technique, relaxed parenting