Spending My Words: Sixteen Quotes on the Craft of Writing

Bookpiles_20020130_2770

So many stacks, so little time. (And this is a small one to select from, in the “library”!)

For no particular reason other than word-love, here are some quotes on writing, perseverance, and the writing life. Some are also beautiful examples of writing. I hope at least a few are ones you’ve never read and they encourage you to seek out more from that author, if s/he is unfamiliar to you.

  • The incurable itch of writing possesses many. (Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoëthes.)–Juvenal, Satire, VII
  • True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,/As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.–Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism, II
  • I have words to spend and sometimes spend them foolishly, of course, squandering verbs and nouns, sending metaphors askew, and using similes like fireworks whose sparks often fail to flame.–Robert Cormier, I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor
  • Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.–Jorge Luis Borges, Dr. Brodie’s Report, preface
  • Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.–Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar
  •   . . . it seems to me that subject matter doesn’t determine genre. Genres only start existing when there’s enough of them to form a sort of critical mass in a bookshop, and even that can go away.–Neil Gaiman, ” ‘Let’s talk about genre': Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation,” The New Statesman
  • If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.–Toni Morrison, attributed by New York Times
  • A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.–G.K. Chesterton, Heretics
  • If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.–William Faulkner, quoted in The Paris Review Interviews, 1959
  • You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
  • This [being put in the “naughty box” by a teacher] was just the first of the many humiliations of my youth that I’ve tried to revenge through my writing. I have never fully exorcised shames that struck me to the heart as a child except through written violence, shadowy caricature, and dark jokes.–Louise Erdrich, The Paris Review, Art of Fiction No. 208
  • [As a mother who writes] Either you end up writing about terrible things happening to children—as if you could ward them off simply by writing about them—or you tie things up in easily opened packages, or you pull your punches as a writer. All deadfalls to watch for.–Erdrich, ibid
  • Get out of your own way and become willing to learn from people who are clearly qualified to offer you sound advice.–Christina Katz, Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids
  •  . . . everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.–Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
  • . . . The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone. so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. . . . –Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. Your “forbidden” passions are likely to be the fuel for your writing. . . . Without these ill-understood drives you might be a superficially happier person, and a more involved citizen of your community, but it isn’t likely that you will create anything of substance.–Joyce Carol Oates, “To a Young Writer,” in The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art
  • Words. Words that allow us to communicate, to reach out, to touch each other if only verbally. And the other side of words where we find silence. And how silence, too, is precious. Knowing when not to use the words and holding them back, which isn’t always easy.–Robert Cormier, ibid

QUOTES from (in no particular order)

I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor, Robert Cormier, ed. by Constance Senay Cormier, Delacorte Press, 1991.

” ‘Let’s talk about genre': Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation,” The New Statesman

Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books, 1994.

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003.

The Pocket Book of Quotations, ed. by Henry Davidoff, Pocket Books Inc, 1942.

The New International Dictionary of Quotations, selected by Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, Signet, 1988.

GoodReads

The Paris Review, Interviews: Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208

Bunnies with Bombs: A Year (and Then Some) of Writing Dangerously

Bunnies with bombs_rotated

“Bunnies with bombs,” she says; I say: like a good book!

I write rough. And judging by the spate of rejections in the last 8 months, quite rough.

But this post is not about that. It’s my 100th post—pop the literary corks, y’all—and I’m reflecting on the past year and five months that I’ve been blogging on WordPress.

First and foremost, I thank you all again for being here.

Suffice it to say, I never expected to get to this destination. This writing-and-sharing-my-angst depot is a surprise, but a welcome one.

I never expected you wonderful 200-odd folks to trip the lines, occasionally fantastic, along with me, from my first few tenuous, nonfiction baby-blogging steps into full-blown fiction and what turned out to be a serial novella, called “Undelivered Valentines.”

My nebulous goal, I can safely say—to write more regularly and, moreover, to take gut-twisting chances with my fiction (and the occasional poem or nonfiction piece), including submitting it to applicable publications and contests—has been achieved, gang-busters.

Spooling through my Submittable account (one of the leaders in content-submission systems for fiction and poetry writers—hint, hint—along with others like the up-and-coming publishing platform Medium), which nevertheless doesn’t embrace all the legwork that I’ve done, I see I’ve submitted to at least 10 publications and/or contests since late November 2014, which exceeds what I’ve been able to do in the past, working within only a wedge of part-time. Several times, I’ve tried the same market; I haven’t pitched the same piece each time, but I have re-submitted. You know what they say about not succeeding the first time . . .

Speaking of submissions and rejections: if you are a writer, are you making time to resubmit your work? See Damyanti’s provocatively titled “Do You Submit Like a Man?” for inspiration.

That said, I have even had the good graces to not submit a piece but be approached to have a poem appear (titled “Bivalve’s Love Song”) in a literary magazine. This time, it was in Grammar Ghoul Press’ spring 2015 issue of The Ghouls’ Review.

Along the way, I have received numerous and invaluable feedback moments from editors, guest readers, beta readers, and many among you. I have also done a good deal of reading, although a person can never do enough of that! How does a writerly gal get so lucky?

toasting-image-blogiversary

Yep, I’ve left it all on the page and now am hollow. Time for a story re-fill!

In short, my year-and-almost-a-half blogging has been “bunnies with bombs,” a phrase suggested by my thoughtful and funny daughter (who has not, by the way, seen “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or its rabbit of Caerbannog). I suppose it’s fitting, as my Chinese astrological sign is that of the {presumed creative} rabbit. (All in good fun, my fellow STEAM-loving friends!) So, something agile and prolific linked to something painful, life-changing, and even lethal, making for quite a novel combination. Yep, that pretty much sums up what writing fiction and nonfiction (and drama and poetry, for that matter) require. Blood on the keyboard, tornadoes in the brain, tears on the cheeks, and vim, vinegar, and perseverance in the veins.

And so, a final toast: here’s to many more years, friends.

Let’s do what you fear most,/That from which you recoil/but which still makes your eyes moist.–attributed to Lou Reed

Two Flashes: Mysterious Microfiction

Bleeding Pen--Objects

Copyright Leigh Ward-Smith, from 2014.

You’ve heard of Grammar Ghoul Press and their flash fiction depot, yes? If you haven’t, then get thee to the punnery straightaway.

They hold a number of weekly writing-prompt challenges: a mutant 750-word one, a 66-worded chimera, and, next week (around May 13th), Continue reading

Poetry Review: Robert Okaji’s If Your Matter Could Reform

10592324_10153113120915120_689180005_nIt’s April, National Poetry Month, and I want to think of poet Robert Okaji’s new chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform, as a song cycle. It does, after all, make music of the words with which we gird our lives: “In the marrowbone of night,” he writes, “your song parts the fog.” [“Trains”]

It’s not any casual poetry, crammed with namby-pamby rhymes and beats, easily forgettable and born-discardable. Like the best, it’s steeped in Stygian waters, chipped at by the fine, diamond-point of time, and polished to an exacting degree. You might begin to wonder ‘where’s my place’ wrestling with these words. And, oh, the words! Let’s not overlook those.

The chapbook’s title stems from the subjunctive mood: “if” this hypothetical or contrary reality could happen, then something equally magical follows. This conscious naming choice places the chapbook on prosodic terra firma. The subjunctive is the very expression of doubts, wishes, desires, regrets, and requests. What a perfect spot in the universe from which to peel back the curtain and show a reader a bit of the poet’s wheelhouse!

This book, available now on download through Dink Press, is not packed to the gills with snobby, high-falutin’ poetic argot, but it needn’t be. To paraphrase another poet, its fresh directness gets at where the deep-down things live, though it is neither emotionally or intellectually doused nor tamped fashionably.

From twinkling stem to stern, this chapbook moves: in and through itself, outside itself, through you, and through time.

“To sweeten the dish, add salt. To bear the pain,

render the insoluble. . . .

My mother brought to this country a token of her death to come.”

Readers of Bob’s blog, O at the Edges, will feel a favorite-blue-jeans kind of familiarity to the poem “Ashes,” which is probably, along with the more traditional, one might say, love poem “Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon,” at the highest-water point in the chapbook for personal (brushing up against confessional) poetry. Although I’ve never met Bob in real life, I get a sense of his actual flesh-and-blood voice, timbre, pitch, pattern, in these two poems in particular. I would also add “Earth’s Damp Mound,” which I was fortunate to read in Bob’s blog in the past year. But these two pieces plumb the emotional depths as they must, in matters of regret and remembrance, both personal and the hinted-at historical, as in “Ashes,” and shoot to a zenith when the narrator himself implores his beloved to “Talk music to me. Talk conspiracies/and food and dogs and rain. Do this/under the wild night sky.” [“Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon”]

Perhaps the quintessential question in this 16-poem volume prods you out of any complacency as a reader and, if you are a writer, drives your courage back to the sticking place: that empty page. “Are words ever enough?” [“If We Burn”]

There’s a Shakespearean sonnet here, too, where “Nothing is everything, but before.” [“Nocturne with a Line from Porchia”] There is ample praise of gravity and of lives well lived and written, even if “the words find[ing]themselves/alone, without measure,/without force, and no body to compare.” [“Earth’s Damp Mound”]

It seems to me that Bob’s friend and mentor, Prentiss Moore, eulogized so eloquently here [“Earth’s Damp Mound”] and elsewhere, would applaud the herculean effort of the chapbook—it goes a long way toward elevating the diminished thing (one’s life sifting by and any accrued regrets) and reforming both lost matter and memories. What more could an author ask of him or herself? What more could a reader want beyond a hushed “come over here and let me share my hard-won secrets with you” from a wise friend or confidant? If Your Matter Could Reform might be the key fob to the private kingdom in that regard.

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Texas poet and one-time bookstore owner Robert Okaji frequently shares his original poetry and thoughts on other bibliophilic interests at his blog: O at the Edges. His first chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform, is now available for digital download from Dink Press, via their Etsy shop, for a mere $1. Think of it as caffeine direct to the intellect, and at well under the price of a traditional cup of coffee.  Print versions are slated to be available April 19, 2015.

Love in Ten Lines

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April is celebrated as NPM by the Academy of American Poets, among other groups. Use #npm15 to connect w/like-minded folks.

Well, cruelly or not, here it is April already. Happy National Poetry Month (more details on this in a later post)!

As for a poetics of the personal, I was asked almost a fortnight ago by fellow writer and friend Sarah Potter to wax poetic on the subject of love, following certain parameters and with strictures that I still managed to both tangle and mangle, for the “Love in Ten Lines Challenge.” You’ll have to forgive me on several fronts. I’m steadily pedaling back up to speed on blogging—both writing and reading/commenting—after a bout with spring sinusitis that decided to invite my eye in for the party. I’ll spare you further allergological details (in any case, they happened after I’d written these two poems anyway).

Briefly, here are the rules of the 10-line love challenge:

  • 10 lines only, on love.
  • “Love” must appear in each line.
  • Each line must be exactly 4 words.
  • Include a quote about love (it can be your own quote).
  • Use any language you choose.

As grateful as I was to be invited, no obligations attached, by Sarah to take part in this challenge, I’m a little rowdy with the rules, I guess. I’m supposed to formally invite other bloggers to take part, but I feel as if I’d be imposing on y’all if I call out specific people, even though I do have several of you in mind. But everyone is so busy. That said, if you’d like to take part in this challenging premise, I informally welcome you. Then we can probably just call it a free-verse free-for-all.

Finally, who doesn’t like a good word brawl with one’s language every now and again? (Even if you get a bit of a black eye, as I feel I have here . . .)

A Museum of Moments

Love, my heart’s Braille,

written for unseen loves,

suitors untailored for love,

in love with veils,

of ragged things unloved.

gagged love, silken bonds

fixed fast. Everyone loves.

We covet coursing love-

blood. Strange museum, love:

where we all sight-see.

Beloved Dust

My little loves, fay

folk, loved beyond mortal

measure. Love carves us

out of softwood. Love

chips love away, shapes

each love in fashion.

Shavings, sharp edges; love

leaves behind even love

itself sometimes. Love sears

into each beloved grain.


Oh, a final finally. The quotes!

“Love is not love/
which alters when it alteration finds.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)

and, for more on fissile or weathered love, we have the Peter Gabriel lyric:

“. . . In lovetown,
I can’t settle down.
And do those teeth still match the wound?
Take a good look around
In lovetown.” (from “Lovetown,” available on the 2-CD release “Hit” [disc two of which is called “Miss”])

Friday Fictioneers: Good Woolf

PHOTO PROMPT © Lauren Moscato

Photograph © Lauren Moscato

Good Woolf

GENRE: Fan Fiction, Science Fiction

Word Count: 161

Meg Jansen rented the flat primarily because it met her basic requirements: not so much location, location, location as cheap, cheap, cheap. Besides, it made for a tidy little writing room of her very own.

One night as she burned the mid-write oil on a fourth draft, moonlight shot a shaft of light in through the window, moving her to the weird door that connected her room to the column of air above the street.

She opened the padlocks, cultivating a fervent hope of glimpsing the dragon’s orb surveying her. Yet she didn’t expect to step out into an expansive space of machinery—pulsing wires, cable trails, a console, and a man in a brown trenchcoat bent over it as if in study.

Where's that sonic screwdriver, now?

Now where’s that sonic screwdriver?

Stranger still: When he turned and introduced himself only as “the Doctor,” all she could think of was Virginia Woolf and weeping angels. Either way, it was going to be an interesting night.

****

This science fiction flash fiction piece, created expressly for Rochelle’s weekly Friday Fictioneers, was edited down from 204 words to the more manageable 156. Of course, I had to butcher one or two darlings in the process and should have done more trimming to get it to fit the 100-word parameter better. I seldom get the chance to write any fan fiction. That said, I loved writing and editing this. And by the way, thank you for reading. Do check out the other fictioneers for some fine weekend reading.

Voyager, Voyeur

Qu’eethi pressed a naso-orbital bone to the substandard instrument. The outer-planetary object would be making its descent soon, and Qu’eethi was watching. Dorsal salivary ridges, as phantasmagoricized as Qu’eethi, underwent piloerection as the nimbus came into view. Had Qu’eethi been on ancient Earth, the object’s make-up would’ve been clear: discarded spacesuit, minus occupant.

Qu’eethi hoped they didn’t have another sticky collide-o-scope event on their hands’ hands.


The kaleidoscope pun (and attendant image of an alien peering through a telescope of some kind) arrived almost instantly when I read the Chimera 66 #11 challenge word. It then became a matter of how to spackle a decent microflash around the word. I’m not sure I succeeded—if only I had about five more words!—but it’s a fantastic exercise to work those sprint-fiction muscles . . . AND, besides, I love supporting in my own minute way what Suzanne and the ghouls have gotten tumbling with their endeavor.

In researching medical and astronomy terminology, some that I’d forgotten once upon a time (oh, for a 20-year-old’s memory capabilities!), I stumbled across this fascinating fact. Did you know that a “retired” spacesuit was rigged with a radio device and set adrift from the International Space Station in February 2006? I didn’t remember that. Specifically, it was an Orlan spacesuit. And Wikipedia said so, so you know it’s gotta be true. :)

Hope you enjoyed pondering the squidgy sci-fi microfiction this week, including Qu’eethi’s possible motives had the “Earth being” made a live touchdown. Do peruse the other Sixty-Sixers this week for a decadent treat, comrades (hey, I’m channeling the Russian spacesuit)!

“Clamp his two hands in strong chains” (speculative flash fiction)

I took this photo from Andree at Scribe's Cave, for a prompt she had in early March (that I missed). Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the photo, which I felt nefarious (especially in the "surgeon's" smug smirk), that I was compelled to write about it.

I used this photo from Andreé at Scribe’s Cave, who used it for a prompt she had in early March (that I initially missed). More info at end of story.

They caught me unawares, the young one and the two old enough to have hairy faces.

My body, their pelt, their possession. They sneered. I supposed they’d never heard tell of the Tamboti tree.

I could tell the wide blue-eyed one was scared, but he readied the trembling handkerchief anyway. Coerced, no doubt.

“We’ll make a lesson of yew, boy,” was the last sentence my ordinary limited senses lapped.

They were lucky the straps and the medication rivoted me temporarily in place as the haughty side man prepared the bone-saw and hot iron cross for my leg.

Photograph of the leopard from the African Wildlife Foundation. Please consider supporting their conservation efforts, if you can.

Photograph of a leopard, from the African Wildlife Foundation. Please consider supporting their conservation efforts.

The man under a dark drape held the box aloft, and I saw it flash through my eyelids even as I was transforming, screen of skin sliding in on itself.

I felt the color rising as my hide erupted in a riot of bristly hairs.

Soon my only instinct would be shunted toward a decision: do I play with these muslin bags of flesh before I shred them asunder?


First, more on the original photograph. Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the depiction, which I felt nefarious, that I felt compelled to write (or right, as the case may be) about it. After looking at the man on the table, my indignation sprang from what I interpreted as the “surgeon’s” smug look; admittedly, it’s difficult to see for certain, and I don’t have the “patient’s” backstory, although I seriously doubt informed consent was something practiced in those days, plus given the horrors of slavery, I’m doubtful the black man was either asked or told what they thought might happen during the operation. All that said, I could be incorrect, so please feel free to give me the backstory if you can provide data sources.

Now, as far as the discussion of the writing proper . . .

Please do check out One Starving Activist, where Andreé Robinson-Neal hosts Scribe’s Cave, especially if you’re a fan of speculative fiction (i.e., sci-fi, fantasy, or horror).

If you’re curious as to the partial inspiration/origin of this shape-shifter fantasy story, other than the awful legacy of slavery, particularly in American history, you have to look back to Greco-Roman myth and the character of Proteus.

“Aristaeus [the demi-god who invented beekeeping] wept, when he saw all his bees killed and honeycombs abandoned incomplete. His sea-blue mother [the Naiad Kyrene (Cyrene)] could scarcely console his pain, and attached these final words to her speech: ‘Stop your tears, my boy. Proteus will lighten your loss, and tell you how to regain what is gone. But so he does not baffle you by altering appearance, clamp his two hands in strong chains.’
The youth approaches the seer and binds the limp arms of the sleeping old man of the ocean. Proteus uses his art to shift and feign his looks, but soon resumes shape, mastered by chains.” — from Ovid, Fasti I, translated by Boyle (Fasti is the “Book of Days,” or, specifically, a partial poem in six books that detail the first six months of the Roman calendar)

In a different translation of Ovid from Latin (by James G. Frazer), Proteus is likened to a wizard rather than a seer.

How to be a Woman in 2015: International Women’s Day

Although I am essentially armchair-bound with a nasty little nasal bug, I could not let today, International Women’s Day, pass without some comment.

I happen to agree with author Caitlin Moran, who wrote, in her book How to be a Woman:

Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society . . .”

Nor would I be allowed to operate this blog, choose to stay at home (at least for the first few years) to help raise my children, attend college for a higher education, or, indeed, to leave my hearth to pursue anything other than shoppin’, baby-birthin’, and other domesticatin’ duties.

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As of 2015, girls worldwide, for instance, in Tanzania, Africa, are still forced into marriage. Human Rights Watch has a report on child marriage/human rights. Photo © 2014 Marcus Bleasdale for HRW.

Said another way, International Women’s Day (IWD) is an outright necessity. Yes, it’s Women’s History Month throughout March, but I wonder how many of us in the West (especially in the United States or Canada) can envision what being a girl or woman comprises in, say, China. Or Tanzania. Or India. Or Ecuador. Or a hundred other places or circumstances around the world that can be named with some fluidity. For some reason, Steubenville, Ohio; the dorms at Vanderbilt University; and NFL wives come to mind in the American context.

In short, as long as there are Jyoti Singhs in the world—far, far too many of them throughout history—whose light should be fiercely guarded and then raged against when it is monstrously snuffed out—there will be feminism.

Nota bene to any miscreants: women are not going away. We’re not going quietly or gently into the night. We’re not shutting up and taking it. We’re not sitting down or going to the back of the bus. We’re not staying barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. We’re not staying away or leaning backward. And we’re certainly not being brushed off, pushed over, or “bitch”ed into silence, even by one another.

But we are rocking the boat, shaking the tree, and talking the talk. So get used to it.

But don’t listen to only me on this matter. Moran is a good start if you’re looking for something modern and womanistic.

If you want something a little more in real-time, there have been some fantastic meditations on feminism, the need for IWD, the documentary called “India’s Daughter,” about the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, and much more just today, 8 March 2015. For those who’d like to do a search, this subject is also earmarked with the following hashtags: #womensday #IWD2015 #MakeItHappen #internationalwomensday

And I will highlight just a handful of springboards to immerse you in the current wading pool surrounding women’s rights worldwide: Suzy at Someday, Somewhere writes about Jyoti in “Let Her Light Shine On”; Corinne at Write Tribe offers a list of compelling quotes in “Use Your Voice”; the photographers of National Geographic offer a stirring pictorial account of women worldwide in “Portraits of Strength”; and, for some historical reading, activist and birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger’s writings and speeches can be found at NYU or here online if you’re not in New York.

In approximately the time it’s taken you to read this post so far, at least one woman or girl has been sexually assaulted in the United States. Figures vary planetwide, but the World Health Organization reports the following:

based on existing data from over 80 countries, [researchers] found that globally 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. . . . International studies reveal that approximately 20% of women (and 5–10% of men) report* being victims of sexual violence as children.

This Grendel of physical and mental violence has to stop. Come what may, we all have to unfetter our voices against misogyny, rape culture, and the oppression of a significant segment of the world population. Let sunlight and speech be our disinfectants, as well as our giant-slayers.

 

*Emphasis mine, as reported rates of sexual violence, rape, and incest are notoriously underreported.