That Pesky Writing Thing

I’m a very effective, efficient and highly competent procrastinator, especially when it comes to writing. Oh yes, I have had long periods of drought, brought on by something very specific: the lack of sitting down to write.

Yes, I go for extended periods of time when I’d rather poke my eyes out than sit down and write something. And WHY would I do that? Because I’m a writer, of course.

Writers have written about their lack of productivity, or conversely, have crowed about their systematic and highly organized daily writing habits, for all of us to read. Heck, I’ve even quoted some of those folks on this very blog.

Since I haven’t been writing short stories, I look to other areas where I am writing and give myself a big ol’ pat on the back. Hey, I’m writing a blog entry right now! Look at me, I’m writing something!

And I’ve also gone back to writing my personal journal on a more regular basis. Not quite everyday, but with a regularity that keeps me satisfied. Sure, I say to myself when I’ve finished a hand written entry, you just wrote something.

It’s true too. Writing my blog entries and my personal journal entries are writing. Some of you (thank you, yet again) are actually coming here and reading it too … which, I gotta tell you, IS gratifying. Knowing there is an audience for these blog posts keeps me motivated to continue maintaining the blog. And, as an aside, I have been maintaining this blog for years now. And I’ve met a lot of really nice readers along the way, from all over the world. The world of blogging is pretty amazing, in my opinion.

Okay, I just distracted myself (but not you, dear reader) from what I was admonishing myself for, my lack of “real” output.

And over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about where I left off with my writing. I mean to say I’d been quite organized when I was submitting my short stories to online journals, and so I went back to the list I kept to see what I’d been doing.

Boy, that was shocking to me. I realized, in looking at my list of submissions, that I’d only submitted work to journals six times during all of 2014. Compared to what I’d been doing in 2013, this was the literary equivalent of letting my work fall off a cliff into an abyss.

But that’s not all. The facts are the facts – I had not submitted ANY short stories for consideration in 2015.

Zero.

Zip.

Nada.

Here was harsh reality staring me in the face. I had produced no new short stories in 2014, and I had submitted no short stories in 2015.

So how important is this pesky writing thing to me? I asked myself.

I don’t have a real answer for that right now, except to say, it’s of some importance to me. “How much” is – as of this writing – an unknown quantity.

By delving into my “state of affairs,” I was able to go back to a story I’d written in 2013 and which I’d barely tried to get published in 2014. That story has accumulated only two rejections, which I know from my own experiences, is nothing in the overall process of getting a story published.

And so I dusted off the story and re-edited it. I liked the more tightened version, and have since sent it off to two more potential markets where it could be published. Or not. But I’m giving it a try.

Looking at words on a page, rearranging them, removing a few, adding one here and then moving that sentence there all feels good. It feels right. There’s a comfort in it.

I’m unwilling to give myself any more credit than “feeling good” about submitting a dusted off story to two editors for their consideration. It is what it is, nothing more. If I’m going to go any further, there’s work ahead to be done.

Writers I’m Sleeping With

Writers I am Sleeping With

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Sometimes it’s good to cuddle up with a writer in bed. Better yet, it’s good to cozy up to several. For now, I’ve decided to sleep with Stephen King, Etgar Keret and William T. Vollman. I tried to sleep with William Faulkner too, but he and I just weren’t seeing eye to eye, so he’s sitting on the bed but we’re not really together. (And I’m not holding it against him that he’s the one who’s dead, either.)

Each of these guys has something different to offer me as I get my brain back into “writing mode” (otherwise known as I made that up so I can trick myself into writing more.) Eh, reading helps me write.

In re-reading parts of King’s On Writing, I’m reminded of how funny some of the stories are in the autobiographical section of the book. The precision of King’s language amazes me, the images are powerful, whether he’s dropping a cinder block on his baby toes, or nearly getting electrocuted by his older brother Dave. The read creates so much pleasure; I could re-read that book many times and never tire of the stories.

I haven’t cracked open The Girl On the Fridge yet, but I’ve read other Keret story collections like The Nimrod Flipout and Suddenly, A Knock On the Door and really enjoyed them; they’re fun. So Keret and I were friends first, now he’s been promoted to a sleeping partner. I’m hopeful that “Girl” will be a worthwhile companion.

Finally, the complicated Mr. Vollmann. I began reading The Atlas earlier this year and explored the strange emotional landscape Vollmann inhabits in that collection of stories. I never finished the book, but I’m ready to spend more time with Vollmann again and given the nature of the content, the best place to read that book is in bed. (No, I’m not going to tell you more, you will have to find your own copy and explore the terrain on your own.)

Yes, blogging about my reading is another mechanism to get my writing juices flowing again too.

Another baby step forward.

 

 

 

Gearing Up to Write

As I’ve admitted previously on the blog, this year has not been as productive as I’d have liked from a writing standpoint. There are “things” I am doing to help gear myself back up to write short fiction again.

First, I’m making more of an effort to go to my Jersey City Writer’s Group. Every other Tuesday and Thursday they do a “Writing Prompts” night, where writers get together and three people give prompts. We all write to the prompt for 10 minutes, then read whatever we came up with to the group. I find the more I don’t want to go and do prompts, the more I need to make sure I go and do the mental exercise.

Second, friends are asking me for feedback on their work and I’m reading their work and doing what I can to help. When I’m asked to give feedback, I often go to writing advice books I like and re-familiarizing myself with the guidance from the best. I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s On Writing, and I’ve been re-reading passages from it. It’s tough to give honest feedback to friends, because I care about them and when I see issues I want to bring to their attention, I want to do it in a way that they can “hear.”

Third, and this was a surprise to me, but reading poetry has been a pleasant mental bath in all kinds of imagery and finely wrought word craftsmanship. I’ve read widely, from Rumi to Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks (The Bean Eaters), and Jack Kerouac. I am also reading passages from books I love. I dusted off Faulkner’s Light in August and began reading a few pages, not with the intention to read the whole thing, but to enjoy the craftsmanship and the language.

Fourth, I am participating in a writer’s retreat this weekend. I am forcing myself to spend Friday night and all day Saturday in a cabin with nearly a dozen other writers and I WILL spend some of that time writing. Frankly, at this moment it still seems like it could be torture and I haven’t drafted a plan of attack for the time I’ll be there. Yeah, it’s a scary proposition, and I’ve put myself in the situation on purpose. Hopefully something good will come out of it.

Fifth, messing around on the internet looking at the daily routines of writers. Just for fun, but also as a reminder that whatever torture I’m going through isn’t the first time it’s happened to a writer and won’t be the last.

On the Brain Pickings website, here’s something to chew on from William Gibson:

When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.

[…]

As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.

Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.

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Sixth, okay, uh, I haven’t sat down to write yet.

This post is called Gearing Up to Write, right? It’s not called “I’m not having trouble writing” or “I’m a virtuous writer” or “My daily writing routine” so, yeah, I know, I know…………………….

 

 

Flash Fiction: A Million Times

You’ve heard this one a million times. A girl is standing on the corner in the East Village with her French bulldog, Lola. The girl is waiting for the light to turn so she can cross the street, but this guy comes along in Italian loafers and the bulldog piddles on the loafers. I know, it’s cliché.

As you’d expect, Italian loafers takes the girl to small claims court because the shoes are ruined. He doesn’t care that she apologizes umpteen times, or that Lola is old and having bladder problems. The small claims court judge rules in favor of Italian loafers because an owner should be able to control their animal.

But here’s where things get interesting.

Turns out, by some twist of fate, the girl runs into the judge in the courthouse hallway after the proceedings. I think he was on his way to the men’s room (speaking of bladders) and she walked up to ask him a question. She was attracted to the judge, which is odd since he ruled against her. Didn’t matter.

The judge considered whether or not he’d ask the girl on a date. He decided it was a bad idea. He imagined that one boomeranging on him. Not on the first or second dates, but later, after they’d slept together a few times. He knew she’d throw the Italian loafers ruling in his face. He didn’t want to take the chance, even though the girl was cute and he’d been divorced a few years. It wasn’t necessarily easy to keep doing the dating thing.

Meanwhile, the Italian loafers guy made out like a bandit, but the last laugh was on him because after he left the courthouse, he got hit by a bike messenger. Yep. He wound up in the hospital with a severe concussion. Clearly, the guy didn’t pay enough attention on the street. In Manhattan you need to be on your toes, not checking Facebook every five seconds; but this guy was looking at his phone and sustained a head trauma.

It’s just how it happened. What can you do?

All of this is rote. It’s a story we’ve been told so frequently we nod as we hear the part about the head trauma. It’s expected you’re not going to like Italian loafers guy. First, he’s walking around Manhattan in an expensive pair of shoes, then, on top of that, he takes the girl to court. And even though his shoes got ruined, and he did nothing but stand on a street corner, the reader expects the writer to exact retribution against the guy for not accepting the girl’s apology. Besides, everybody loves a French bulldog named Lola. Let’s face it, that’s not working in the guy’s favor.

But, the thing is, the writer never explained that those shoes were given to him by his girlfriend as a college graduation gift. A girl he later married. The guy was distracted by his phone because he’d been waiting for a text from his wife. She was going into labor any second with their first kid. He was checking the phone for incoming texts, just like he’d been doing every five minutes because he was a nervous father-to-be.

So, there’s an unresolvable conflict. Now the reader could like the guy, because he’s going to be a dad and it seems like he got the raw end of the deal with the ruined shoes. And he wound up in the hospital and missed the birth of his first, and what would turn out to be, his only child. The guy seems like a regular saint, right?

What’s a reader to do?

Really, all of this is proof you can’t trust writers. I’m not talking about me, because I’m the narrator. I’m reliable. I’ve been telling you nothing but the truth from the get go. But those writers, they’re a crafty bunch. They split the road, then split it again and take not just the path less traveled, they create a new road no one saw before. They like tricking the reader that way, and somehow, the reader likes it.

I’m a Pro at Procrastination

As I look back on many months of blog posts for 2014, I’m a little sad.

First, I will claim my one main creative victory for this year, which was writing an original screenplay for Jordan’s Jackhammer. That’s a biggie, and so far this year, THE high water mark for my writing.

However, my blog posts have become a diversion from my original purpose for this blog… to promote what I was writing, or when fortune and an editor’s good will intervened, promoting what I had gotten published.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a literary journal accept a new piece from me. Of course, that’s because it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything worthy of submitting to a journal.

Behind the scenes, I wrote a short, absurd piece in June. I sent it around to very few places, and it got rejected by all of them.  I’m not going to send it around to a few dozen more places and accumulate rejection notices (or even an acceptance.) The piece is called A Million Times, and I’m going to put it out here on the blog as a follow up to this posting.

But facts are facts. I’ve allowed myself to become side tracked from my writing.

On the positive side, one distraction from my writing is my quest to achieve greater health by going to the gym 5x a week, and eating healthy. I don’t regret one minute I’ve spent sweating and exhausted beyond recognition. It’s required to achieve the results I’ve gotten so far.

Another important and positive distraction from my writing is my jazz vocal practice. Opening the door to jazz music, and jazz singing, has been joyous. I can now sing a passable Carmen McRae impression in my shower, and that means something to me. There will be more posts about my jazz singing to come, but this post is about my writing procrastination. It wouldn’t be right to continue expounding on how great jazz singing is, in this post.

The terrible thing about writer’s procrastination is that I came up with truly interesting and important additions to my life to give myself an outlet for my creativity. That’s a funny thing about being creative, even when you are blocked from expressing yourself in one vein, the creative blood finds alternative places to flow and give life elsewhere.

I’m not going to make promises in this post that I can’t keep. I won’t say, oh, I’m going to get back to writing immediately and start putting out short stories by the boat load. That would be foolish of me.

But for whatever reason, around this time of year I usually get some urge to write. I’m counting on that to propel me to begin doing something again. I hope soon. The levels of internal resistance I’ve been experiencing are very high, and that resistance has sustained itself for months. I haven’t “forced myself” to sit down and write (which usually results in me becoming instantly sleepy) and instead have channeled the energies elsewhere.

So, stay tuned for a piece of flash fiction in my next post. Perhaps it will be one of many short pieces I may still write before the end of this year. I wish I could say I know that’s true, but right now, I don’t. Still, there is intention here now…and that counts for something.

 

My Short Film Adventure – Writing Credit on IMDB!

My first IMDB Film Credit!

My first IMDB Film Credit!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an update on my short film adventure, and that’s because filming finished in April and now the short is in post-production.

An editor has been brought on board, and they will produce a rough cut of the film to be reviewed by the Producers, the Director and with luck, me too. 😉

In the meantime, an entry for Jordan’s Jackhammer (working title) has been put on IMDB, and yours truly is listed as the Writer.

Woo Hoo! It’s my first IMDB film credit, and if I have anything to do with it, not my last.

If you want to check it out, there are two links of interest (from my perspective):

Jordan’s Jackhammer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3703880/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Carol Deminski, Writer: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6467027/?ref_=tt_ov_wr

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The excitement continues!

Short Stories – Submit It or Quit It Presentation and Press Coverage

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation at the Jersey City Writers group titled Submit It or Quit It: Short Stories, followed by a panel discussion with two other writers, Nancy Mendez-Booth and Meg Merriet. The panel was hosted by Adriana Rambay Fernandez.

L - R, panelists include: Meg Merriet, Nancy Mendez-Booth and me

L – R, panelists include: Meg Merriet, Nancy Mendez-Booth and me

Our panel moderator, Adriana Rambay Fernandez

Our panel moderator, Adriana Rambay Fernandez

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We were lucky enough to get press coverage for the event, and The Hudson Reporter published us on the front page yesterday under the article title A Gathering of Scribes.

http://hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/25085939/article-A-gathering-of-scribes–Jersey-City-Writers-talk-about-how-to-get-published–?instance=latest_story

To begin my presentation, I did a reading from Etgar Keret’s Suddenly A Knock On the Door; specifically I chose to read The Story Victorious, which was well received and got the laughs it deserved.

Making a funny face while reading The Story Victorious by Etgar Keret

Me making a funny face while reading The Story Victorious by Etgar Keret

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Me hugging Rachel Poy, the co-organizer of Jersey City Writers for all her help on setting up the event

Me hugging Rachel Poy, the co-organizer of Jersey City Writers for all her help on setting up the event

Then we had an excellent panel discussion facilitated by Adriana, followed by questions from the audience.

My message on submitting short stories was simple … if you work at your craft and are persistent and put in the time to submit to journals, you will be rewarded by getting published eventually.

I offered suggestions on how to stay organized by maintaining a spreadsheet / submission tracker. I mentioned Duotrope and Poets & Writers as places people can go to search for potential journals where work can be submitted. And I also told folks that many journals use Submittable, and that setting up a Submittable account is easy and free for writer-submitters.

None of this is rocket science, but it does take time and effort to cultivate a pipeline of finished pieces you want to submit, then select multiple markets, read submission guidelines and send your work around… then track all the results.

I’d been meaning to put up a posting covering the event, and now that we’ve gotten local press coverage I realized the time is now to post a few photos and to say thank you again to Rachel, Jim, Adriana, Nancy and Meg for all of their support in getting this event together and participating.

My short film adventure, continued

About a month ago I posted My Short Film Adventure, So Far and this is a follow up post to that.

Lesson number one – just when you think the script is finished, it’s not.

It’s been really interesting to see the process unfold on this project, which I have to imagine is very similar to many film projects.

I was brought on board by the two producers of the film to write the script, but none of the rest of the crew had been hired yet. Including the director. Since I’m a newbie in this space, I figured once I delivered a script the producers liked, that’s what would be used. Not quite.

What I came to understand very quickly, is the relationship between the Director and the writer is extremely important. In fact, for future projects I’d want to know who the Director would be and meet that person before undertaking the writing of a script because the Director has to be comfortable with me as a writer and what I’m bringing to the table, and I have to be comfortable with that person as the Director and incorporating elements that person wants to ensure there is a meshing of the vision for the film.

Thankfully, the Director on this film project has been easy to work with and made some good suggestions about script changes and changing the order of scenes I wrote to enhance the overall flow of the film.

Then, the Director of Photography (DP) also made some modifications to the script based on the fact that the way I wrote certain descriptions would have been very expensive to shoot. (Oops, I didn’t realize that one description would have required a fancy crane shot!)

Then, the producers asked me would I mind terribly changing the ending because the location I’d written for the end scene was expensive and was proving difficult to secure. And if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I change the nature of the pet of one of the characters because of other complications. Sure, I said. No problem. 🙂

And so it is that I’ve now delivered version 15 of the rewritten script, which might just be final. Maybe. Probably.

Except that…

I’m going to go out on a limb here (it’s not much of a limb) and guess that no final script, no matter how perfectly written, is exactly what’s delivered on screen. That’s probably a good thing in many cases.

The director and actors will do their job during the shooting of the film which will enhance and modify whatever is in the script, and then there will be an editing process which I’m sure will shape whatever comes out in the end as the final product for the entire crew’s efforts.

But while I’ve been pondering the script and laboring over whatever changes were needed, the producers have been really hard at work doing everything else. That included hiring a casting agent and casting the five roles in the film. I’m SO EXCITED by the amazing cast they’ve hired. These people are incredible actors with impressive credits to their names, I’m sure they will bring the characters I wrote fully to life!

The locations have mostly been nailed down, the director, DP and sound guy are onboard, and the producers keep going. I can’t even imagine how they are getting all this done so quickly.

But for me, the writer, my big event which is scheduled for next week, is a table reading of the script by the actors. It will be the first time the cast has been fully assembled and hearing the actors reading my dialogue will be thrilling.

Just a few days after that, filming will begin! If I’m given permission, I will bring a camera to the shoot and take photos of “the making of” this film.

So, up next, the actors reading my script together as a group for the first time. How exciting is that?!

My talk on short story submissions – 4/30/14

Hi everyone,

If you are a “local” reader in the Jersey City area, I wanted to let you know I will be giving a talk at the Jersey City Writer’s group (http://jerseycitywriters.org/about-us/) on 4/30/14 at our “IndieGrove” location. (http://indiegrovejc.com)

The presentation is called Submit It or Quit It – Short Stories. It’s an encouragement and challenge to the writer participants of our group to commit to submitting their work this year.

I’ll be discussing my journey as a published short story writer, sharing information on how to find markets to submit your stories, and providing materials to help keep you organized during the submission process from pre-submission, through response and post-submission.

After my presentation, there will be a panel discussion with 3 or 4 writers and a moderator. The panel participants haven’t been finalized yet, but from what I’m seeing so far, it should be a very exciting group of people.

To attend the Submit It or Quit It presentation, you can go onto the MeetUp website, and sign up. There are lots of events hosted by Jersey City Writers, so if you are a writer in JC… please join us!

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Review: if i would leave myself behind by Lauren Becker

if i would leave myself behind

Lauren Becker’s new short story collection, if i would leave myself behind, is being published by Curbside Splendor and should be released by June this year, according to the publisher.

An image of Ms. Becker

I received a review copy of the book, because when I reached out to the publisher to purchase it, they offered to send it if I would write a review. I said sure.

I’ve followed Ms. Becker’s work for a few years, and I’m also a big fan of Corium, the literary magazine she edits. She’s been kind enough to send me editorial notes on my submissions from time to time.

Don’t let the diminutive size of the physical book fool you, or the brevity of the stories, some of which are a slender page, this collection packs an emotional wallop.

All of the main characters in these stories are women, most in severely damaged relationships, some of those relationships are of the woman with herself, and others are disfunctional co-dependent relationships with men. In some cases, there are dying family members too.

willow is a brief internal reflection of a woman suffering with anorexia. There is a Good Willow and a Bad Willow, depending on what she is eating.

In boilerplate, an unnamed woman describes an unpleasant one night stand where she has offered herself up to a man she doesn’t like. She says, “We stared into each other’s eyes for the couple of minutes it took to accomplish his ambivalent satisfaction. Neither of us cared about mine.”

And in tipped a young woman also struggles with body image issues. This paragraph in particular made me laugh: “I was still losing weight. He asked why I was getting skinny. He held my hips when we kissed and put his hands around my belly from behind sometimes when I was brushing my teeth, which I hated. I would like to meet one girl in the world who likes having a guy touch her stomach.”

after the girls of summer describes a horrific relationship with a woman and her abusive boyfriend. The story begins, “When he is sweet, Alex runs his right thumb along Shelly’s left eyebrow. The thick hairs mostly cover the scar where he split her skin for the first time.” And perhaps the most haunting line in that story, “She is the way he made her.”

The 29 stories in this 112 page collection are relentless. They can be read quickly, but when you feel the air squeezed out of your lungs from the horror these women face, day after day, in their cruel lives, with their narcissistic partners, or their disapproving mothers, or dying fathers, it’s a wonder to be able to get through it. But get through it you must, because Ms. Becker’s women characters are compelling in their despair; they are complex in their nonchalant acceptance of their abuse of their bodies and their minds.

New Flash Fiction essay on Jersey City Writers Website

Hi all, I wrote a brief 500 word piece called A Few Words About Flash Fiction for the Jersey City Writers website. It was posted yesterday.

The piece has numerous links to some of the top literary journals that publish flash, and other resources that will be of interest to anyone who wants to write Flash Fiction.

Please give your click love here to read it:

http://jerseycitywriters.org/a-few-words-about-flash-fiction/

I will also put a link to this piece on my Published Stories page for future reference.