As you know, I'm bouncing around a title. And although you haven't read a word, and I'm only two chapters on first draft, I think I know where I'm going with this new manuscript. Certianly without knowledge of the story, it's hard to make a decision. But just take a look. Do any of these speak to you somehow? Is there one that would make you want to take a deeper look into the book? Read more?
When I'm starting a new project, a writing project, I have to give it a working title. It helps keep me focused, somehow. Although, I truly don't know exactly what I'm writing about until I start writing. The story emerges out of the typing, like drumbeats determining a song's tempo. But since I nearly always write creative nonfiction, personal stories, memoir, then I kind of know, in many aspects, where I'm going. It's like driving on a five-lane highway, I just have to decide what lane to be in.
I have a few pages of writing done on this project. And a lot more research than I've ever done before. Much more organization on this project. This is different than what I've done in the past, so it feels a little strange.
Still, I need that title. And so far, I'm still working on it.
Can you imagine having a child and then many days later, finally giving the child a name? I know one couple who waited weeks after their daughter's birth before deciding on a name. They said they wanted to experience the child for a time before deciding. I was supposed to be named Timothy, but my mother said when she first laid eyes on me she knew I wasn't a Tim. A couple hours later I got my name. I was a David, she said. But it took a little time to make that final decision. I don't think it would be a good idea to give a child a working title.
So, in essence, my writing project was born a few weeks ago and it's now growing, its little eyes opening, its chubby hands grasping, its feet wiggling, and there are the cries in the night, and the dirty diapers of bad prose to be tossed away. But still, this child has no name.
Did you know Virginia has a wine country? A serious wine country. Napa-like. Did you have any idea?
Did you know Central Virginia is full of songwriters and great musicians? This is Dave Mathews country. Did you know that?
And did you know that when you ask directions in an old two-tank gas station and convenience store outside Batesville, Virginia in the foothills off the Blue Ridge Mountains, two different people will point in two different directions?
Got a little lost heading to Rapunzel's in Lovingston, the home of the songwriting competition that draws people from all over the region. But we got there! Thirty people were finalists, including me, all the way from Chicago. It was the 12th annual event and it was a beauty. Funky old-school venue; hardwood floors, a full stage, and a backstage kitchen and closet-like green room.
Drove more than 15 hours and played for three minutes and ten seconds. But it was wroth it to hear 28 others play their hearts out, and hear many good songs, but five great songs that were simply perfect. Superb songwriters! Superb! I didn't stand a chance of winning, honestly. I figured my song - TO A BETTER DAY - ended up in the middle of the pack somewhere. There was no way of really telling this, but it kind of felt like that. So, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. The winner was a long-time favorite in the region who had always placed but never won until this night. But my favorite may have been a young lady's song, a simple heartbreaker about a broken love affair. Gorgeous.
Oh, and yes, the wine.
Lots of it. There were dozens of wineries in the area, tucked in the shadowy valleys of the idyllic Virginia countryside. And it's good wine. Very good wine. Even the wine snobs could say that.
But what brought me to the area was the music, the love of a great song, and the fact that a song I wrote for my two sons several years ago while the writer-in -residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando was being recognized.
A tip of the wine glass to Rapunzel's, Virginia, and great musical storytellers everywhere.
I've never been big on all those "rules" and "tips" all over the Internet about writing. Do this; don't do that; blah, blah. But…
Stephen King put together a list recently and I must say, it's pretty darn good…
His list of twenty rules…
1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”
12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”
14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”
15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”
16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
This is the essence of creative nonfiction. And leave it to Emerson to say it precisely. "The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the Universe which runs through himself and all things.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson I'm going to read this to my students in the Radio Storytelling class. See if they agree.
I was reading a fellow author's blog just the other day and he listed the books that he very much wanted his children to read in their lifetimes. Books that he said were the most influential to him in his life. The Bible topped the list. And for him, it was important that he offered these titles to his sons and daughters.
My two boys would most likely give me some big time ribbing if I made such a list. They would think it was somehow pretentious and terribly parental. "Seriously, Dad?"
But the post did get me thinking about the books that have made an impact of some sort. And maybe, if my sons see this, the idea of actually reading these books might rub off. Maybe. LOL.
Here are my ten in no particular order.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
The Sun Also Rises, Ernst Hemingway
Go Dogs, Go, P.D. Eastman
Wild Stories, a collection nonfiction stories by the likes of P. J. O’Rourke, Rick Bass, Thomas McGuane, George Plimpton, and Hampton Sides, to name just a few. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee Call of the Wild, Jack London The White Album, Joan Didion The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, William Butler Yeats Oh, there are more. But I think this is a good top ten. And you?
I was pretty fast when I was young, fast enough
to avoid getting tagged and told, “you’re it!” But speed has gone the way of my
hair. So, Mary T. Wagner, the author of When the Shoe Fits…Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances found it relatively easy to catch up with me. This is not to
imply that Mary is super fast, although she’s certainly pretty quick with her
wit and insight. If you’ve ever read her work or heard her read her stories at a
live lit event, you know that. And it is also not to imply that I am so terribly slow that anyone
can “tag” me. Let’s just say that running after and away from people these days
is a far different game than it was decades ago.
This little game of blog tag comes at a great
time. This early autumn, the new Dream of Things edition of Any Road Will Take You Therewill be released. I’m so honored to be part of the Dream of Things
family. Publisher Mike O’Mary is dedicated to offering “meaningful books” and
I’m so thrilled that he believes Any Road Will Take You There fits in that
category. Plus, this spring Dream of Things will publish my collection of
essays: There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard. And once again, I am indebted to
Mike and Dream of Things.
Still, Mary is the star here today.
She’s the one who invited me into this blog tag and I am here to keep the game
THE BLOG TOUR AUTHOR QUESTIONS...
“What am I working on?” – Lots! I teach college and I’ve got two classes underway
this fall. One is a radio storytelling class where we take creative nonfiction
stories written by the students and turn them into audio presentations, like
something you might hear on This American Life. It’s really a wonderful process
and the students have great stories to tell. I also continue to work as a
reporter and anchor for CBS radio in Chicago. And I’m working on the final
details for the new release of Any Road Will Take You There.
I also have a novel I’m hoping to get
published soon. I’m now working on final edits and have at least one publisher
interested. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The novel is entitled
Night Radio and revolves around a young man who has dreams of being the next
great Rock n’ Roll radio personality at a time when music on the radio had
cultural relevance. But his own demons and the mistakes of his father haunt
him, eventually derail him, and then ultimately help to inspire him to host a
special radio event that will be the most difficult and rewarding of his life
“How does my work differ from others in its genre?” – My work is different, I
believe, in that the stories – true or fiction – revolve around the male
experience. Most of my work is creative nonfiction, memoir, personal stories,
with a uniquely male perspective to them. Believe it or not, men can be
introspective and deeply emotional. I try to bring that out in my work. The
books and essays are not the male version of what some call “chick lit” or
women-centric stories, but rather they are tales of how men fit into the world,
about their dreams, worries, mistakes, and miscues. I want to shine the light
on vulnerability, a trait rarely acknowledged by men. I frequently encounter
men who tell me how I have been able to put into words what
they had not been able to say. And the women who read my stories say they
have given my books to the men in their lives as gifts. I am truly honored.
“Why do I write what I do?” This may sound trite or cliché, but I have to write
what I write. It is part of who I am and what I want to be. Even if I were not
being published, I would probably write the same stories. It is like breathing.
“How does my writing process work?”– There’s a process? LOL. Yes, I guess there
is. First, I write nearly every single day. It may be very short, but I write.
It’s important to stay limber. Like working out; you have to do it
I also keep notes on my computer and in
several Moleskine journals. I refer to them often and when I’m ready, I start
to write. Joan Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m
thinking.” This is exactly how I work. I write to discover my story. It’s not
the other way around. I use no outlines, only the aforementioned notes, then I
redraft over and over until I dig through the words and find what I’m trying to
And now it’s time to get back to the
I’m tagging two authors, both wonderful
writers with incredible stories.
Madeline Sharples’ memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the harrowing but ultimately uplifting tale about her son
Paul's diagnosis with bipolar disorder, through his suicide at her home, to the
present day. It details how Madeline, her husband, and younger son weathered
every family's worst nightmare.
In addition to Leaving the Hall Light On, Madeline co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take
on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) a book about women in nontraditional
professions and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show,Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (2010). Her poetry accompanies the work of
photographer Paul Blieden in two books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy as
well as appearing in print and online on many occasions.
Madeline is now a full-time
writer and is working on her next book, a novel, based in the 1920s. She and
Bob, her husband of 40+ years, live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small
beach community south of Los Angeles.
And there’s Eleanor Vincent.
unbelievable courage to tell a story that is both heartbreaking and healing.
Swimming With Mayademonstrates the remarkable process of healing
after the traumatic death of a loved one. Eleanor Vincent raised her two
daughters, Maya and Meghan, virtually as a single-parent. Maya, the eldest, was
a high-spirited and gifted young woman. As a toddler, Maya was an angelic
tow-head, full of life and curiosity. As a teenager, Maya was energetic and
independent – and often butted heads with her mother. But Eleanor and Maya were
always close and connected, like best friends or sisters, but always also
mother and daughter.
at age 19, Maya mounts a horse bareback as a dare and, in a crushing cantilever
fall, is left in a coma from which she will never recover. Ultimately Eleanor
chooses to donate Maya’s organs. Years later, she is able to hear Maya’s heart
beat in the chest of the heart recipient. In a story that has been called
“heartbreaking and heart-healing,” Eleanor Vincent illuminates the kind of
courage, creativity, faith, and sheer tenacity it takes to find one’s balance
after unthinkable tragedy.
and Eleanor…you’re now IT.
I need to walk in the woods more. I am a member at the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago, and get there far less than I would like. And I did hike in The Rockie Mountains recently. But I read today a passage in a beautifully written book I picked up recently. The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich. It's creative nonfiction, a memoir of sorts, and it is stunning. Like all good creative nonfiction, the pieces in this collection are about far more than they first imply. In an essay entitled "On Water," Ehrlich writes about life, it's changing, evolving nature and its magical link to nature itself.
"Everything in nature invites us
constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless and forceful,
timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still. Lovers,
farmers, and artists have one thing in common, at least -- a fear of dry
spells, dormant periods in which we do no blooming, internal droughts only the
waters of imagination and psychic release can civilize. Too little water brings
on the weeds, while too much degrades the soil the way too much easy money can
trivialize a person's initiative. In his journal, Thoreau wrote, "a man's
life should be as fresh as a river. It should be the same channel but a new
water every instant."
Printers Row Lit Fest was a great success! Beautiful day and a great group of writers at the Chicago Writers Association booth. Writers Laura Enright (To Touch the Sun) and Raymond Wlodkowksi (Motor City Boys) were on either side of me and it was wonderful to spend the day with them.
But the takeaway is this...
Books are still very much alive. Yes, the publishing world has been turned on its head, and the new model for publishing, reading and consuming books continues to evolve almost daily. But... the reality is this: reading, storytelling, the human need to share stories is more alive than ever. Look at the people at Printers Row! I commented several times on Sunday while signing copies of Any Road Will Take You There how diverse the crowd was. Young, old, hipsters, hippies, old-school librarians, moms, dads, kids, students, and all of them mixing with rookie writers, veterans (James Patterson stopped by the Chicago Writers Association booth just looking around), teachers, booksellers (big and small) literature nerds, and book hoarders.
Printers Row Lit Fest has been going on for 30 years and each year it has adapted to the times, to the unique changes in the world of publishing, and each year people flock to Dearborn and Harrison streets in the historic Printers Row neighborhood of Chicago to devour stories.
Besides my writing, I do a lot of radio work, as many of you know, and many years ago the so-called experts proclaimed radio was dying. TV was going to kill it, they said. And now the Internet is being accused in the (so-called) murder of radio. Thing is, there's been no crime. Radio is not dead. Is it changing, adjusting, and still need of balance? Sure. It's evolving. Publishing is doing the same thing, evolving. But nothing can replace radio's most appealing element: its ability to be uniquely intimate. And nothing can replace what a book can do: take us to lands and cultures unknown, ignite imagination, or turn the mirror on each of us, demanding us to reexamine our place in the world. That can't be replaced. That can't be duplicated.
Don't believe me? Come out to Printers Row Lit Fest in 2015, and I'll prove it to you.
It's been months since my last entry here at MUSE. That's horrible. I need to get more regular, you know? I'll get better. Really.
But meantime - an update...
ANY ROAD WILL TAKE YOU THERE, my road trip memoir, has been accepted at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City. I'm thrilled. This is a wonderful, historic bookshop in the middle of the campus city and blocks from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the church of literary writing. In June, I'll be at the Chicago Writers Association booth at Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. Nice.
I'm also waiting to hear from publishers on two manuscripts. I won't talk about it in depth, as not to jinx the whole thing. But - one is a collection of stories about being a lifelong pet owner, and the other is fiction about a young, rock-n-roll radio announcer who loses his way and believes facing his demons on the air in a special New Year's Even broadcast will get him back in balance.
But enough about me...
Are you a poetry person? It seems to me you either are or are not. If so, why? What's your favorite line from a poem? Why?
I consider myself a quasi-poet guy. Love Billy Collins, Keat, Dylan Thomas. My favorite at the moment is Colins' "Love." Gorgeous.
Tell me about your love of poetry...or your dislike...why?
When I was privileged to be the writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Florida a couple of years ago, I tried writing haiku from time to time. It seemed appropriate. Kerouac wrote haiku, and sometimes very good ones. It wasn't always traditional, the 5-7-5 syllables, the mention of season, the juxtaposition of thought. But it was interesting, sometimes poignant, sometimes even funny, and always, it seemed Kerouacian cool.
My haiku? Well, the poems seemed amateurish. But they got better, I thought. It was fun to write them, at least.
So in this new year, I've been trying to get back into some semblance of meditation. Simple stuff. Just a way to clear my head and ground my thoughts. And from time to time, jotting down a haiku or two. Not as a writing process really, but more as a "moment in time." Just something to add to my meditation.
I worked on a standing meditation this morning, breathing and soft, light movement. The 15-minute meditation produced this:
I follow my breath the icicle hangs from high In a silent day
And, in a more modern approach...
I stand and move a slow silence The dog sleeps
Any good? Hell, I don't know. Really don't care. It was just an exercise in thought, in emotion. I offer this as a suggestion. When you're approaching something new, something creative, set no bars to jump. Just do the thing. Let it be. Let it happen. No goals. No judgement.
Somehow this seems appropriate for writing haiku, and for the New Year.
I'm not much of a resolution guy, at least when it comes to the New Year. I think of it more as a refresh or a reawakening.
This year I began several new initiatives and I'm concerned I may have given myself too much to consider. Well, maybe not. Honestly, I don't know.
I started meditation. Light stuff. Something I had done, and done poorly, before. But I found a new book - "Mindfulness" - that is helping. We'll see.
I also started a new food plan to lose a few pounds. That, has been, so far, going incredibly well. I actually started this a day BEFORE the New Year. All so cliche, right?
And today, I also began a new story, one that was inspired by several storylines in movies I've seen lately. Inspiration from other stories is not unusual (and not copying, by the way). These storylines and my own life experiences have been bubbling on this one for some time. It's about a banished professor who returns to the English countryside where he wrote his first and only book to be confronted by a young woman who insists he has written about her life. She is compelled to meet him. He is reluctant and impatient with her, considering her a bit of a nutcase. But when she begins to reveal her story, he is haunted by its precise detail, details from his book and his life. Well, at least I think that's where it's going. You know how that is...the story will ultimately tell itself.
I also returned to my work on pet stories, a group of essays I hope to complete this winter.
All too much?
Maybe. But, if all of it doesn't stick, some of it will, right?