Category Archives: writing

Support Local Writers

We should support our local artists, whether they are writers, musicians, or painters. This is a sound philosophy, even if it is sometimes difficult to follow: we can only be so many places at once, afford so many babysitters, stay up late so many nights of the week. We’ve all been there, I’m sure. I want to support my friends’ band, but why are they playing at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday? That reading sounds great…let me find a sitter. However, we can read on our own time—how perfect! So buy some books and magazines and support your local artists. The following list will get you started.

For this post I’m focusing on our local writers and their works that have been published this year. What do I mean by local writer? I’m including those who currently live in Georgia, as well as those who have lived here in the past. Many writers have been to school and /or taught in Georgia, while many current Georgia writers have deep roots elsewhere.

BOOKS

Stephanie Perkins now resides in Asheville. I am super excited to read her debut YA novel, Anna and the French Kiss (Dutton) which comes out in December 2010. Her second book, Lola and the Boy Next Door is set to come out in the Fall of 2011. About Anna:

“Very sly. Very funny. Very romantic. You should date this book.”

— MAUREEN JOHNSON, NYT bestselling author of 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Scarlett Fever

 

 

Josh Russell gave us the fantastic Yellow Jack (W.W. Norton, 1999) and now My Bright Midnight, A True Story (LSU Press, 2010).  

“I’ve been waiting for more of Josh Russell’s NOLA since Yellow Jack, waiting patiently, most of the time, and now it’s paid off. This book flat out kicks ass in its New Orleansness but also in its humanness, a novel firing on all cylinders, amazing characters, killer details, lyrical language and a plot that keeps the pages turning. A book worth the wait and worth its salt, a novel to read and reread, to savor, to treasure.”
—Tom Franklin, author of Hell at the Breech and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Ben Spivey’s debut novel, Flowing in the Gossamer Fold, has received blurbs from Brian Evanson and Gary Lutz.

“Ben Spivey’s alluringly melodial debut novel of a marriage gone asunder unreels itself with the indisputable logic of dreams and delivers, along its phantasmagoric and dazing way, emotional clarities that feel entirely new.”

–Gary Lutz, author of Stories in the Worst Way and I Looked Alive

SHORT FICTION

 Much of this short fiction news is lifted from The New South’s Writing Workshop news page. Visit the site for more news.

Sonya McCoy Wilson published the “The Rigor Tree” in Diverse Voices Quarterly as well as “Brown Paper Bags” in TimBookTu (July 2010).

Karen Gentry’s story “Treasure Island,” which appeared originally in NÖO Jornal, has been selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 [Very] Short Fictions 2010.

John Holman’s story “Credentials” (which first appeared in Mississippi Review) has been reprinted in Fictionaut. Holman’s profile of the South’s best bird appears in the Oxford American‘s Best of the South 2010 (May ’10, Issue 69).

Josh Russell’s story “Young Woman Standing Before a Window” has been published in Epoch (Vol. 58, Number 3).

Dionne Irving’s story “Florida Lives” was a finalist for the Mid-American Review‘s 2009-2010 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award.

Cheryl Stiles has published a work of creative nonfiction, “Systems Failure,” in Southern Women’s Review. This essay is part of a book length manuscript of essays entitled On Nelson Street.

If you have additional news, corrections, or links you’d like me to add, please leave the information in the comments section of this post. Thanks for reading.

June 2010 Books

I’ve gotten a surprising amount of reading done this month; it is only June 11th, thank goodness! I have huge anxiety about the summer months disappearing before I get anything done and I have to go back to full-time teaching in the fall. I’m coming to realize, as I always do, that my word count goals are unrealistic and that I have so much more to figure out about my characters’ temperaments, relationships, obsessions. When I’m stuck in a vague place, say the middle of This Novel, I take a break to read, to immerse myself in other stories.

I’m thinking about how to create and maintain a gothic atmosphere throughout This Novel, how to create darkness in a love story, how to balance desire and control in my characters’ relationships.

When my son and I made our first summer pilgrimage to the library, I came away with books by only one author: Joyce Carol Oates. I’d wanted to pick up some of Oates’ novels anyway, but the books I chose were also influenced by the fact that my son was standing there waiting, having already chosen eight children’s books, which he so patiently held in his little arms. So I grabbed what looked good, what I hadn’t already read; there was no time to browse. This month of June:

Read

Reading

To Read

Each of these works has been wonderful. I forgot how quickly I could move through some novels (this must be Pynchon’s fault). First Love and Beasts had a great effect on me; I’ll give them their own post later, as I’m still thinking about the connections they have to one another. I grabbed The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis off of the New Titles shelf; I remember liking her in grad school and I have not been disappointed. I always look forward to Tin House. Tinkers was an impulse buy on Amazon; I was drawn in by the idea of the New England home the protagonist built himself, the idea of channeling the dead, and the Pulitzer win never hurts. One Amazon reviewer discusses a connection between Paul Harding and Marilynne Robinson, at Iowa. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I loved Robinson’s Housekeeping.

All of these Oates books are great ‘summer reads,’ whatever that seems to mean to people these days. Go read!

May 2010 News

Great News: My friend Stephanie has many exciting things to share about her journey through publishing.

Good News: The first four chapters of This Novel are thoroughly revised and nearly polished: thirteen more chapters to go. I researched the heck out of 1945 and now I’m wondering—what was the most elitist champagne to be served in 1988? Any ideas? Give me your 80s memories.

Bad News: Georgia continues fall from grace, grace being the elevation granted by one tiny thread holding it up above Mississippi. I’m talking about education [sic].

On Bad Writing

This week I’ve added some words to This Novel. It is not a tremendous amount, but considering I’d set the project aside for several months and had to get back into it, I feel all right about it. The key to producing material is accepting that early drafts are UGLY and BAD. The key is revision: four-fold, five-fold, however long it takes, however many times a writer has to see (vision) things again.

I share Anne Lamott‘s essay “Shitty First Drafts,” from Bird by Bird, with my composition students, but I’m considering teaching it at the beginning of my literature classes as well. Too many students have the erroneous assumption that they can simply sit down and think for a minute and then type a three page literary analysis paper and be “done.” I try and build tasks of serious revision into our course schedule, but ultimately it is up to the student to give a shit or not. Lamott’s essay explains the necessity of bad first (and second) drafts and clearly articulates one of my most overused teacher phrases, “Writing IS thinking.” Lamott also examines the anxiety that surrounds writing, the anxiety to produce, to be good enough. So, is bad writing okay? Yes, it is a means to better writing, to revision. Is it okay to present it as a final product?–not so much, unless the purpose of said final product is to examine ‘badness,’ as does Steve Almond in his Bad Poetry Corner.

I read an article at Salon by Laura Miller, “Bad Writing: What is it Good for?” I appreciate Miller’s discussion of the abundance of crappy prose. The internet provides the perfect showcase. Miller takes various angles in discussing crappy prose, referencing a list of bad books and Steve Almond’s Bad Poetry Corner. The list of bad books from the American Book Review is tenuous, but I can get behind Almond’s pursuit. The key for the success of Almond’s site is that he already has a marked fan base; he has more than established himself, he is almost an ethos, a cause within cyberspace. One can either praise such self-promotion, which I do because I like his work, or one can find it trite and audacious. I find it fun. I, lacking a ‘platform’ and prurient exposure, should certainly shy away from trying to create any sort of medium out of the horrendous song lyrics and poems that my fifteen year old mind may have birthed. THAT needs to stay in the past. I will never claim to be a poet, probably because I am scarred from reading my teenage endeavors. No need to inflict that adolescent angst on my friends in cyberspace.

Bad writing is a necessary precursor to the good stuff. So, get thee bad writing down. And then, work it up again and again.

Summer Progress I; A Call for Help with Details

So here I am, embarking on the summer of Finishing This Novel. Finals are over, grades are entered, and now I have a reprieve from one kind of work; now it is time to push myself through the Other Work. I want a finished manuscript by August. But things keep getting more and more complicated: history, architecture, plot threads, character’s emotions yet to be discovered.

I’m taking inspiration from my friend Stephanie; her first novel is coming out this December. I am so proud of her. I know she has called herself lazy before, but truly she has remarkable self-discipline. I am going to mooch off her and give you a great list of links and books On Writing.

I’m deep in research, as I have been. I have a very lengthy list of Facts to Check and Details to Figure Out. The main part of This Novel takes place in 1988, a chunk in 1966, 1972, and 1945. We are on a grand estate on a icy New England Island, just barely pre-MilliVanilli.

Dear Readers,

Please help me with 1945. I’d appreciate any book and website recommendations, as well as any other information. What type of medication(s) would be prescribed for respiratory problems/distress in 1945—did they have inhalers back then? Pills? What kind of wedding cake was popular in 1945? What were some popular party foods from the 40s?

Sincerely,

Drowning in Details

Oates on Grief, Teaching, Pursuit

Joyce Carol Oates’ essay, “I Am Sorry to Inform You,” in the 2010 The Atlantic fiction issue is a moving examination of loss, grief, and life. Oates discusses losing her husband of 48 years, Raymond Smith. This essay made me love Oates even more, and the level of truth, painful truth, she articulates gives the reader affirmation and new words. Oates speaks what many of us cannot articulate. This examination of grief, life, and profession is a comfort. And I find the below photo, by Eva Haggdahl, to be simply beautiful.

The Long Haul

Why were folks a bit grumpy in grad school? At least, this is how I remember it. A department sans graduate students is downright peachy. This has nothing to do with the individual personalities and everything to do with individuals not being stressed to the gills about a million things. Graduate students in the Humanities deal with a lot of crap–that’s a vague descriptor, but trying to describe some of the complicated issues a graduate student might face would make most folks’ eyes glaze over.

Patricia Cohen, in “The Long-Haul Degree” in the New York Times, explains some of the problems, including the “more than nine years” on average to complete a degree, dissertating, “patching together a mix of grants and wages for helping teach undergraduate courses–a job that eats into research time,” and ultimately facing a bad job market with an increased number of adjunct positions and a receding amount of tenure-track plus benefits type jobs. So, back to the cause of grad school mania, malaise, or grumpiness. Patricia Cohen writes,

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and another longtime critic of the Ph.D. production process, notes: “Lives are warped because of the length and uncertainty of the doctoral education process.” In his new book, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” he writes, “Put in less personal terms, there is a huge social inefficiency in taking people of high intelligence and devoting resources to training them in programs that half will never complete and for jobs that most will not get.”

I like Menand’s phrases “lives are warped” and “social inefficiency.” Cohen highlights problems with the system of financing, the proposal of broadening research options for degree candidates, and the changing job market. This is a must read for anyone who is currently in, has been in, or is planning to enroll in a graduate program in the Humanities.

The Decade: Catchphrases, Books

I had never heard of “the ask” prior to reading the first item below; now, I’ve heard “the ask” on POTUS six times today. Take a look at Rosenbaum’s criticisms and word play; digest and mull over some of the newest clichés; he gives us his opinion on what’s stale versus still salable. The second item is a list of lists; you need not surf any further in search of book lists.

On Language: Part II

On Grammar Girl in the Classroom

I love Grammar Girl.  While driving, I used to enjoy hearing the occasional Grammar Girl podcast on NPR; this was back when podcast was a brand new word. Now, Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, has since penned Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl.

One thing I love about Grammar Girl is the conversational tone of her pieces; the listener doesn’t feel like he’s being scolded. Also, Grammar Girl uses cultural references, song lyrics, cartoons, and humor to entertain. Remembering why a Bob Dylan or Rolling Stones line is grammatically correct or incorrect serves the same purpose as a mnemonic device and leaves a deeper imprint. (That is, if you aren’t too young to know the music.)

Incorporating Grammar Girl podcasts into the college composition classroom works. Every classroom I use has the computer-internet-projector-audio set-up. So, it is easy to pull up the website and play a podcast. I usually present the Grammar Girl version of a concept a week or so after the textbook-type lesson has come up in lecture. I don’t rigidly pre-plan specific grammar lessons, but there are topics that need to be addressed in every 1101 course.

Grammar Girl topics include such titles as “Which Versus That” and “Myself.” Not surprisingly, the most popular tips are “Affect Versus Effect,” “Lay Versus Lie,” and “Who Versus Whom.”

The best part? The opening music is 100% cheese. The music is cheesy, the jokes are cheesy, the cartoons are cheesy, but it works and it is, for once, not exclusively my cheesiness. It is nice to sit back for four minutes, with my students, and become a listener to another professional; the dialogue opens up. After listening to and discussing a Grammar Girl episode, students are likely to voice more questions about language, questions they may have before ignored because they thought the questions were stupid or that they were simply doomed to not ever get it.

Once students see that real people are phoning/emailing the Dr. Drew of language and voicing their questions and complaining about their insecurities, accessibility happens. It’s not as saucy as Loveline, but the objective is the same: demystify…

These concepts are no longer mystifying things that you have to get ‘right’ in order to get an ‘A’ on a paper in that one class. These concepts are things that exist in our language, which is part of everything, so we may as well ask questions and investigate and try to figure it all out. These concepts are not things to hate. These concepts are not things to patently not get.

On Language: Part I

Here is a fantastic NSFC (Not Safe for Classroom) illustration of Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling over at The Oatmeal.

I, by no means, consider myself a grammarian. Oh, wait, but I’m the composition teacher, right? Right. Which means I can’t get away with ignoring my ignorance. That worked for a while; in grad school I would not, did not, register for graduate level English Grammar. Can you imagine such a course? I mean, such a course assumes you have been studying principles of grammar for the previous sixteen or so years of your life. I felt out of the loop.

To this day, I cannot remember one grammar lesson, a real-life scene of grammar instruction, from K-12 school. I blame this on the overcrowded public schools I attended. They were “good” schools on paper, but there were so many of us they had to chop us into groups for instruction. I remember being immediately shuffled into the top ‘reading group’ in kindergarten because I could already read; kindergarten is the first time I experienced boredom outside my house. In eighth grade I was one of six students, out of a class of about three hundred and fifty, in an accelerated English course. By that point I could read and write well enough, and still didn’t know anything about mechanics or grammar–or, at least how to talk about such things. Eighth-grade English consisted of reading really good books, talking about them, and playing many games of hearts. I never once had to diagram a sentence.  

Several things have encouraged me to tackle this previously avoided subject: one, the most base human desire not to embarrass myself; two, my partner; three, to excel at writing instruction. One is self-explanatory, and it ties into two. My partner’s education varies from mine; he had a militaristic education in principles of grammar, among other things. I can’t count the number of times some curious soul at a party has asked me something along the lines of what is up with the whole split infinitive thing? and I’m like, go ask that guy, he knows. I often ask him for writing advice. I still do silly things on paper. We all have bad habits. The fact that I am a writing instructor does not exclude me from misplacing modifiers, flinging around clichés, or committing other various sins of weak writing. This is what revision is for–for fixing things that are not quite as they should be, not the clearest and most precise.

In “On Language: Part II” I will express my love for Grammar Girl, as well as outline how I use Grammar Girl in the composition classroom.