Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Which Potentially Abusive Boyfriend Will Accept This Rose?

I hope in the next season of The Bachelor, the man cries as much as Kaitlyn is crying, those heaving, sobs of regret for being attracted to more than one person at a time.

Shawn, with the slicked back blond hair and beer bottle in the giant paw of his hand, says that he's not sure he can do this. He asks Kaitlyn if she's in love with him and she says, "I'm falling in love with you?" They make out. She cries. He goes and sits out on the steps in his denim jeans, his forehead super wrinkly, because that's how worried he is. Worried like a Shar Pei.



Next, Kaitlyn goes on a double date with JJ, the investment banker and Joe, who she thinks is hilarious and I think looks like he shoots guns at beer cans. He wears a denim shirt with a down vest over it. They go on a boat and Kaitlyn is hoping that Joe will speak from the heart and that JJ will not talk too much about his three year old daughter. One of these guys must go home. JJ says that he's really fallen for her, and Joe drinks to that, saying nothing in return, but like, what could he say, "Like, me too!" I am prejudiced against people with really Southern accents and buzz cuts.  Joe says, "The icing on the cake is you. You are one in million and you're worth putting everything out there for." Then, he licks her face. Like, his tongue came right out of his mouth and into hers.  JJ wants to explain about how he cheated on his wife three years ago and lost everything. I wonder why he feels like he needs to tell her that. She's not sure what she will do. How about sending both of them home? She sends the cheater home, and decides to keep Joe instead, and Joe just won a lifetime supply of hair gel but not rose. She won't give Joe the rose until the two of them spend more time together. Yes, send him home. Sorry, JJ, that you told everyone in TV nation that you cheated on your wife and then got sent away.

I keep thinking how this Joe guy is someone's ex boyfriend or many ex-es and how those women are throwing shit at the TV right now.

I don't care about Shawn, I'm sorry. I can't take him seriously. He's over-reacting. I feel like he's way too territorial too soon. Maybe he needs to go work out. Or at least take off his construction boots. Why doesn't he cry? Let's see him cry and sniffle and wipe off his mascara like she does. Likely, he'll just punch a wall. He goes to see her again and say that he's feeling bad. She starts crying and blames herself for making it so hard on him because she is just basically doing what she's supposed to do given the parameters of the show. She apologizes for being so fickle that he had to hit her. Of course he had to hit her, she made him do it! That's kind of how it's going. I guess if I felt like being more generous, I would make some statement about how the guys have to live up to this crazy version of masculinity, but I actually think many women are attracted to men who have some sensitivity.

Rose ceremony cocktail ceremony. Nick pretends to be
nervous even though he is wearing a rose and carrying around this big huge secret that he's been there, done that.  Lots of dark haired guys on this show. She is meeting with one of them now, Ben Z., she finds him handsome, manly and super sweet. He rubs his thumb on her face while they're kissing, like I do when I'm trying to get an animal to swallow a pill without balking. They must train them to do this. She likes Ben H. too. Ben H looks straight out of central casting from a daytime soap opera. Like Shawn, he is saying how he was upset because he could see that she was making connections with other guys. She starts crying again, relieved that he does not know that she slept with Nick. The previews of what's to come hint that Nick will be sent home, but that is usually not the case at all.

Nick has one on one time with Kaitlyn. He says he wants to make sure that she's okay. Why doesn't she just tell him that she's afraid that he will tell some of the guys? Nick gets tears in his eyes and tells her that he had a really nice time. He is likable again. They make out.

She must reassure Shawn for the third time and she again admits that it's all  her own fault. He says that it's truly not, but I think she's starting to convince him that she is the real problem.

She has a series of large rings that she wears. I wonder if Shawn's mom died when she was young. All of the guys are illustrating how much they're freaking out by putting their lion-like heads in their hands and steepling their fingers under their chins and rocking back and forth. And drinking A LOT.

As the rose ceremony begins, it sounds like someone is playing that Stones song "I see a (indecipherable) and I want to paint it black..." on the harpsichord when she enters the room.

First rose: Ben H., the soap opera actor.

Second rose: Chris with vampiric shadows under his eyes

Final rose: Send Shawn home, please. I don't like these final roses in the middle of the show. No, she keeps Shawn, but she asks him to stay in this dead voice like she really doesn't want him there.

Going home:  Some other brown haired guys named Ben. They take a moment to say farewell. She's sending home the huge dude who did not see that coming. They always say that. He really thought they had something good.  Stop calling her a girl, and she might like you more. "She's such an awesome girl."

Group date with Ashton Kutchner while the rest of the guys are on the bus. The dentist has inexplicably made it this far. Oh, of course, they are going to the Blarney Stone castle and must kiss the rock. Upside down, in case you didn't know. I have no desire to do that. Ew, and then they kiss each other with the germs of thousands on their lips.

Chris Harrison explains how she will soon be allowed to spend alone time with the men who don't have the roses, so that she can more accurately decide who to kick off.

The dentist gets the first intimate date. (Note: there are fifteen minutes left in the show and the dog won't stop barking at me because he wants me to pay attention to him). It's hard to tell if Chris the dentist has a personality or not. They get into a helicopter, which is flying in slow motion over the Cliffs of Moher. They take a picnic to the edges of the cliff and kiss. This will end in tears, I know this from the previews. They are eating tuna salad and pineapple. He also calls her a girl. Chris says that he loves Nashville and he wants to raise his children there, as long as he can be in charge of their orthodontia. 


I missed the last five minutes because we managed to lose the remote control somehow. According to Lori S. , my researcher, Kaitlyn told Chris that while she loved knowing he would always make sure she flossed, she would give her "eye teeth" to get the "molar" out of there and it took a lot of "wisdom" to not "crown" him into the next week, and it would take a "retainer" for her to stay, so she left him sobbing and alone.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

An Open Letter to the Producers of The Bachelorette, Season 41(?):

I get that you want viewers. I get that you are pandering to the lowest common denominator, to people who want to zone out in front of the TV or are watching it while doing something else, so only half paying attention. I get that you still believe we're a society who can't handle a series where we see anything but the most hetero-normative representations of people: white goes with white, female goes with male. Perhaps you feel it is still too early in American history to have a bisexual male bachelor or a black female bachelorette or perhaps you're leaving that to the more progressive cable channels. You want to the show to be palatable to the prime time viewing audience, which may consist largely of Christian white women or Catholic white women or Southern-born conservative white women. I trust you know your demographics and so are pandering to your viewing audience.

Okay, I take that back. I don't trust that you know what you're doing or that you have any research from Nielsen indicating that the viewing public is so narrow minded and unprepared to accept difference that you can only succeed by offering the same helicopter rides, waterfall make-out sessions and tears on a beach at sunset. I do trust that you think the American viewing public is stupid and that they're not ready for anything other than the most predictable tropes you've relied on since the first episode aired. And I get that your job is to make money and not to be the social consciousness of a country that's still struggling with issues of race and gender and social class.

But here are a couple of small ways that I think you could improve the show without really taking any significant risks:

1. When the show is taking place in another country, consider ways you could reveal interesting, unknown things about that country instead of, like, the first three things a third grader would name when asked to describe Spain. Pretend you're a combination of National Geographic and The Discovery Channel and let us see something unexpected and lovely, instead of something that reinforces the same tired things we know. For example, instead of a bull fight in Madrid, how about seeking out some of the statues there, or the graffiti-like art on the Justicia or having them romp around the Botanical Forest in their bikinis if necessary (for more ideas, go here: http://www.timeout.com/madrid/things-to-do/secret-madrid)? Instead of showing us the Ireland we know from a box of Lucky Charms (rainbows and clovers), have them make out in the hall of Trinity College or the Winding Stair bookshop or after a staged reading at the Milk and Cookies exchange. Or you could totally make fun of an Irish tradition while still exploiting it by having the bachelorette lie in a coffin while people toast to her with Guinness steins over her prone body.

2. The best part of the show is the out-takes at the end, because that's when then people seem most human and less like automaton models. Give us more of that. Are they only allowed to display emotions that you can write on an index card in Magic marker like, happy (cue laughing), sad (cue tears), drunk (cue falling down)? Can you show the complicated moments, like how weird it is to be making-out on TV or how boring it is to kind of sit around doing nothing for six hours in a row while they film various staged interviews. What if you let the seams of the process show more, so that sometimes, people are annoyed or are sitting in a make-up chair for twenty minutes talking about dumb, funny shit. In this way, you could also have interesting people capable of more than one character trait that you could also write on an index card: bitchy girl (cue lying to someone's face), dumb jock (cue lifting weights), conniving player (cue cast member saying "Not here for the right reasons"). We can handle it. We like it. It does not confuse us that someone is both oddly superficial and then scared to death in the same breath. We're human too.

3. Let the show fail by not forcing every scene to reinforce a racial or gender stereotype of some kind (women as needing to be desired, men needing to be strong and in control). For the bachelor episodes, what if half of the women on the show, when asked how they feel about the bachelor, said he was a dud, said that they were totally not falling in love with him, said that they wanted someone smarter, someone who makes them laugh, someone who doesn't want to have kids and would rather travel more. And what if, for the bachelorette episodes, the men said that they were scared of seeming scared, confesses they have a fear of heights, or don't really feel like playing soccer? Or what if anyone on the show said something that wasn't a phrase we've heard 100 times before. Maybe instead of saying, "I want to find my soul mate and I think Ben P. is him," the woman could say something like, "I want to find my soul mate, but I don't think that actually exists and I don't want to get divorced and remarried three times like my parents did."

4. Don't punish contestants for promiscuity. Hey, it was ya'lls idea to put them into this situation and see how it plays out in the fantasy suite or in the Atlantic Ocean at night or in a ski lodge or a barn or wherever they are. Can a woman on the show go ahead and have sex without being made out to be a drunken slut who regrets her decision immediately? Can the men admit to being confused, to liking more than one woman at a time, particularly when surrounded by 15 of them wearing string bikinis in a hot tub? Can we not have any more virgins who are saving it for marriage, particularly if they are women, aged twenty-six or older?

5. Complicate your cast members identities. Give us a Muslim, a transgender man, a female priest, a woman whose job is not a dental hygienist, nurse, elementary school teacher, or dance instructor. A man whose job is not entrepreneur, plastic surgeon, dentist, or lumberjack. A person of non-obvious ethnicity, a person who has a different body type, a different experience, a different perspective. There must be tons of interesting people out there, or maybe none of those interesting people send in their head shots to be on a reality TV show. Fine, find your own people then.

6. Let the woman propose when she's the bachelorette instead of being proposed to. You have this whole series where it's the woman doing the choosing of the men, and then you end it up with her standing waiting to see if the guy ultimately picks her to marry him. F that. She should go looking for the ring, he should be waiting nervously at the altar, or rather than just flipping it, why don't you lower the stakes and see if one of them chooses the other to go for a three month trip around the world? No one believes the proposal anyway and it never lasts. See, with a trip around the world, you could then have a whole other reality show to see if they can make it by living for one month in Africa, one month in Antarctica and one month in Texas.

Trust us more, your viewing public. We grew up with the very first few seasons of The Real World where the people were strange and straight and gay and bisexual and of ambiguous ethnicity and we liked it. We can handle it twenty five years later.

Just a final thought: whomever came up with that Irish wake idea should probably take a vacation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Back to the Real/Fake World with The Bachelorette

Not yet a week back from this intense, ten day writing conference where we're talking about ideas and how to write the truth and here I am back, ready to blog about the least realistic show on TV. I missed two weeks in a row, including last week when Amy Schumer was a guest, which bums me out.

Here's a question: Why is Nick on the show now and does he even not wear a bow tie? The remaining black guy left on his own volition because he felt that (wait for it...) Kaitlyn was not there for the right reasons, and also, because he went to Princeton and she went to Montreal Community Modeling School. Also, he believes that all she wants to do is make out with everyone she can and be on TV. He said that he's sick of talking about farts and high-fiving.

She admits that she is "a make-out bandit right now" explaining that if this physical side of the relationship isn't there for her, she can't marry the guy. She is covered in sparkles. She tells the other guys that Ian called her shallow. They go, "Like, seriously?" and their hair gel and muscles stiffen.


Are they now flipping the rose ceremony so that it happens at the beginning and not the end as a cliff hanger? Ashton Kushner is still on the show. They are in Texas and remind us of that by having the guys go to the Alamo for the rose ceremony. Or wherever this is...There's a cannon.

First rose: Bryan.
Second rose: Someone
Third rose: JJ
Fourth rose: Joe
Fifth rose: Ben Z. Big tall dude, looks like a former football player.
Sixth rose (last one!): 17 guys are left. Only one gets to stay. Who will it be?? Nick is safe, as are a few others.  All of the men will be very shocked if they do not get a rose right now. Tanner. He pushes this guy out of the way to get to her.

Going home: A man with a satin handkerchief and slicked back hair, an unshaven blond, maybe from Kansas.

Next stop: Dublin, Ireland. I was there once for fifteen minutes. I wonder what negative stereotypes they will reinforce in this country? Pubs? Sheep? Leprechauns? Probably tons of references to James Joyce and "The Dead." Oh, yes, we start with a wild horse, and a corkscrewed curly-haired woman playing the violin. One guy says, "Kaitlyn is the pot of gold at the end of rainbow." Jig music continues to play.



She picks Nick for the first one-on-one date. Kaitlyn can barely walk down the street because she has a fear of pigeons or I guess all birds. Nick loves it but will likely send her a box of dead mackinaw when they break up. They do a jig on the street with strangers, because that's what happens in Dublin all the time. They go to a pub to drink a Guinness with the locals. They make out a lot. I think he did the exact same thing with the other woman. Kaitlyn worries that their chemistry is too passionate. He does that thing they all do where he puts his hands all over her face when kissing her. Has she forgotten that this is what he does? He puts his hands on their faces and then they sleep with him and he tells everyone about it and the woman becomes the whore. Not him. She will be the one who is labeled as promiscuous.

They have dinner in a castle with two dozen long candles burning. Or maybe they're in a church. Or is it a crypt? Smooch noises as the wary stone statues and stained glass figures look on with blank eyes. She wears a black turtleneck sweater and he wears a hounds tooth jacket. They cut to a shot of a gold crucifix to remind us that she's a slut who makes out in churches. Funeral flowers surround them. She invites him back to her room. Shot of them kissing in an arched doorway outside and then she leaps on him and wraps her legs around his waist, in case we didn't have any idea what's going to happen next.

A whole hour left. While Nick and Kaitlyn are having sex, the men speculate if the two of them are having a good time or not. The next morning, she goes out on the balcony and hides her face in her giant sweater. Nick walks away with his jacket over his shoulder, dying to tell everyone about it. He's whistling and doing everything but kicking up his heels in triumph. She thinks he's a really good guy and she is definitely falling for him. She worries that he will tell  the other guys about it, and they have this fake scene where she's pretending to have second thoughts and speaking them out loud on the balcony, sotto voce.

Group date and the show takes a turn for the surreal as the men are presented with Kaitlyn lying in coffin and asked to  serenade her ala an Irish Wake. WHO  are the producers of this show? She's lying prone in a casket with a whiskey flask in her hands, which are folded across her chest. The two great themes are sex and death so check and check. The men must sing and come up with poems to honor her memory. One guy goes, "I would kill myself too if I had to spend the whole day with Nick." Another guy almost starts crying because his parents died like two weeks before the show started taping.

The big faced guy wants to remind her of his humanity by showing him photos of him with his dog.

Another one on one date with Ashton wherein not much happens.

My laptop stopped working so I didn't get to capture the remaining 15 minutes, but Nick didn't tell anyone, one of the blond guys was practically crying because he didn't get time with her, and the upcoming episodes show everyone in tears.  How is Cupcake still on here?

Tomorrow, I am going to post an open letter to the producers of this show.

Let's return to literature. Here's the last paragraph from "The Dead," by James Joyce:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Short story by Lauren Groff, "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners"

You have to maintain a much more focused attention when reading a good short story versus a novel, because if you skim, you might miss something.  For this reason, I find it a little more difficult on my brain to read short stories.  But if you're going to write in the form, you should read in the form (and others--I have yet to memorize a poem as was suggested in my workshop last week), so I've been trying.

Lauren Groff has a story called "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners" in Best American Short Stories, 2014. You might have read her novel The Monsters of Templeton, or her other short story from a previous Best of collection, "Delicate Edible Birds" (also the name of her book of short stories), I have a vague recollection that that story was about World War II or possibly World War I and a dinner party where the people invited are living it up . I seem to also remember a line about the crunching of tiny bird bones. The Monsters of Templeton is about a town (Templeton) where a giant creature washes up in the pond one day and the town starts to unravel. For someone like me, with a long-term memory about three days long before the reset button is set, to remember these details at all says something about the writing--it sticks in your brain. 

This story is apropos for Father's Day, because it's about a dysfunctional family--a racist, cold, reptile-loving dad, a vague, ineffectual mother who runs away to save herself, and Jude, a confused boy who finds solace in mathematical equations. Its set in Florida (Groff teaches in Gainesville) and you should just go ahead and set every story in Florida that needs a hot, closed, bug and alligator-filled backdrop; a setting that allows your characters to live in fear of deadly snakes or cockroaches dropping into your hair from the branches of palm trees. Also, you have the sandy beach and the ocean and its secrets and slippery creatures capable of biting, saving you and beaching themselves in despair.  Plus, the fishy smells of low tide, swarms of mosquitos and big-billed pelicans to offer comic relief.  But never move there to live for real.

The story spans the boy's entire life, from age two to middle-age. His mother abandons him and he learns to live with his father, who collects snakes for the university and brings them home. His father dies later from a snake bite and he leaves Florida and he goes deaf at one point for no real reason. He is reunited with his mother and his uncle, he gets into a car crash, he meets a woman, they have a son, he almost dies in a car wreck, and his main problem is that he cannot connect, not to his wife or his son or anyone, and you can see why, given his childhood. When his wife leaves to take his daughter to college, he takes to a row boat onto the pond and loses the oars. Underneath the surface, he knows alligators lurk, waiting for the chance to gobble him up. He sits in the hot sun with no water, knowing he might die. He hallucinated that his dad comes back to him,  a ghost and he tells him how much he hated him and also how he didn't completely hate him. The boat eventually is pushed by the wind to shore and his wife comes rushing at him, and he can't hear what she's saying, but he "puts his head in the crook of her neck. He breathed his inadequacy out there, breather in her love and the grease of her travels and knew he had been lucky; that he had escaped the hungry darkness, once more."

Best character description:  "The boy walked three miles to school where he told nobody he already knew numbers better than the teachers. He was small, but nobody messed with him. On his first day, when a big ten-year-old tried to sneer at his clothes, he leapt at him with a viciousness he'd learned from watching rattlesnakes and made the big boy's head bleed. The other avoided him;. He was an in-between creature, motherless but not fatherless, stunted and ratty-clothed like a poor boy but a professor's son, always correct with answers when the teachers called on h8im, but never offering a word on his own."

About writing the story, Groff says, " A story arrives in me either as a flash or as a slow underground confluence of separate fixations. This story was of the second type. I have lived in north-central Florida for eight years and have struggled with the place the whole time: my overwhelming love for aspects of Florida is balanced with an equal and opposite dread."

I still don't understand the title. You have to read a short story four or five times before it all coalesces.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"The Gun," by Mark Haddon

Inspired by the writing conference and because the Rider library had two of these books, I am going to try to read a short story a day from one of the two "best of 2014" collections and see how that goes. 

The story I read last night was Mark Haddon's "The Gun." You know who Haddon is--he wrote that charming and sad book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This story is about a moment from childhood, as remembered by Daniel, a significant moment from his life the summer he was 10 years old.  FYI, If a short story is called the gun, you have to apply the Chekov mandate, something like, a loaded gun in a story must go off. The gun goes off several times, but what the story is really about is not what happens in the story, but what doesn't happen.

Paradoxically, one of the things I often forget when I'm writing a story is that I should also be telling a good story. Like, something you could relate to someone else, something that you might remember as being interesting or compelling. I do not mean the surprise twist at the end, but something that makes sense within the bounds of the story but is still unexpected.

The most interesting part of the story for me happens when the narrator articulates why he's telling this particular story.  It's the first in the series of life events that he describes as" " the times when something happened that was unexpected and odd. .

The other three events also reflect moments where disaster strikes, or where one's mortality is starkly revealed (seeing a barn burn after it's struck by lightning during a storm, a cow falling through a factory roof, and getting a call from his mother after (he later learns) she has already died. The fourth story is the one that the narrator is telling now, the day his classmate and he are running around the woods carrying a gun they found.

The gun does go off, several times. But no one dies. At least, I don't think anyone died.

There was one very strange part of the story; and I can't tell you if this occurred because I was tired while I read it or if it was Haddon's intention. Part of the story involves the friend shooting a deer and then the two of them dragging the dead animal back to the house and skinning it with the rest of the family. I had the weird impression that maybe it wasn't actually a deer they killed or a person; if this narrator had revised what really happened to be able to live with it.

Okay, wait, I just re-read the passage. The reason I'm confused is because the narrator isn't sure what happened at first "a part of him still thinks of the deer as human. A part of him thinks that, in some inexplicable way, it is Robert transformed."

Here's part of his explanation of what inspired him to write this story:

"Good stories seem to come from some weird zone it's impossible to access in retrospect. After all, if we knew how they came into being they'd be a damn sight easier to write. I know simply that I'd been haunted for a long time by the image of two boys pushing a pram containing a dead deer across a dual carriageway several miles away from where I live, a road I'd driven down many times. Where the image came from I have no idea, only that it had a peculiar charge and that it stuck with me. The story grew around it much as those blue crystals grew around the string you left hanging in a jam jar of saturated copper sulfate at school (O.Henry, 345)"

Most memorable physical description of a character from the story: "He has a biscuit unwashed smell and bones that look slightly too big for his skin."

What to steal: Ask people if they have any stories that include brushes with death or incidents of the supernatural. Dan has a terrible car crash that he was in when he was about 17 when he flipped his car and almost killed his girlfriend, her twin sister, and this other friend of his. Luckily, they landed in a ditch near a doctor's house and the doctor, on hearing the crash, came out and helped save them. Dan remembers reaching over to see if his girlfriend was okay, and feeling a gash in her neck with warm blood running out of it.

You can have your own inspiration by readiong the full length pdf of the original piece, which appeared first in Granta and then in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014: http://web1.asl.org/jambalaya/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Mark-Haddon-The-Gun.pdf

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: The for real last day

I shared an Uber car with Miranda this morning after my last Yale Dining Hall breakfast of bacon, Frosted Flakes, yogurt, and a blueberry pancake. For my trip, I stashed away a box of Raisin Bran, a nectarine, an apple, and a cinnamon muffin that immediately came apart in the napkin. It's likely that I'm just transporting this muffin from one state to the next to throw away when I get to Princeton.

While waiting for our trains, Miranda and I brain-stormed a list of the necessities that we must remember to bring next time. This is the exhaustive list, the list that allows you to ship a trunk of things like someone in Downton Abbey. I put asterisks next to the objects that are worth the extra effort. Please note that almost all of these items can be purchased at the Yale bookstore after your arrival for 100% more than you would pay at Walgreens.

Extra hangers
Fan*
Bathrobe*
Your own twin-sized sheets*
Mattress pad
Pillow that smells like home*
Flip-flops to avoid athlete's foot*
Shower caddy*
Umbrella *
Gum
Feminine hygiene products (you're there for 10 days with a bunch of other women. Why be surprised like I am every single time?)
Kleenex (in case you cry in class or at a reading)
Eye make-up remover
Water bottle (I spent most of the conference in a state of dehydration though water was readily available at breakfast and lunch from those soda machines)*
Detergent if you plan on doing a load of laundry
Extra pens
Reading lamp (or you can borrow a lamp from the shared common room, which is what I did)
Noise machine to drown out the incessant sound of motorcycles' revving and the blare of ambulance sirens (do the motorcycles lead to the ambulances in most cases)*
Your manuscript* (if I had been aware that we would have the chance to meet with editors, I might have brought along another story or stories to pitch)
Something good to read out loud at the student readings
Thumb nail drive
Business cards if you have them*
Ear plugs (only if you don't bring a noise machine)
Real camera
Stamps so you can send postcards to your friends back home and make them jealous
A washcloth*
Shower soap

Miranda also recommends that you read and write your critiques for the workshops prior to attending so that you can spend your down time focusing on your own work based on class prompts and other things that inspire you during the day. Very solid advice and I wish I had done that. It would've saved some anxiety too on printing up the end comments, though the copy people were very nice.

I was going to add "snacks," when Miranda revealed to me that there are vending machines in the basement that take debit cards. You can get chips and candy bars and Snapple. I didn't know this and it's best that I didn't, because along with eating ice cream with Hershey's chocolate sauce on it every single day for lunch, I would've likely added a Snickers bar to the intake around 9 PM each evening.

I hope, hope, hope to be back next year.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 10, Last Workshop, Saying Good-bye

I wasn't of those kids who went to summer camp every year. The only formal camp I went to was with my youth group in seventh grade to Warren Wilson (hi, Maja! Don't forget to send me your dad's phone number for my next organ donation story) and my recollections of it are vague. As we're doing here, we stayed in the college dorms which I thought was very grown-up, but the only distinct memories I have of that time are discovering a stash of Penthouse Forum magazines one of the college students had left behind (thereafter, I never quite got looked at any root vegetables in the same way), and a lot of crying after Kitty Wiseman told Katie Battoe to watch out for Scott Reese, after what he had done to Kitty in the swimming pool the summer before. I wrote an essay about it in grad school for Vivian Gornick's nonfiction class. About my heartfelt essay, she said something like, "Why should we care about these girls? Who gives a shit about your summer bible study and how you got poison ivy?" Exactly. No one did, not even me, really.

I'm not saying that this conference is like summer camp, but it does definitely have some of the trappings, because you're away from what's familiar, you have to make new friends, you're forced to go through that flashback-to-middle-school ritual every morning as you scour the dining hall for friendly faces, and you spend your days trying to figure out who you are, what matters to you most and how you can get that on the page. At this camp, that's done by writing, reading, listening to smart people, and talking about how to hone your craft.

I have a long to-do list when I return to the regular world. Send out my work more, send writing assignments to Sergio and Molly, get in contact with Kirsten about reading for Origins, find a way to be more active in my literary community, check out those books at the library written by the writers I love as well as those written by the writers they love (following their literary history) memorize a poem every month, read more poetry, work on 750 word humor pieces, find my tribe where I live. Long term goals include beginning a novel for next year's conference, revising and sending out my existing stories as a collection, and specifically, I want to get a piece in Narrative, something on NPR, a story in Tin House, to develop a relationship with a small press that I love, and become Amy Bloom.

I'm so glad I did this, and the fear now is that it will all evaporate, starting on Tuesday afternoon when I get home and need to walk the dog, want to start watching The Wire (that guy gave a talk about writing for the show), begin sifting through my work emails, and again become immersed in the day to day distractions that pull me away from the writing. But I do know that it doesn't happen accidentally--I am the only one who can make the time, I am the one who gets in my own way, and so there are no excuses for not writing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 9, Workshops with Other Teachers


Humor class with Teddy Wayne. He did a reading from his book last week about a child rock star having a made-up, publicity date with a cute girl. V. funny, dry, and sad. He reads like Amy Bloom says you should, sort of like you are reading a newspaper. If the story is good, the pathos will come through and you don't have to perform and do the British accents.

First, we read a short piece by BJ Novak called "Missed Connection: Grocery Spill at 21st and 6th p.m. on Wednesday." The woman who reads it out loud is the same one who read a funny nonfiction piece about having too much hair everywhere. I suspect she has taken some theater classes (said the former theater major).

1. Short humor pieces often have a tight conceptual premise, and can start by asking "what if?" In the case of the above example, what if you wrote a missed connection piece that was absurdly specific, so that it could only be one particular person, versus the expected form which is more basic "You were wearing a red T-shirt with a pocket." Incongruity comes from attaching a greater connection, falling in love after one night where nothing much of significance happen except that they watch Animal Planet and cuddle.

Humor built around hyperbole (taking the "what if" scenario to the absurd degree) and spins it out of control.

2. Form not regular short/personal essay.

3. Has a beginning, middle, and end.

4. Comic techniques--incongruity/hyperbole, rule of three. That's a list of three things in a row. First two establish a pattern and the third is way off. "I attended Yale, Harvard and the Sally Hanson School for Nails."

End on the funny word. "I could be anywhere from 28 to 30." Find amusing words. Like..."he just said the word 'electric.'" He also specifically suggested ending on a hard "c." Not sure what that means.

5. Manipulative: not like a poem where the reader can interpret it any way she wants. The writer has a very specific response she wants to elicit, so must have tight control so reader responds the way you intended her to, much like a movie trailer thriller. Every sentence itself should ideally be amusing in some way.

Second story: "1997: The Year Tooth Whitening Broke," by Dan Kennedy

A parody of those behind-the-scenes kind of rockumentary; how Nirvana got started. Uses the sexiness and coolness of rock stardom against the banality of teeth whitening. Interview/documentary style. Premise is contained in the title, leads you to the rest of the piece (act I). Act II could be the moment when the first hygientist says, "But then, almost overnight, we just kind of looked at each other and went, 'Is this really happening?' Because suddenly, we were it." Male receptionist as a parody of having a female drummer, instead of a rock stadium, it's a convention center, instead of conventional rock groupies, you get a tall guy in Ralph Lauren Polo shirt.

90 percent of what we laugh at is not intended. People stumbling over words, dropping a napkin, people exaggerating something, or saying something that's incongruent, something that doesn't fit.Tension and build up of tension, and then the release of it with the punch line.

Third story: "An Open Letter to Officials of the United States Government Regarding What's New in My Reproductive Area," by Emily Weinstein (from McSweeney's)

If the gov't wants to be that invovled in my uterus, here you go. She details the twinges she feels during ovulation, very specific about her period dates. Darkly comic, because also talks about what she would do if she got pregnant, what it's like not to have health insurance, how we don't share our medical knowledge with other countries. Comic technique of hyperbole; attacking while seeming to be kind and genuine. The rule of three: "Me, my government, and that man in the polo shirt who hangs out oustide my gynecologist's office holding the sign with the fake blood fetus on it."

Polo shirts seem to be getting a bad rap in these examples. As they should.

Always better to punch up than it is to punch down, i.e. don't just be snarky and sarcastic for the sake of it. Attack the people in power versus the people who are below you, which would come off as just mean and small.

Generally, the story should be no more than 750 words.

Go ahead and start writing about something that irritates you.

Class exercise: Write an open letter to New Haven or Yale, something about the conference or the place. Title should be indicative of what's funny.

An open letter to the scowling person in fiction workshop whose story is about ponies


An open letter to the angels who sit watching above me in the atrium while I pass judgement on others

An open letter to the mold growing in the shower stall in my dorm room

An open letter to the Whistler exhibit at the Yale Art Museum

An open letter to the guy who read for thirty minutes when he was supposed to read for three

An open letter to my mom who won't stop texting me pictures of cats

Send your work to McSweeney's because they will actually read it.


Craft talk with Jotham Burrello: Focus on publishing.
He has a press he works with called Elephant Rock Books (www.elephantrockbooks.com). Today, we will also be looking at journals and glossy magazines and other small presses so we can figure out where our writing fits in the hierarchy. Some want to get rejected by the best (The New Yorker) and others want to shoot for what's attainable The Banana Peel Literary Review).

Two important questions to ask yourself:

Why do you write?

What are your measures of success, i.e. do you have one book in you or 17 books or do you want to publish a bunch of short stories in literary journals?

Start your indie search at www.aaupnet.org and www.newpages.com to see what literary markets are wanting, what opportunities are availalbe. Has areas for call for submissions, writing contests, and book reviews.

When writing your cover letter to submit to a mgazine, be sure you have read their work, and write something like, "I read that short story 'The Bulb Keeper's Wife' and I like what you did in that moment where the bulbs crashed down on the husband's head..."

About not being able to respond to writers who submit, Dinty Moore says, "It's a conversation I don't have time for." In other words, don't feel sad or slighted if an editor can't personally explain to you why your story was rejected.

Idea: consider adapting part of your novel into a short story so that it can be picked up and published as a stand alone story (in The Georgia Review, for example). Then, the agents may come and ask for the rest of your work. Must get published to get published.

Note to self: does Rider's student literary magazine take submissions? Does salon.com take fiction? I don't think so. Look at The Rumpus. Look at Thin Air magazine.

To get an agent or to get to the next step:

1. Keep writing every day.

2. Keep putting your work in the mail. Go ahead and get rejected and let it "fall off your back like rain" (says this guy in the video).

3. Find a writing group that you have accountability to and who will come after you if you don't finish your chapter or your story.

4. Go to good conferences like this one, and/or Ploughshares, Sewanee, etc.

5. Ask yourself what you are doing art-wise in your writing and in your community. Are you reading all the time? Go to conferences, join in a writing group, take a class, consider applying for a low residency program, volunteer to read on a literary journal. Write reviews for online magazines like The Rumpus and Book Slut and Electric Literature. Stanford and Wisconsin have online classes. Be a good literary citizen by going to readings and responding to blogs about writing. You can find The Rumpus at www.therumpus.net (but they do not publish fiction). Look again at The Chicago Reader, though I'm not sure they publish work by writers outside of the area.

One of the advantages about being online is that you start to build an archive--something that's easily accessible and easy to send along and will stay in the big world wide web forever.

What is your measure of success? Do you want a book, a story, do you want to teach, do you want to write book reviews, do you want to build a relationship with an editor who can help you out?

Find your stable of magazines to submit to--magazines whose work you admire, who you read regularly and who you want to publish your work.

Helix Magazine out of Central Connecticut State University. fJo will be teaching there in the fall. Brevity accepts short nonfiction stories under 750 words. Run by our friend Dinty.
Send something to Narrative, an online journal. They accept fiction, poetry, nonfiction, comics (?). It's at www.narrative.com. Very competitive. Look at Word Right, The 2nd Hand, SLS Literary Review, and The Missouri Review.

To do: Look up UCLA extension because Aimee Bender might teach there and she is amazing.

To do: Find out more about what the writing community is like in Princeton (or your own town).
Send work to Clackamas Literary Review, to www.stpetersburgreview.com, to The Greensboro Review for the Robert Watson Literary Prizes (submit to https://greensbororeview.submittablecom/submit).

University of Nebraska Press is a good place to send your work.

For my short story collection, I need to get at least three more of those stories published at good places. This book he just passed around A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends by Stacy Bierlein (opened it up, smelled the pages, started reading, feel into a middle a story about having sex with a man who doesn't speak your language) has had stories in six publications, some I've heard of, some I haven't. I hope we get to keep this copy; I want to finish the story.

P.S. I went to very good panels in the afternoon, but this seems like enough for today.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 8, Workshops

I am starting to get a little bit fatigued. Not a lot, not enough to want to be at home just yet, but my commitment to updating the blog as I go has waned. This is particularly true during the lectures, in part because I feel self-conscious typing away like a little elf instead of just sitting and listening like everyone else.

Today, we had another workshop, and we did a couple of quick exercises around stereotypes in writing. First, each person got a piece of paper with a derogatory term that can be applied to a group of people, like "white trash." We then did a free write around whatever our term was, to explain why that character with the label applied is much more than just white trash--she has a history, desires, thoughts, fears, a job, maybe children, etc. Then we did an exercise where we were giving two adjectives generally applied to describing women only. Mine were "perky" and "ditzy." We wrote about what our job might be and why people might label us as such, and then what those same adjectives might be if applied to a male character (since you seldom hear a male character referred to as perky or ditzy, something like "cheerful" and "funny"). Next, we talked about the Robert Coover story, "The Babysitter," where all of these terrible things are happening all at once, mostly to the female characters and the children. Basically, the exercises were to make us aware of how easy it is to write in these types, to create characters that carry forward negative renderings. Molly urged us to become not just literary people, but literary activists--- aware as we're writing that we are also representing, and that we can do so in ways that are unexpected but perhaps truer to human complexity.

Later, we had a lecture from Mary Norris from The New Yorker, who has written a book about the editing process at the magazine. She's known as the "comma queen," but I first thought the phrase was "comic queen" and so kept waiting for her to talk about how she comes up with her ideas for her comic strips. She was funny and charming and told us about the other books she wrote, one about nuns, the other about her transgendered sister, but how she was asked to write a book about the comma and that's the one that people love.

She confessed to being a terrible pencil snob, and so afterwards, I asked her what pencil she recommends as the best, and she said the black wing 602 which you can find at pencils.com. "I don't even work for them," she said. I looked them up. You can get a dozen of these for $21.95.

She described one editor who was so on top of things that she found five mistakes in a four word sentence. Her voice was scratchy, and I wanted to offer a lozenge. She had a friendly, open face and laughed easily. She was approachable with a sensible chin-length bob and round glasses (I'm working on creating descriptions that simply describe without passing judgment). You may not believe me, but she told a long and very funny story about the use or not use of a comma in the following phrase: "She wore a thin burgundy dress that showed off her stomach."

Afterwards, a couple of us went for a short while to the Yale University Art Gallery, where they have an exhibit of Whistler's work (actually, his name is much longer. It's something like James Michener Michael Paleolithic Whistler), Picasso's paintings and sculptures, and creations by Modigliani, Kandinsky, Basquait, Warhol, Magritte, and three female artists.

Here is pair of shoes I bought at a place called Thom Brown, (I pronounce it just like it's spelled, but I'm sure that's incorrect).  I like them because they look like they're made of strips of magazine paper.







Friday, June 12, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 7, Cheryl Strayed

Have you read Wild? I did, and I am not someone who typically reads any nonfiction, particularly nonfiction about nature-y things, such as fly fishing or hunting bears or camping in the woods or hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (all actions I can't imagine voluntarily doing). But I read Wild about a year ago, because I had seen some of Strayed's short essays and loved them, and I got hooked on the narrative immediately. Don't rely on Reese Witherspoon to tell you the story. Go get the book yourself.

The author is here today to give us a craft talk. She wears a bright blue shirt and a black arm bracelet or possibly a fit bit. Too far away to tell. She does not look unlike Reese.

Here's what she has to say:

Paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to a young writer who sent him a story: "You have all of the elements of a short story here, but have unfortunately, you have missed the elements of the human heart." Bring all of yourself to the page. "Nobody wants a soldier who is just a little bit brave," says Fitzgerald.

About having to choose the best creative non-fiction manuscript for Bread Loaf Conference: The "yes" area of the living room was noticeably slim, but the maybe pile kept growing. At the end, she couldn't find one to recommend to the next judge. Many of them were good, but none of them were great. None were able to answer the question that is always asked of memoir writing (but also of other genres), "Why I am I reading this?" In truth, nobody except your more inherently wants to read about you or your characters, unless you are answering the question, "What does it mean to be human?"

Of all those hundreds of manuscripts she read for the contest, almost all fell into four distinct categories:(1). I took an interesting trip, (2). I had a terrible childhood, (3). someone I love dearly died or is dying, and (4). "things that happened to my vagina" (babies, miscarriages, infertility). And she admits that her book covers this same territory. In other words, most writers will not discover a new story  to tell--they've all been told, Instead, what you need to do is find your original voice.

She is hard on her original novel, Torch, saying that much of her voice was modeled on the writers she admires (Edna O'Brien, Raymond Carver, Mary Gaitskill). She discovered in re-reading the novel for an audio book that she needed to find her voice. It's okay to aspire to be like Alice Munro, but you can never be her, so you have to learn how to make the thinnest possible screen between yourself and the reader. "Give your heart." Allow your characters to speak in their truest voice, by forgetting so much about what happens, but thinking more about what meaning you made of the things that occur.

She recommends some great memoirs to read: James Ellroy's My Dark Places, Lydia Someone's, The Chronology of Water, Mary Karr's Lit, Roxanne Gay's essay, Bettyville by George Hodgeman.

She reads an excerpt from a Hemingway story and I am distracted by the person siting next to me who is practicing her penmanship by writing the alphabet over and over in the margins of her notebook.

Have to strive to allow your reader to recognized herself in your writing. Don't try to plant lessons in your story, just try to tell the story--how do you get over grief? How do you survive loss? ]

She quotes Vivian Gornick, who I had as an instructor at Penn State, and who does not suffer fools; she decimates them. "Slowly, I began to see that the story is not how mama made me a woman, but the story is that I had become my mother and so could not leave my mother... So much of her was inside of me, that I couldn't leave. Once I understood that, I knew I was writing to serve that insight."  For Strayed, the question is how can she live without her mother or more universally, how does a person live with the suffering she carries, whatever that suffering may be?

She describes the revelations that come out of her book and over again. Revelation One:  I can't do this. Revelation Two:  I have to do this. Revelation Three: I am doing this. Example: I can't carry this backpack it's too heavy. I have to carry this backpack if I am going to survive. I am carrying this backpack.  Pronouncing the bigger thing (like, I can't survive the death of my mother. I must survive it, I have survived),  requires that you lay down the emotional foundation to do it first (the repetition of that same challenge in smaller ways prior to that biggest revelation. You have to earn the bigger epiphany).

Be brave enough to be afraid of the things you write. Go too far. Tell the truth. Say, I will have to take this out into he final manuscript. Be careful of confusing revelation with confession. Confession is telling the secret, like you would to a priest. Revelation is about excavating the meaning of that secret. It's also rooted in necessity--you must figure it out.

More interested in credibility than liability--having the reader believe you is more important than having the reader like you (or your characters).

Considering diagramming your story--taking all of the threads and mapping out where each scene is going. One thread must be going directly forward (what's happening into the "now" of the story) and some will be going backward, but each scene should go more emotionally deeper as the story unfolds. I thought this, then I thought that, and then I realized this was the truth. A thickening.

Recommends listening to the podcast, Long Form.

Here's an exercise she gives her students that you can use: Write a "Woe is Me" narrative, because we all feel so very sorry for ourselves all the time. See what you come up with, how brave you an be, how deep you can go, what your particular tale of woe is.

I got to ask the last question, whether or not she wrote while on the trail. She said that she did, and that some of it was useful when she went back to the book. She wishes though that she had written more about what was around her (the flowers, fauna, etc.) and also more about what she was thinking instead of always writing about how much her goddamn feet hurt.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 6, Amy Bloom

Had a master class with one of my all time favorite short story and novel writers, Amy Bloom. I took lots of notes, because she had a lot to say. She lived up to all of my expectations.  She was straight-forward, smart and sardonic, but one of those funny people who doesn't smile at her own jokes.

Here are some of the things we talked about, in order of appearance:

"Turn off your phone unless you are an emergency worker or a surgeon. Second, even if you are brilliant writer, I will not be delivering your manuscripts to The New Yorker after the workshop."

She warned against bad similes: "The rain came down like a prostitute's tears."

She recommends a book by Ursula LeGuin called Steering the Craft where LeGuin talks about what she calls expository lumps, this challenge all writers face in trying to weave narrative info into the story so that it makes sense. She advises making even this information as good as possible, and if it's not, if that story about what happened to you in fifth grade does not move the story forward, you can cut it.

Since your reader is not your mom, don't expect her to wait around for the prose to get more interesting.

Re-read Joyce's "The Dead" if you want an example of a very closely told, intimate story that opens out and out and out into the world on the last page. Endings are your final prism, one more place where the reader can read something of new significance.

Your default voice is the one that you start writing in, your most comfortable voice, the first draft person who gets the words on the page. "My default voice is mid-career Maggie Smith, for some reason." This is the voice that doesn't take any risks. Everybody has it. "It's like an unfortunate relative who has entered the room and you must deal with it and keep going."

She is arch. She wears gold hoop earrings and a simple V-neck black shirt with khaki pants. She is lovely. She has a bobby pin in her hair.

Someone asks her a question about how to tell the story of a person who is fighting change She recommends reading Olive Kitteredge. The writer says, "But Elizabeth Strout is a brilliant writer." Blooms says, "Well, I could recommend a mediocre book so you will feel better about your own writing or I could recommend someone who does it really well and, in that way, you can improve your craft."

Another way to deal with exposition, particularly in a genre novel (like  sci-fi), is to write down a list of all of the things you think the reader needs to know to understand your world and see if there's a way to weave that in along the way. This actually could work for any story. Do we need to see another flashback about dad drinking or do we need to know what the character does for a living?

She does not recommend relying on a prologue.

She said something about how it's very, very hard to write a good short story and how short stories are not necessarily practice for learning how to write a novel. How Hawthorne and Poe didn't sit down to write a bunch of short stories in preparation for the real writing, their coming of age novel.

About revision: "Writing is this: you get up, fall down, get up, fall down, get up, fall down. And you get up on more time. It's like being a pretty good boxer."

You don't choose what elements will work best in your fiction like it's the difference between cake or ice cream. It's not structure or style, character or dialogue. It's all of the elements working together.

In fiction, each scene must be doing at least two (and, in the best case scenario, all three) of these things:

Illuminating character
Advancing plot
Being interesting in and of itself

She mentions how great it would be to create a workshop glossary--this book that would tell you the difference between what people are saying in workshop, and what they really mean. For example, "Consider having just one point of view," would be translated to mean "it's really hard to write multiple points of view and you may not yet be up for it."

Someone asks what to do if your character doesn't seem to acting, but just sitting there being passive. She says, "Send her out into the world. Get her to the grocery store or the emergency room.  See what she does."

Endings of chapters should be like a good kiss, leaving you thinking, "That was amazing. I want more."

A few more suggestions.

1. Ban the adverb. At the very least, take out those that do not add to the sense of scene.

"I love you," she said flatly. (OK)
"I love you," she said warmly. (No).

She mentions that another writer recommends taking out every adjective except color.

Same goes with action, essentially. Say goodbye to the mundane stuff we already know as humans who live in the world. "He dialed the nine digits of the phone number and pressed send. He walked left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot and then pushed the horizontal handle on the square wooden panel to get out of the room." Not only is much of that extraneous (hey couldn't you write, "He walked across the door and opened the door?"), if it's not necessary to see him exiting the room, go ahead and move on to the next scene.

At least during one of your revisions, see what happens if you pare the narrative  down to the bare bones. You can always put back in that vivid description of the Popeye tattoo and why the dude got it, but see what the story looks like stripped of any word, deed, or line of dialogue that's not working its hardest to earn its place.

This takes us to about half-way through the class.  Come see me if you want the rest, but read her work.

After class, I went over to introduce myself and tell her that I am at the writing conference now because of her. When I saw her name on the list, I sent in my application. She said thank you. She signed my book and asked me if I used an accent. I said no. I remained stage struck and she remained gracious, as I'd hoped she'd be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 5

We workshopped my story today. Molly Gaudry, our workshop leader has a different approach to the model I'm accustomed to. In traditional workshops, the readers talk the whole time about the story and the writer sits mute. They talk about what they love about the story (the title, the ending, the character named Heloise). Then, they talk about what they didn't like so much, sometimes without explaining why. So, you'll get a comment like, "I didn't get the ending. Why did the guy shoot the old lady just because she said she recognized him as her son? I didn't get that." And suggestions about how to revise. "What if they just hugged in the end?" But mostly, it works okay. You hear from lots of voices, and you sit there and nod and maintain eye contact while trying to write the comments  down in your notebook, often fragments because your heart is beating so fast and you can't concentrate and later, when you go back to your notes, you'll find incomprehensible phrases like, "The hat should be scene ending... How long know each other. More flashbacks of childhoods."

For our workshop today, Molly told us to come in with questions for the writer. In this way, the writer is responsible for her work, for explaining it and for thinking about it. It's challenging, but it's good, because it forces you to be active and engaged and implicitly makes you realize that there may be holes in your writing, scenes you didn't examine closely, actions or inactions that you can't explain, objects you chose that don't hit it exactly right, characters who are less likable than you'd hoped. That was the first question Molly asked me, "Do you like your characters?" I believe what she wanted me to discover is that my central character, Jenny, is not sympathetic, that she is a little bit despicable and that for the reader to sympathize with her (which they must in order to care about what happens to her), I have to sympathize with her. The other discovery I made is that many of my female characters are walking the line of stereotypes (the 80 year old cat lady, the catty real estate agent, the pushy stage mom, the dead girl). I have to be responsible for those characters, to know how they're functioning and to consider ways to complicate them. The story needs restructuring. I need to find a way to show why it is that she's so flip and superficial and figure out how to move her beyond that. Molly suggested that I think of it as the last story in a collection that deals with the idea of homes, weaving Jenny somehow into each story, because in that way, we might understand her better. I could do that. I have about seven stories now set in Philadelphia and will see if I can find a way to focus them around this central theme of finding a home, making it your own.



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 4

So many good quotes and pieces of advice at the conference which I will not share with you because you are not here and did not pay for it. I keep asking all of these successful writers the basic question of how they do it. How do they have lives and get the writing done? The editor from Ploughshares, this lovely woman with square black glasses, a gentle, teacherly voice and a sensible bob, said that she gives herself an hour a day. Every day, whenever that might be. And sometimes, longer on the weekends. Why don't I use do this? Here is my goal. I have to write a book by next year's conference. That's 50,000 words or about 220 pages. If I could do math, I would figure out right at this moment how many words that is per day, plus revision.

This guy is here to talk about how he broke out of his drug addiction and construction job by writing about being shipwrecked for Amazon's Kindle. He wears a black Dead Volts t-shirt with a skull surrounded by angels wings, has two sleeves of tattoos (hopefully not cartoon characters, hopefully nautically-themed like his story), a scruffy face with sideburns and matching scruffy voice (read: smoker?). I wonder if he will write about coming out of addiction and I hope he will stay sober (I automatically flash forward to him being invited out to dinner tonight and being pressured to have a glass of chardonnay and taking it and then spiraling down into addiction and never publishing again. All because of the Yale Writer's Conference). His name is Mishka Shubaly. You should look him up and buy his work (so that he's indebted to me and introduces me to his publisher and I make $27,000 for a long piece and can buy my mom a house like he did).

His sensible advice, "If you don't send any of your work in to Amazon, you most certainly will not be published by Amazon. If you do send your work in, your chances are dramatically increased." He got $9,000 for his first Kindle story and three times that for the next piece (I can do that math). Just imagine. And not all of it has to be genre work. And his Kindle publication has led to a print publication. He's good. He's funny and gives real direction and emphasizes the importance of reading stuff that you don't gravitate towards, just to discover some new things and so that you're committing to a particular project (like, I'm going to go ahead and read the modern library's top 100 list. I am going to do this, even though it contains Ulysses). I am in love with this guy, maybe because he said he got sober without AA or treatment. And also because he looks like the rock star version of Don Draper. And because he recommends taking pictures of cats.



Just FYI, there are some look a-likes here. There's a guy sitting in front of me who looks like an older Bill Murray, a guy who looks like the cranky guy from a cartoon strip, and, like, two David Cross doubles.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 3

If you want to feel bad about yourself, you should attend some talks where the featured speakers graduated from Yale just five years ago and are now working as editors for Slate.com and The New Yorker. Makes you wonder whether it's actually true that money does create a difference in your life trajectory, so, like, if you happen to have gone to an all-girls college for ten years and then attended Yale, then interned at The Rolling Stone and hung out with someone who knows the editor of Talk of the Town and Shouts and Murmurs who then later calls to offer you a job if you want it, you might have somewhat more of an edge than if you attended a state school in Tallahassee, FL while working at Triple A as a dispatcher and TGI-Fridays as a waitress. Of course, some of that is jealousy talking, but not all of it. I realize that to get these jobs, you also have to have talent, and I'm sure these speakers do, and they are very engaging speakers, but I don't like them. At all. Actually, I do like them, but against my will. Which is why instead of listening closely to a story about what it's like to have a cubicle next to someone famous, I'm writing this.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 2

Here's the thing about going to a writing conference (or any other conference, I suppose): you have to talk to people.  Lots of people. You have to socialize and you have to say where you're from all the time, a question I stumble on, because if I say I'm from Nebraska, people are always like, "Where? I didn't know anyone ever really lived there." Plus, I feel like it's an untruth; I only lived there for the first four years of my life. But I'm not from New Jersey either.  I live there now, but it's not my place of origin and I'm still trying to accept the fact that I live in a state that's best known by the rest of the world through the reality show, Jersey Shore.

But here I am, at Yale University, a beautiful place in New Haven, established in 1701 (as we learned yesterday during the first town hall meeting) and I am assigned to sleep in Davenport College, in a dorm room on a twin bed under thin bedding that feel like butcher paper. Showers will be stalls in the shared bathrooms, another experience I never had, as I skipped the whole first year dorm experience in my college career.

And I'm meeting all of these amazing writers, who have written books upon books and won National Book Awards and know people at the New Yorker, and the thing I want to ask all of them is, "How did you do it? How did you write that book? Are you independently wealthy? Did you spend three hours a day writing it after a nine to five day in an office job? Did someone give you a lot of cash to take the time off? And then, when you did have the time, how did you keep yourself form incessantly playing Spider Solitaire or watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie?"

I think the secret to it is that they took themselves seriously enough to put the time in, and maybe they had six months to focus on just the writing. Nicholson Baker told us that he and his wife worked out their finances and figured he could have six months to write a book, and so he did it. And someone accepted it and then gave him money for more, and that's how that went. The other thing that came through from his talk is that you should use everything. Oh, yes, that's what I loved about what he said. Every bad thing that happens to you is really a good thing because you can use it in your fiction. Slice half your finger of with a brand new started knife? Remember how it looks, remember how it feels and fit it into a scene. Are you part of cubicle life? Write about it. There have been a few books lately that describe office life in these funny and revealing ways, so I should do the same. Write another book about life in the university. Except.... Except I don't feel compelled to write that particular book.

What's strange is that all of those people who write books--good books, books your remember and love--- on some level, they seem like another species to me, a group of really devoted and smart people, almost unreal. But here they are, in the same room, talking about their days. Human, leaving lipstick marks on their wine glasses. And so what that means is that they are not that different from me, if I would find a way to dedicate myself to writing in the same way (instead of writing a blog post? my internal, sneering critic asks).

I am here. I have shown up. I'm at the Yale version of Small World Café in Princeton. This place is called Blue State Coffee. They take both cash AND credit cards (take note. Small World).

Firs though, I really need to go pet that dog who is barking outside.

Monday, June 1, 2015

This is not how she thought it would end

I missed last week, so I am not sure why we have started with a rose ceremony and the men holding their heads in their hands and why does Ashton Kutcher now have a black eye? And why did she send that other guy home, I think it was because he was shouting? Or was it because of how much he was sweating? It's all a mystery to me, but Mom is here and she doesn't like this Kaitlyn because she looks slutty in that low cut silver sparkly dress of hers. My mom has only seen like three episodes in fifteen years.

First rose: Terry/Ashton
Second rose: Ben Z. not to be confused with Ben P. and Ben T.
Third rose: Shawn B.
Fourth: Missed his name.
Fifth: Tanner, will of course, accept this rose
Sixth:  Chris, who look like he hasn't slept in weeks. He's a dentist, I think. Bi
Seventh: Brian: wears fake non-prescription Superman/Clark Kent glasses
Eighth:Justin
Ninth: Ian,  other black guy
10th:Josh or Choc
11th:Joe
12th: Some other guy who is not the yoga guy with the too long hair tucked behind his ears
Final rose: Tony, the yoga guy, He feels it in his chakra as it takes him into the fifth dimension

Going home: Cory, the guy with a kid, and Daniel, a guy who is too tall for her, She is crying for having to send these guys home and doesn't understand why it's already this hard.

More stereotypes being totally debunked as the guys are woken up huge Asian men in kimonos banging a gong. Chris announces that one of the guys weighs 600 pounds. This is beyond ridiculous ad racist. The men are being made to put on diapers and wrestle with one another, probably with their skin oiled up. Their butts and balls are showing. This is terrible for the Japanese culture. Clint goes first. He wears a ponytail. He is easily pushed out of the circle. Shawn does no better. They say it's like running into a brick wall. Tony the yoga guy believes he can take him. He will just give him some serious yoga moves. He is able to kind of push him a little bit, but I think he is upset that his one testicle got crashed. He also says that he doesn't like show his aggression and he has the heart of a warrior and a spirit of a gypsy and he sees the world through the eyes of a child. He says all this while gesturing wildly with a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Tony, a peace lover, tells one of the guys to get the fuck out of his face. Lots of bad tattoos on this show.He has worked very hard in his advancement emotionally, spiritually and physically and he can't revert back to his primal instincts. He tells Kaitlynn that he has a lot to offer and then he spits. She hugs his well-shaved chest. Does he ever smile. He also keeps flexing his left pec muscle.  


Next, the guys come riding into a town filled with people wearing robes and being forced to face off as Sumo wreslters. They have to strip. The twelve year old girls in the crowd have to look away. She is a former dance instructor, so maybe she will be okay. He swings her around and then he lets her push him out of the ring. First up JJ with back acene against Joe who may not have a tatto, but certainly has to worst hair I've ever seen. It sticks straight up like a toothbrush. Now, Joe vs. Clint who has one of the diapers tied around his head. He body slams each guy,

Tony decides to leave and he does so by leaving a note for her with his name written on it for some reason. He says that he is walking away on his own terms. He wears a camouflage hat, to illustrate his peacefulness. He decides to get home and I missed the part where he said why.

Chris Harrison has chosen the next date. They are driven to a warehouse filled with old junk and they open the door and a pigeon flies out and she screams so that he can through his arms around her. There is something amiss about this particular series and I can't quite pinpoint what it is. Maybe this is how it always in the beginning of the show when none of the guys really stand out.

What happened:

What she acted like happened:


I guess Chris Harrison great date is to take them through a haunted house. They have only a few
minutes to get out before they will be killed by Tony. I do not get this. He pulls some clues out of maggots and they are forced to kiss in order for the door to open. However, maybe I shouldn't complain because they are actually having to use their brains and work together to accomplish something and it doesn't involve jumping off a mountain. Snakes are coming out of a toilet bowl. Dan thinks that the guy has crossed eyes. They finally break part of the code and they are finally able to escape. Just in time, because they were about to be gassed.

Now they are having some moments together and I really can't hear what they're saying because Luke and Dan are talking. He is also sweating a lot and saying that he hasn't cried for 11 years since his mom died. In a haunted house, unfortunately. Yeah, that makes you a real man. Someone has done a great job of putting on her lip gloss.

Second group date. Ashton is one of the guys. Back to Kaitlyn and what's-his-face in the hot tub with champagne. Dan says "she's kind of small up top." She gives Ben the rose.

Dan will guest blog while I eat a bowl of cereal:


I don't know anyone's name except for Chris the host. Aimee's is eating mini WHEATS. Here we go... they are on a grammar school playground playing out a pedophile's fantasy. There's a tampon in his locker basket. Sophomoric jokes are happening - if you get a hair on your ball - you know who to call" - good one. Now they are making light of homosexual relationships which is stupid. All the perfect men are now interacting with 6th graders. The kid in the first row is probably going to be the next bachelor. He already has a 5 o'clock shadow. The 12 year old girl in the back wants to know how many positions there are for sex; that gets all the grown men horny. But then they switch to period stuff and the kids get grossed-out.

Okay, Aimee is done with her mini wheats.

I'm back. Ben H. is explaining reproduction by pretending to be a sperm and having Kaitlyn stand in as the egg. She decides she really likes him because he did such a good job with the sex talk.

JJ and Clint are best friends now and it seems like they are just treating this like they are on vacation and have no idea that they are on The Bachelorette.  This is a total joke.

Here comes Ashton. She really likes his black eye so much that she wants to almost punch him again,  she says.  Ashton blathers on about how great his parents were and how he wants to be just like them and then he launches over and kisses her. They slow dance in front of a big screen TV. He tells her that he thinks she's pretty awesome, but then is crushed when Ben gets the rose instead of him.

Rose ceremony part II.

Clint takes her aside. He wears a vest. She wears a dress with a slit all up the side. He only shaved half of his chin. I think he might also be stoned. He says that he's not really interested in Kaitlyn, but he loves JJ and wants to keep staying. She gets a kiss from the dentist. I have no idea what these two guys are talking about. This guy has such a huge chin, he's either got an impacted tooth or he's related to the Kennedys. All the guys are gossiping about about Clint and JJ. Kaitlyn will confront them, but not this episode. Why is he taking off his belt?  Stay tuned.