Paperback Writer

writing exercise | exercise your writing

When I taught creative writing I would often bring my box of clippings into class. Little newspaper stories that caught my eye because of their wider potential. If you go to the old weblog and search, you’ll find some examples (probably the story about the woman who left all her money to Charles Bronson was the most memorable, if you want to look for that one).

Then the class would brainstorm ideas. Was this the beginning of a story, or the end? Who were the main characters, and which main characters were off-stage? What were the possible underlying conflicts and motivations?

Those were also the most lively class discussions, because they really engaged the imagination.

Paperback Writer put something similar on her weblog yesterday, a post about an experience she had when she was waiting in line to mail a lot of packages. It’s a short account of her interaction with an elderly farmer, and how that encounter stayed with her while she tried to come up with a context (a backstory, if you will) that would make her feel more comfortable about what had happened. She lists some of these, many of them quite inventive and excellent material for a short story or a scene in a novel.

Her post is the on-line version of what I used to do in class. I haven’t read the replies, because I want to think about the story on my own terms for a while.

But I will give you one of my clippings, to see what you make of it:

At the border between United States and Canada, an irate father slugged a customs officer who was trying to pry excess Beanie Babies from his daughter. The Economist 12/5/98

Of course the Beanie Babies date this story, but it could be updated with any currently hot toy. It’s such a short story, but it evokes a hundred questions. Was there a history between the border guard and the father? Did they go to high school together? Does the border guard simply remind the father of his ex-wife — who ran off with the pimply poetry loving clerk at Kinko’s, leaving him to care for a sullen, desperately unhappy kid? Or is the border guard the main character? What is going through his head when he sees a nine year old girl clutching a bag of Beanie Babies that makes him lose it?

Maybe (just consider this possibility) he just got a package from his own father, a farmer in Florida. A package that breaks about a dozen laws, because it’s filled with the only present his father has ever given him: mutant grapefruit, the size of cantelopes.

the important stuff

Once we did a group discussion with a lot of parents about what we wanted in a perfect school for our daughter. The discussion leader asked us to name those qualities that we most encouraged and wanted for our kids. For me it wasn’t hard. I value generosity above almost everything. Generosity of spirit and the more direct, share what you’ve got (time, energy, money, stuff) kind. It’s a goal I set for myself.

Lynn Viehl at Paperback Writer doesn’t talk about generosity, but she sure acts on the principle. I’ve been watching her give away books for a year. She gives books away like other people give away advice. She sends them to soldiers stationed overseas (something I’ve done once, but really should do more often). If you’re reading this, well heck, there’s a good chance she sent you a book.*

Somebody suggested I talk about those causes and charities that I support. I can do that, as I concentrate on a short list and it wouldn’t be hard to put together. But really this is not about what or how much, it’s about living with your hands and spirit open to the world. And remember me: I’m the agnostic. No belief in a higher power. No spirituality (the word even makes me cringe). But a determined belief in the possibility of good.

*Full disclosure: Lynn has taken a liking to my books and gives them away too. Which is very, very good of her, of course, but irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. But this isn’t: Lynn doesn’t accept anything in return, not even a signed book for herself. See? Generosity.

get out the vote: writers of fiction, unite!

Michael Stelzner’s weblog for writers is called Writing White Papers. I don’t stop by there very often because the focus is primarily (as you would guess) on white papers, defined as

A white paper is an authoritative report; a government report outlining policy; or a document for the purpose of educating industry customers or collecting leads for a company. White papers are used to help people make decisions. (Wikipedia)

I had a quick look at Michael’s blog this morning and I saw an interesting post. He’s asking his readers to nominate the top ten writing weblogs. There are a lot of nominations, but almost all of them have to do with websites that promote freelance writing, copy editing, and other kinds of non-fiction. Which struck me as a little one sided, so I nominated Paperback Writer as an excellent source of information and the occasional belly laugh, not to mention all the useful bits and pieces she gives away. I also commented on the fact that so many of the nominations pointed to Deborah Ng’s Freelance Writing Jobs. Which shouldn’t be a surprise if the target audience is primarily non-fiction writers, because that is an excellent resource. Long story short: I should have said that to start with. So now that I’ve taken my foot out of my mouth, my original concern still stands:

Why are the fiction writers not participating? Go on over there and vote for the website/oldweblog which is most helpful and/or interesting to you as a writer of stories. Here are some sites that I like:

Paperback Writer
Tess Gerritsen’s Blog
Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Alison Kent
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

You will note that I do not list this website. That’s because I would prefer you don’t nominate it, lest I end up again on the authors behaving badly list. Nominate some other weblog that focuses on providing support for writers of fiction. Go forth, and be counted.

smacked, again

PenguinebitchslapThe last few days have felt a little like this (brought to you via YouTube). I’ll spare you the gory details with one exception: The Girlchild had her second car accident. A small fender bender type of thing, but possible injuries to (and I am not making this up) the passenger in the other car, a 72 year old woman who was being driven home from the doctor, where she had gone to be examined because she had two cracked ribs. Now I’m asking you, how can you differentiate the possible before and after in this case? The seatbelt locked, which worried the other driver. So, police, police reports, the whole shebang. Much of tomorrow will be taken up with putting out fires.

Her last accident was a year ago, almost to the day. Tomorrow we’ll find out if she keeps her license. I’m not sure what to hope for.

In other, happier news, a good friend sent me a whole bag of dark chocolate Kit Kats (along with lots of other goodies). Which I have hidden so I don’t overdose. And finally, Paperback Writer made me snort gingerale with this post.