Bright-Shiny-MorningLucky for me, work got canceled tonight. So, I was able to go to a reading by author James Frey instead. I’ve never read any of his work. Of course I knew about the A Million Little Pieces debacle. My opinion of that had always been that it was blown out of proportion. I don’t consider memoir non-fiction. Are our memories or interpretations of any event ever 100 percent accurate? Even if a story I write is 90-percent real, I will always call it fiction. I don’t like the idea of a reader judging the reality of my world, how I need to interpret my world, or how I need to write about it. I read a Vanity Fair article last June about the whole affair & the aftermath. Something about it, & the description about his new book Bright Shiny Morning made me add the book to my to-read list.

So, things just came together this evening for me to go hear him read. I’m so glad I went. He stated up front that no questions were off limits. He has an incredibly refreshing candor & bluntness. More specifically, I appreciated what he said about his writing process. When he’s writing a book, he sees it as a full-time job. He “goes to work” 7-10 hours a day, 7-days a week. And when he writes he just plows through it beginning to end, and essentially keeps off the filter. Yes, this is all stuff I’ve heard before, but it was just interesting to hear him say it & to see how much writing is a part of him despite the hell it brought upon him. I also loved hearing that he didn’t write when he was younger or in college. He came to writing in his 20s. So often, I hear writers say how they have been writing since they are children as if that makes them more of a writer. Yes, I wrote when I was younger, but never with the conscious idea of being a writer. I didn’t decide that I wanted to write a novel until I was in my late 20s.

So, I have my autographed copy of Bright Shiny Morning & will start it as soon as I finish Revolutionary Road–which I should be done with by this weekend. The last couple months I’d been reading a lot of non-fiction. On the way back from DC last week I was craving fiction. During my stop-over in Salt Lake City, I purchased Revolutionary Road. So, the fiction kick is in full-swing. Part of me doesn’t like to really get pulled into any kind of fiction when I’m trying to really focus on my own work, but I realize I need that outlet. Non-fiction doesn’t fill the void.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to hear James Frey speak, go.

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Dey via flickr

Image: Dey via flickr

Got back into my routine today. With my brother & his girlfriend here for the holidays & my injury, I haven’t been able to do my usual Saturday thing. So, this morning I went to my writing group. No writing today. When we finally did stop talking, I couldn’t get anything out. I went back & reread what I had (big mistake). Thought it was crap & didn’t know where to restart. I’d planned to stay a couple hours after we usually end. I’d fed the dogs early, before I left, & let them spend some quality time outside; so, I would have been safe til about 2. But promptly at noon, I gave up & packed it in.

On the way home I stopped off & got some flowers–yellow gerbera daisies. I’d missed not buying flowers on Saturdays the last couple of weeks. But it wasn’t something I could really pass on to someone else to pick up for me. It’s something I have to do.

Came home, put them in a vase & then opened up the windows & front door & hung out outside with the dogs. It was about 80 today. Absolutely beautiful. I love 80 degrees in winter, even if it is wrong on so many levels! Then, I put the stereo on, hooked up the iPod, and played The National & read. As I was sitting there struggling to write this morning, it dawned on me that one of the reasons I’ve been struggling with writing lately is that I haven’t been reading. I’ve been reading non-fiction, but I haven’t been reading fiction. I realized, I need to be constantly reminded how other writers do it. I need to be reminded that 1st person POV works. I need to be reminded that a reader can care about a fictional character’s life. I’ve read that some writers can’t read fiction while they’re writing; too worried that they’ll be influenced by it. But, I think I’m the opposite. I need to read fiction. I need to get lost in made-up stories, so I can get lost in my own. So, I sat down in the big leather chair, propped the bad leg up on the ottoman, & sat down to finish reading The End of the Story by Lydia Davis. I started this book before my mother died, & hadn’t picked it up since then. For the past 16 weeks I’ve had trouble sitting down & reading fiction. Maybe a fear of letting my mind wander; even if my mind was supposed to be wandering in the author’s world, I was too afraid it would wander somewhere else. I also haven’t been such a big fan of the quiet that I usually require to read. But today, it felt alright. I don’t know why or what was different today. But I could sit down & read & I wasn’t afraid of my thoughts drifting off, & they didn’t.

So, we’ll see if reading gets me back on track with writing. (more…)

Drove up to Santa Barbara today to visit with friends of my mother & to get some help making sense of genealogy research my mother did. Good on both fronts today.

It was a beautiful day for a drive. It was nice to get away. A break from the norm. A different place.

I’m leaning towards putting draft #2 on hold, for now. During the drive, my mind kept wandering towards possibilities for this new WIP.

The interesting thing…the last couple weeks, at least half a dozen people have told me to write to get through this. The interesting thing, they don’t know I write. All of them suggested writing about what I’m going through, or rather my mother. Which is kind of funny/odd because my mother used to always joke that our family–her included–would make great material for a book. She didn’t know I was working on a novel. I hadn’t told her, or any of my immediate family, because I didn’t want the pressure of being asked (1) what was I writing about, and (2) when was I going to finish it. Telling friends & strangers always entailed less pressure. My current WIP is not about my family. I’m not saying I’m going to now write non-fiction, or non-fiction thinly disguised as fiction. But I think I will be using a thread of all this and spinning it into something. Sticking with fiction. I don’t know, non-fiction just doesn’t appeal to me. Too confining. At least for now. Who knows.

Today wasn’t bad. It’s weird to say that.

I love books. (I’d be amazed to find a writer who doesn’t.) And I especially love the books I own. I know in today’s recycling crazy world, selling your used books is the thing to do. I appreciate the idea of sharing the story. But, I hold on to mine. I keep all my books. Since college I’ve held on to every single one. Admittedly a few have disappeared after being borrowed into friends’ hands & homes causing me to consider some kind of library overdue book policy for the more blatant offenders. I remember the title of each missing book. I know, I should learn to let go. But I can’t. My books are part of who I am. Looking at them, I can recall where I was when I read them & what was going on in my life at the time. The fact that I picked up each one in a bookstore, choosing that one out of thousands, bought it, brought it home, & read it, says something about what was going on in my head at that moment. When it came time to pack up and move from DC back to LA, the movers were nice enough to tell me that I could cut my moving fee in half if I’d just give up the books. But I couldn’t. I paid the $1000+ and they came along with me on this next chapter in my life.

Today, they reside in my living room. They & I have made do with white Ikea bookshelves until such a time when we can find a home with built-ins. Space considerations require that each shelf is filled left to right, top to bottom. But we’re together and that’s all that matters.

With that in mind, I was a little disturbed by this article in today’s Wall Street Journal. In her article, “Why Libraries Are Back in Style,” June Fletcher writes that there is a rising trend in personal libraries, or “memory rooms,” in people’s homes. I love that home libraries are back in style, but I’m horrified by the reason why.

This trend in libraries is not about the books Fletcher writes, “…their appeal is often about creating a certain ambiance.”

She adds:

What can make libraries more soothing than other formal rooms isn’t so much books but the framed family photographs, awards and mementos that share the shelves and define a family’s interests and identity, says McLean, Va., architect Chris Lessard. “They’re memory rooms,” he says. Because libraries are public rooms, oftentimes the books are purely decorative and don’t say as much about the family who lives there. The books that people really read, like paperback novels and how-to guides, often are kept out of sight elsewhere in the home.

….

Tucson, Ariz., interior designer Terri Taylor says she spends a lot of time scouring flea markets and bookstores for books with fancy bindings for her clients’ bookshelves. She selects books to match color schemes rather than for their content.

Yes, my “library” is a memory room, but it’s the books themselves, all read by me, that provide the memories. I have never looked at them as decorative items used to accent the knick-knacks I’ve picked up on my travels or the photos of family & friends that I’ve placed on the edges. There’s no color scheme. Although, I have tried to institute a category system. Basically, fiction with fiction & non-fiction with non-fiction. Simple but it works. It’s all there. I never hide my books & the record of what I’ve read. Hardcover and paperback peacefully coexist. The great literature, the chick lit, the history tomes, the career advice guides sit side by side. I’ve always believed that if someone really wants to know me, they should spend some time looking at my bookshelves. It’s the one place where I seem to have no problem admitting to all my odd and passing interests, & sometimes questionable taste.

I was relieved at the very end of Fletcher’s article to know that there are still people like me who appreciate books & libraries for what they are:

Similarly, author Jay McInerney and his wife, Anne Hearst, happily mix dog-eared paperbacks with first editions of Fitzgerald and Joyce in the overstuffed bookcases of both their Manhattan apartment and their Hamptons house. Mr. McInerney thinks the visual jumble of thousands of mismatched books is appealing. “If you’re not reading what’s on your bookshelves, you should find something else to decorate with,” he says.

Proof that there are still sane people in the world!!

Image: erik via flickr

Found this meme here. Of all the memes I’ve done, this is probably the most blog related. So, here I go…

1. Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both?

Both. My paying gig is doing newsletter, brochure, and web site writing. And, I should be doing some freelance writing, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I write fiction for pleasure. I’m not quite ready to verbalize any professional aspirations there. Let me finish this novel & then we’ll talk. (By the way, I’m answering all the following questions based on my fiction writing.)

2. Do you keep a journal or a writing notebook?

Yes. More of a writing notebook than journal these days. But there’s a little bit of both in it. I carry it with me everywhere, just in case I have a spare moment to write & am nowhere near my computer. But more often than not, I need it around because my short-term memory is horrid & if I try and remember some brilliant phrase or idea to write down when I get home, it will be lost.

3. If you write fiction, do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing? Do you find books on plotting useful or harmful?

I have an idea, but I’ve found that much of my characters’ personalities, motivations, etc., only come out once I’ve started writing. It wasn’t until about half-way through my 1st draft that I really could get a handle on my characters’ thoughts and motivations. Even now, going into my 2nd draft, I’m finding that I’m still discovering things about them.

I think plotting books can be helpful, but I wish I’d stayed away from them until I’d really developed my writing practice and my voice. If I had to do it over again, I’d say, stay away from the craft books until you’ve had some time to just write. And when you do get around to reading the plot books, I would recommend reading a how to write a screenplay book. I know it helped me really think about how to frame a scene & pacing.

4. Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?

Procrastinator. Although, I do have moments where I just feel the need to write. I wish those moments were more common than they are. The good thing is, whether it was the procrastinator-in-me or the itch that got me to sit down, once I do, I tend to stay with it for a good amount of time.

5. Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?

It depends. If I have time, I can write for hours with no problem. If I’m just trying to fit it in, then I can also do a couple hundred words to just make some progress on my WIP.

6. Are you a morning or afternoon writer?

Actually, morning or night, but night more than morning. The only way I can write in the afternoon is if I started in the morning & it’s carrying over into the afternoon. Or, if I’m out at a cafe or something with the intent to use that time to write. My afternoons would be more productive if I could just take a nap. Actually, most of my blog posts tend to be done during the afternoon because it’s the only thing that will keep me awake & seem somewhat productive.

7. Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?

Most of the time, music. Instrumental movie soundtracks are the best. Sometimes there are songs that just help me get into a mood or into a scene, & I’ll play that song on repeat while I’m working on it. In essence, it becomes white noise for me.

I can also work in silence. That’s usually a result of the music having stopped & me being in such a zone that I haven’t realized that it’s stopped.

8. Computer or longhand? (or typewriter?)

Computer for the most part. I only do longhand when I’m not near my computer or if I’m just jotting down some notes. But, I have found that if I’m having trouble writing on the computer–you know, a nice case of writer’s block–then switching to a pen & notebook can help clear my head. Just like a change of scenery is good; sometimes a change of method is good.

9. Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One? Or do you let the story evolve as you write?

No. Honestly, I tend to only have my stories plotted out about half-way through. After that, it’s a total & complete freefall.

10. Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?

No. I’ve honestly never given it any thought. I just believe in writing well & having a good final piece that I’m proud of.

11. Editing/Revision – love it or hate it?

Hmmm…jury’s still out on that one. I’ve done professional editing and I don’t mind it. But I will admit, I’m not the best editor of my own work. I have a lot of trouble “killing my darlings.” Once I have a draft of this current WIP ready to edit/revise, I’ll be able to give a more honest answer.