Posts Tagged "Monday Muse"

Monday Muse: Marianna Baer on fiction as fact

September 12, 2011

If you don’t know Marianna Baer, you will — soon. Her debut novel, Frost, releases 9/13, and has already received the informal Presidential seal of approval. In a recent interview on the Vermont College alumni blog, Through the Tollbooth, Baer had this to say on the subject of joyful writing:

“There’s a moment when I’ll go back and read a scene – maybe a scene I’ve rewritten a hundred times, maybe one that I just wrote the day before — and it no longer sounds like something I made up. I’ll read it through and not even notice the writing, because what I’ve done is tell it the way it actually happened . . .  It’s the moment when a part of the story separates itself from me and takes on its own life. The moment when I believe I’m actually writing non-fiction because it feels so real to me. (Note: this almost always happens after the hundredth rewrite, not after one or two. But sometimes I’ll get lucky.)”

I actually had a moment like this last week, and it was, in a word, sublime. I think Marianna expresses the experience perfectly, and this quote absolutely captures it. 

Monday Muse: Writing is easy. Not.

August 1, 2011

It never* gets easier, does it? Beth Revis talks about why it shouldn’t, if you’re serious about your writing:

It’s actually a good thing that it never gets easier.

See, here’s the thing. If it got easier, that means we’re not challenging ourselves any more. We’ve dug ourselves a nice little groove, and we’re not trying to improve.


*(Seriously, though. NEVER. At least not for me.)

Monday Muse: On Writing Horror

July 11, 2011

(Because I’m still trying to.)

“A serious…story must be true to something in life. Since marvel tales cannot be true to the events of life, they must shift their emphasis towards something to which they can be true; namely, certain wistful or restless moods of the human spirit, wherein it seeks to weave gossamer ladders of escape from the galling tyranny of time, space, and natural law.”

HP Lovecraft

Top Shelf Tuesday

July 5, 2011

What I’m reading and loving this week.

This one could double as a Monday Muse, as well.

Noelle Hancock’s My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir is a love letter to the former First Lady’s fearless nature, and an exhortation to capture her adventurous spirit for ourselves. “You must do the thing you think you cannot do” is probably my favorite ER quote (and most applicable to my current writing project), but in Hancock’s book you’ll be inspired — by both ladies — again and again. Great summer read.

“Noelle Hancock makes an eloquent case for spending a year with Eleanor Roosevelt, but an even more persuasive one for spending 300 pages with Noelle Hancock. Her book is a fresh and funny delight.” (Andy Borowitz )

Monday Muse

June 27, 2011

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

~William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

Monday Muse

June 13, 2011

I am averaging about 200 words per session with the new novel, where my typical output is closer to 2,000 per day. I’d been aiming for 1,000 per day in order to keep to my schedule. But this helps:

“This is how we go on: one day at a time, one meal at a time, one pain at a time, one breath at a time. Dentists go on one root-canal at a time; boat-builders go on one hull at a time. If you write books, you go on one page at a time. We turn from all we know and all we fear. We study catalogues, watch football games, choose Sprint over AT&T. We count the birds in the sky and will not turn from the window when we hear the footsteps behind us as something comes up the hall; we say yes, I agree that clouds often look like other things – fish and unicorns and men on horseback – but they are really only clouds. Even when the lightening flashes inside them we say they are only clouds and turn our attention to the next meal, the next pain, the next breath, the next page. This is how we go on.”

–Stephen King, Bag of Bones


Monday Muse: Party Favors

May 16, 2011

With Egmont’s Katie Halata, and my mother-in-law, writer Elizabeth Harlan.


Typically, Monday Muse is where I talk about other writers or works that have influenced and inspired me. But in light of the fact that Thursday night was the official family release party, what’s been most warm & fuzzy-inducing to me since that evening has been being surrounded by all of the loving, generous creative types in my life. I couldn’t resist giving them a shout-out here.

I’ve talked before about what a privilege it was to work with Elizabeth Law on my novel, but it certainly bears mentioning again. Her editorial guidance was always gentle but pointed, and somehow she always managed to ask just the right questions. I’m so excited (and nervous!) to be embarking on a second book project together shortly! Elizabeth gave a lovely toast at the party, and then read a short selection from family. And for those writers who are shy about readings (like me!), I must say: this is a fabulous, if heady, alternative. I should really hire her out for all my public appearances.

Something else I’ve mentioned before in my blog is how rewarding it’s been to teach writing. I know that there are writers out there who prefer to focus solely on their own work when they’re deep in the throes of a project, and I can certainly appreciate that sentiment. But to me, the opportunity to workshop with students is the opportunity to think more objectively about structure and craft, unencumbered by proximity to my own work-in-progress. My students are astonishingly motivated (churning out some 20 pages a week!), and eager to talk shop. Wednesday nights, for me, are a chance to get outside of my own head, which is vitally refreshing.

My students are always the first to celebrate each others’ successes, which probably explains why so many of them came out to toast family. Here’s a shot of a few of us at the start of the evening:

Classes and critique groups are a great way to maintain accountability and momentum with one’s writing, as my students will attest. In my opinion, a supportive collective of motivate, creative colleagues can be one of the very best muses a writer can have.

CANNES-ED Goods: Monday Muse

May 9, 2011


In honor of Noah’s movie, Return, debuting at the Cannes Film Festival this week, today’s Monday Muse comes from one of my very favorite book-to-movies, Stand By Me (based on the novella, “The Body,” by Stephen King). Stellar works, the both of ‘em.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?”

In the movie that line was changed to, “Jesus, does anyone?” It was also upgraded to the very last line of the screenplay. I’m not sure it’s the most poignant line in the entire piece, but to me, it encapsulates the vivid urgency of (pre)adolescence. There’s something about the memories we form at that formative age that cut to the bone and follow us sharply. At that age, every emotion simmers just beneath the surface.

And writing — and reading — YA is, to my mind, the best way to access that intensity, again and again.









Monday Muse: One good turn…

May 2, 2011

One of my very favorite authors (and all-around great friend), Nova Ren Suma, was kind enough to interview me on her blog for the family release. You can read my many words of wisdom here.

Our mutual admiration society being what it is, I thought it made sense to borrow from Nova for this Monday’s Muse (those of you who’ve read family and perused the acknowledgements may recognize Nova as a constant muse of mine, as it is. So why not share her?).

No doubt you’ve heard the very well-deserved hype for Nova’s forthcoming novel, Imaginary Girls.

She recently re-posted an excerpt from a 2008 blog post entitled, “Before the novel was THE Novel.”

A snippet:

…In the old post I called the novel “M”), which I had just begun rewriting from scratch. At this point, I had no idea what would come of the book, and I said this:

M … does not have an official schedule. No deadline. No editor waiting to read it. No outline I am forced to write per the contract, no contract at all. I am writing M for myself only, and nothing may come of it after—I have to know that. That’s the reality of writing novels.

If my previous experience writing novels only for myself is any indicator, I could go off on a bender and spent FIVE YEARS writing a novel that’s too bloated and personal to get published. Or I could spend three years writing and rewriting a novel with a ridiculous concept that I will later use as a doorstop.

No. Not this time.

You know, that could have turned out terribly. I could be sitting here now with my heart broken (again). I’m so grateful that novel turned out to be THE novel, that the moment I was in then was THE moment that changed so much of my life.

The doors that had been closed to me were beginning to open. And I had no idea. You never do, do you? That’s why—if you want to be a published author—you can absolutely never stop trying.

Thank you, Nova – for that post, and for all of your support and encouragement of my writing, and of all writers out there struggling.


Release Week Rally: Monday Muse, ‘family’-style

April 25, 2011

Hello and welcome to my shiny new cyber-home! I hope you’ll pull up a seat and stay awhile. Yes, there’s still much work to be done on the website, but the blog will be going strong all week long (and then some) to celebrate the family release TOMORROW, 4/26! Have you ordered your copy yet?

In the meantime, this being Monday Muse at and all, I thought I’d talk a bit about the inspiration for the novel.

I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about this school, and this mentor, and I’ve even spoken about spending a summer here, steps away from the original Woodstock concert site.
By day, this was my view as I wrote:

At night, it was a little different:

You can see where the creep factor came from, yes?

I was working on the first packet of my final semester of graduate school; I began with a short story about a memory I had from age 12 – being carried off by a riptide during a family trip to the beach. My mentor liked the story, and encouraged me to write another. The second story I wrote was about a young male sociopath, loosely drawn from this urban legend. Those who’ve read family will likely recognize both references.

I’d been perennially interested in Charles Manson, but couldn’t figure out just why he and his Family so fascinated me (other than the obvious explanation: there was something deeply wrong with me). I’d been toying with the idea of a book “about” Manson for years, but it wasn’t until I’d drafted those two short stories that my “way in” became apparent. The protagonist, then unnamed, from “undertow”, was clearly emotionally damaged – just the type to be lured by a Manson-esque Svengali. Eureka!

(Yes, those eureka moments do happen. Sometimes. If you’re lucky.)

Re-reading Helter Skelter further crystalized my characters for me; it’s easy to dismiss Manson’s acolytes as crazy, or deranged, but to do so is to disregard just how many of them there were, and the horrifying things they were willing to do on his behalf.

For the most part, characters in family are composites – the book is a work of fiction, after all – but I can confirm that the story’s protagonist, Melinda Jensen, was indeed inspired by a particular person in history:

Linda Kasabian joined the Manson Family in July of 1969, and was immediately welcomed to their Spahn Ranch compound. She quickly adopted the attitude of the other girls on ranch: “We always wanted to do anything and everything for him.”

As a member of Manson’s inner circle, Kasabian was hand-picked to participate in the Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson believed would set “Helter Skelter” in motion. On August 8, Kasabian accompanied a select few family members (Manson did not join them) to 10050 Cielo Drive (Los Angeles), where actress Sharon Tate was staying with several friends, with orders to slaughter indiscriminately. However, despite Manson’s directive to “make it messy,” once on the scene, Kasabian froze.

Kasabian tried to stop the murderers by claiming that she heard “people coming” onto the Tate property, but the killers had insisted that it was “too late.” According to family members Tex Watson and Susan Atkins, Kasabian stood rooted to the front lawn, watching, horrified, as her companions committed murder. Kasabian later testified that, while in a state of shock, she ran toward the car, started it up, and considered driving away to get help, but then became concerned for her daughter back at the ranch.

Indeed, Kasabian ultimately became the star witness for the prosecution for the Tate-LaBianca trial, and her testimony is considered to have been instrumental in putting Charles Manson away.

That said, I was inspired by Linda Kasabian, not because her “change of heart” released her from culpability or erased her time spent with the Family, but because the change of heart had happened at all.

As unfathomable to me as the violence committed by the Family is, I’m taken aback by the notion that a person could find herself truly poised on the threshold of horror…and choose to change her mind.

Linda’s story got me thinking:

What sort of person falls into a “family” like Charles Manson’s, and where does one have to be, emotionally, to find comfort in that structure?

But even more that that: how does a person come back from that state of mind? How does a person who’s so far gone, ultimately choose to fall back?

I’m certainly not suggesting that Kasabian’s withdrawal from the violence of August 8 excuses her from fault or blame. But that notion of an eleventh-hour realization, long past the point that anyone else might consider an about-face even possible, offered me a complicated, complex jumping off point for my “Mel.” The conclusion I eventually came to for myself was that, while our decisions do define us, ultimately, there is always the option to choose again. To choose differently.

To refuse to be “broken.”