Monday, August 25, 2014

Dean Young's "Romanticism 101" Partially-Explicated and Meditated Upon

This was intended to be an "Inspired by" day but life's tumultuous and it was pushed back, and now I've already posted today. So instead, read this and then my explication/one-sided conversation with it and maybe use it as a writing exercise sometime.

First: twice read the fantastic poem "Romanticism 101" by Dean Young which was just published in the July/August 2014 issue of Poetry. If you're not too versed in poetry (heh, and sorry), and the poem doesn't seem to make much sense, don't worry. It is a paratactic poem, so it lacks much of the connective tissue (or bridges) that traditional narrative provides you and requires you to leap along with it.

Even if you're not necessarily following anything but the individual lines/sections, take each one in as its own unit. This is a different way of reading than many are used to so please take a little longer reading the lines. They may be literal or metaphoric without notice given to the reader.

Once you've read it over, without looking back at the poem, think for a minute about things that stuck out to you in particular. Think back to words in particular. Give it a minute. There is a lot crammed into this short poem.

Then give it a second read over once you know what you're getting yourself into.

Maybe think of it like this. Imagine that you open your eyes and discover that you're standing mid-river in your Sunday best atop a couple of mossy rocks. Ahead of you is Dean, you're best bud, he's just looked back, and shouts "Come on!" then begins dashing along the scatter of rocks which pock the river's surface through the curling current. There's no bridge, there're no rocks behind you. You have no choice but to step on the rocks Dean was hopping to and keep as dry as you can, which isn't too dry. You make it to shore, blink, and as you open your eyes you hear the river, see Dean's mouth shape "Come on!" and have no choice but to try again. The second time the rocks' moss will be a little less slippery and I promise, you'll stay a little drier.

Once you've read it twice pop down to the last bit, or just bask in its goodness and move along with your day.


Daily Notebooking Writing Exercise August 25, 2014

August 25: Cereal day!


Cereal means many things to many people. To some, it means breakfast, to some it means a type of grass that produces both germ and bran. To some it's Frosted Flakes with a side of Tale Spin (I can pray to that altar), to some it's... whatever. If you've been born in the last 115 years or so, which I'd wager most people have been, there're corn flakes at very least. And while corn flakes may have been invented to disuade masturbation, they're also a way that humans have been beginning their days for a century, and other 'cereals' for longer.  Here are a couple ideas for ways to go with this prompt:

1) Nostalgia. There are dozens of ways to attack this. Whether rebelling against modern cereals (Fruity Cheerios, I'm looking at you) and embracing the cereals of your own experience (Here's the wiki page about Breakfast Cereals.)

2) History. Look at different sources and write about the history of cereal.

3) To be honest, while researching this prompt I recalled something about a guy who modified wheat to let it grow in more arid climates and (and saved a billion lives)... I got lost in the rabbit's hole of research. I think the first prompt should apply to most people. Even if it isn't your normal topic/level of discourse, try it. Put on your popular writing hat. I read recently in a review that Nick Lantz was like Billy Collins if he took his job more seriously. I don't know about all of that, I think moreso that Nick Lantz is following in Collins' path in the same way that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is following in the path of Carl Sagan. They're bringing the fine art to the public in a way that is both understandable and accessible. You've eaten a cereal out of a box, and you may've even watched cartoons afterwards. Meditate on that. It's not a full piece, but a vignette to maybe harvest from later. Don't harness yourself to the idea of needing a finished piece to even begin writing. This is to write without worry of purpose. This is to write. Go. Go.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Daily Notebooking Writing Exercise August 19, 2014

August 19: The Macguffin!

Watch this video animation from an interview with Alfred Hitchcock about the MacGuffin.

Write a short piece where the macguffin object is specifically addressed as being so important that it's not important why. This can be just a scene where many things like back story and character building are assumed to be fleshed out previously, a vignette where neither of those things are important, there can be a series of short lyric poems centered upon an object, or a person (or a part of a person). However you interpret it. Try to include a 'wounded' person. Someone not necessarily damaged goods, but with something in their past that at least in some ways, drives them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 18, 2014

August 18: Narrative day!

Today work with one of the following possible scenarios.

1) A man's suit coat is hanging over your mailbox one morning. In the pocket is an envelope. In the envelope is...
2) A time traveler who had quickly become a king in the past by using his technology and knowledge has run out of ideas and is losing his grasp of power (and his popularity)...
3) Two semi-omniscient narrators trade notes about a particularly eventful (or uneventful--hence the meeting) day.
4) Tell the story of three strangers as told by a bus bench at the bus stop they frequent (at least one person should regularly visit the bench at a different time of day).
5) Tell the wandering conversations of a party without using any dialog tags, and very sparse description, (if any at all).
6) Write a six couplet poem (rhymed or unrhymed) where the first and fifth couplets are linked via an image, and the second, third and sixth all share reference to a color.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 17, 2014

August 17: Wordbank day!

Today will be brief, look through the lists of words provided in the following links and pick out ten or so. Spend a little time making sure you understand the correct usage of the words, if they have any fun history/uses/misuses/homophones etc. If there's a place with that name, or a person. Then write a few quick exercises utilizing that list.

Hazardous, infectious, opening, anticipate, dividend.

Now that you have your researched list, write the following exercises.

1) Write a phrase, line or sentence that uses three of the words from the wordbank.
2) Write two sentences that use one of the words as the last (or second to last) word.
3) Write two phrase, line or sentences that use one of the words as the first word.
4) Pick two candidates for most likely to be a character's name whether you mean this sarcastically as in a character in a poorly written book (like Anastasia Steel), or if you think you could actually make the name work.
5) In a three sentence story fragment describe a place and a person in that place, using one of the words from your wordbank in each sentence.
6) Expand one of your phrase/line/sentences into at least six units (phrase/line/sentence) that makes cohesive sense. Try to use a character with the wordbank name. If you're stuck where to go, maybe include a fork in the road.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 12, 2014

August 12: Moving Day!



Moving is always a stressful time, which is always great potential for writing. Today work with one of the following moving scenarios or one entirely of your own devising/experience.

1) Packing objects for a move, some items have more significance/memories than others.

2) The stress of moving logistics is putting you at wits end. Everything that can go wrong, has, and things that can't possibly, might.

3) Leaving behind a place of significance, whether it's a "good riddance to bad rubbish" or "parting is such sweet sorrow" sort of departure.

4) Arriving somewhere new! Whether it's more than you'd ever expected (at first) or it is nothing like the pictures. Perhaps a little both after a little honest time thinking about it in your new situation.

5) What was your most hectic move like? What do you remember most, miss most about the place. What is one room that specifically sticks out to you, and why? Any stories about bugs, or insects whether inside or outside of the house/apartment? What went wrong? What could have gone much worse?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 11, 2014

August 11: How to accomplish the impossible.

Today we'll attack the "How to" genre by trying to inform our readers on how to do something that would be considered impossible, whether it is actually impossible, or just perceived that way, or is a play on words (How to defy gravity as a fun vignette about singing along to the Wicked soundtrack perhaps?)


A few examples of impossible things: Counting to infinity, stealing Mount Rushmore (Carmen San Diego can show you how), shooting laser from your eyes, regrowing a severed arm, reverse time, unburning a photograph, holding your breath for an hour. Here are a bunch more.

Because the concept is somewhat absurd, don't worry if you get a little silly. The great thing about notebooking is that you're producing source material, not polished pieces, so don't worry that you might be going in the wrong direction, or putting the 'wrong' thing down. Anything can be the right thing in the right context.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 10, 2014

August 10: "Trapped in a small place with a daffodil."

This is a title exercise, with a bit of an open end. The quote is taken from a recent (episode 20, at 22:25) podcast by the brilliant QI elves called No Such Thing as a Fish.


Now listen to the podcast that I pulled the quote from, it's really funny and truly quite interesting. No Such Thing as a Dangerous Daffodil. When a fact strikes you as something you might use in a piece take note of it in your notebook.

Now write a piece from one of the two prompts (or for both if you can).

1) Title the piece "Trapped in a Small Place with a Daffodil" and figure out why that makes sense to the story. I like to look at the why first when I'm working from a title. Why is this daffodil so important, and so ominous that one might be trapped with it. Memory, anticipatory anxiety, symbology, and then there's always good old metaphor for the daffodil. Or is it hyperbole?

2) Take a fact you heard in the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast and find a way that that could be used metaphorically. If you can use more than one fact, go for it, there were many very unique or funny things that were linked. If you really want some constriction, use one fact/quote literally, and one as a metaphor.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Daily Notebooking Writing Exercise August 9, 2014

August 9: Fallen for animation.

OK, first, watch this animated short film. It's called "Fallen" by Sascha Geddart and Wolfram Kampffmeyer about, as Geddart says in the Vimeo page "A little meteor learns the biggest lesson of life on its way down to earth." It's under four minutes, so don't worry, it won't take all morning. Pay close attention to the character's facial expressions and the scenery especially.


Now we're going to take the general emotional beats from the film and use them as the character arc structure for the skeleton of our short story/poem today. What that means, is when the character in the film changes how he's reacting, that's also how your piece will change, within its own world. I'll give an example for, oh, how about general beats from the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Also, spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie, go do that, forget this exercise for now, you have more important things to do. Stranger Than Fiction is a great movie, just don't go into it expecting Night at the Roxbury or even Night at the Museum. It's directed by Marc Forster, who also directed Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball, and Kite Runner before this.

There are lots of ways to show emotions in your characters, here is a highly informative post by Katherine Cowley about using emotional beats in different ways, it is definitely worth a read: Writing Powerful Emotional Beats in Fiction.

First, search through character archetypes and pick three or four. One will be the main character, but for two of the character types pick three of the classic literary fears that they might react to.

Think of three very different settings where the image you have briefly sketched in your notebook can be out of place in. Then pick of a general plot archetype.

Now that you have the basics done, let us begin with the character arc.

1) The awakening. In the animation the meteorite character is awakened as it enters the atmosphere. It appears confused, exhilarated, curious. Your character is in a brand new place, a fish out of water perhaps. In Stranger Than Fiction (henceforth to be referred to as STF) this is when Harold first hears the narrator's voice. There is at first curiosity, then trepidation, which has softened back into a mild amusement by the time we hit the second beat.

2) The first scare. An unexpected problem arises and your character doubts him/herself and their handle on the situation. The core of the character is briefly questioned. This would be when Harold hears Dustin Hoffman's infamous "Little did he know" speech and what follows.


3) The plummet. Although the first scare didn't cause any real damage, it caused introspection and panic. The character suddenly has a great fear of the possible (or likely) changes that lay ahead and it makes them drastically change their lifestyle/decisions. In STF this might be when Harold is desperately trying to not progress his narrative by remaining in his apartment, all the way to finding the narrator, and speaking to Dustin Hoffman about the book.

4) The embrace. The character is falling, and they know it, but they also know that there is an inevitable that they can't change, whatever that may be. Maybe the story is about competing for a promotion at work and they finally accept that they will not receive it. This beat would come in STF after Harold reads the novel and loves it.

5) The Glorious Swan Dive. (I'm keeping that as a term I think.) Never flinching, your character accepts their fate not as a pawn of the immortals, but as one who enjoyed the ride, at least at the end. Harold Crick, well, you know how it ends if you've seen Stranger Than Fiction, and if you haven't, I thought I told you to go watch that first then come back, sheesh. Here, but beware this is a very NSFW website--ie porn ads, don't click the porn ads, they have spyware and whatnot. Be very careful if you procede. This is a putlocker link to watch Stranger Than Fiction streaming for free (that may be gone any day now).

6) A slight prologue. Don't end on the splashdown. As in the animation and STF, there's an aftermath to the glorious swan dive to experience that rounds out the story a little. A small consolation.

There you are. Your character has an awakening to something that is entirely new to them, has a scare, then becomes scared, then embraces at least some aspect of that which scared them, and goes out with a bang. Or do they go out entirely? Perhaps not. Not too bad a start to a story. Have at it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 8, 2014

August 8: Killing the Pain.

Today we'll deal with the general theme of painkillers. This can be taken to mean painkillers as medicine, or as a metaphor for something which either end, or distracts from something physically or emotionally painful.

For instance, in the awesome Netflix Original show House of Cards Congresswoman Sharp uses the pain of getting tattoos to take her mind off the emotional pain that she bears because of her combat service.

So, research a little bit, start fleshing out an idea in your head whether meditating on painkillers, specific instances in your life or imagined experiences, a period piece dealing with historic painkillers like laudanum or trepanning, or any other iteration that might possibly come to mind.

If you need more direction for this writing exercise here are three possibilities:

1) You've just been stabbed. Whether in a robbery, by a needle left in the carpet, by a sibling rounding the kitchen corner way too quickly while brandishing a barbecue encrusted fork, whatever. You've been stabbed, and it hurts. A lot. Go.

2) A pain in your leg causes you to take perhaps a few too many pain pills. As you're about to drift off to sleep you notice that you can't feel your leg at all.

3) It is night. You're in pain. You're panicked. A neon sign is blinking. Tell your story in flashes. Short bursts of words. Quick sentences, an air of mystery. Go.

And here's Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt" just because.



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Be Wary Citizens! Arcadia's August 15th chapbook contest deadlines (Fiction, Poetry) approach!


Arcadia Magazine's two chapbook contests are only eight days away!

The skinny:

What's the deadline? August 15, 2014.

What's it cost? $20.

How long should my chapbook be? For the Fiction Chapbook contest: 30-45 pages of fiction whether it's one novella, a series of linked stories or dozens of flash fiction pieces. For the Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook contest: 15-35 pages of poetry.

What's unique? Arcadia's doing something a little unique with their chapbook series in that they've restructured their subscriptions. They call it moving to a quarterly publication, but really what they're doing is using the Fiction and Poetry Chapbook contest winners and printing them as the winter (poetry) / summer (fiction) issues as a stand-alone sent out to subscribers. This is actually really cool because it bumps up the number of people who will actually see/read the chapbooks.

What do they like? Luckily, they have some samples of past winners online. Here is a fiction sample from The Young Mormon's Guide to Not Having Sex in the 1980's by the awesomely named Ravsten Cottle. Here is a poem called "Last Night" from last year's winning poetry chapbook Driving Yourself to Jail in July by Nicole Santalucia.

Best of luck entering the contests!

Their regular submissions are also available year-round, for a $3 fee through Submittable.





Know Your Literary Journals: Lumina

Lumina is the literary magazine from the master's writing program Sarah Lawrence College. They've published a very eclectic group of authors including Brenda Hillman, Amy Hempel, Denise Duhamel, D. Nurske, Bill Knott, Matthea Harvey, Eamon Grennan and Rick Moody among others.

Mark your calendar for: October 1st (regular submission deadline) and October 15th (Poetry Contest deadline).
What it costs to submit: They have an interesting sliding scale. For a traditional 'the cost of postage' submission via submittable it is $3. For $5 you get your submission but also receive a back issue. I really like this option for writers who have never seen a magazine and are only going off things like acknowledgement pages in collections and pieces found online and attributed to the journal. Then they also have the $10 option which is a submission and a copy of the most recent issue which is great for writers who haven't seen the magazine in awhile or just happened to miss the latest issue.
What to submit: Three poems (up to 60 lines each) or two prose pieces (up to 5,000 words).
What they want: Luckily, they've posted a guide for poetry and for fiction just a couple weeks ago to help you get a feel for what would be right to send. Two quotes they thought were important for poetry with which I agree: from Mary Ruefle "a poem must rival a physical experience…” and T.S. Eliot “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Read their full guidelines before submitting (it'd be a shame to accidentally include any personal information and disqualify yourself from their blind judging because you didn't check the full guidelines before clicking away), but you should definitely consider submitting, Lumina is a fine journal.

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 7, 2014

August 7: Rhymebank Poem Writing!

Today it'll be similar to a regular wordbank day, but instead, pick five or so words from previous wordbank entries (if you are new to notebooking, browse past wordbank exercises and pick a few words from the links. Then use the wonderful resource Rhymezone and pick out at least five regular sounding rhymes for each of your words (remember to use near rhymes too). Once you have your bank of at least 25 words, write a few phrases. Because we're working with rhymes don't worry too much about writing complete sentences.

1) Write a phrase (2-8 words) for each of the words.
2) Pick your favorite three phrases and see if any of the rhyming word's phrases make sense (or might make sense in the right context/with tweaking). You should have three couplets. If any of the favorite phrases don't have a partner, feel free to write a new line/phrase to fit the pieces together.
3) From your three couplets, pick two which might work together in a way, with some additions and tweaking maybe, but there should be some sort of logic.
4) Write a short poem of two quatrains (2 groups of 4 lines) with the one of the original couplets as a part of each stanza.
5) If you can make all three couplets work in a 3 quatrain poem that's all the better. The point is to stretch your mind a little to find ways pieces can fit together in unexpected ways.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 6, 2014

August 6: Revisiting NPR's Wedding Cake in the Road.


Way back before these here internet days, the Spring of 1989, NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday began commissioning writers to respond to a writing prompt.

That prompt? The image of a wedding cake in the middle of the road. The stories were read on the show, and later anthologized (there are multiple copies at this link where you can buy the book for $0.01 plus standard shipping. I highly recommend it).

I especially liked Richard Bausch's Tandolfo the Great (you'll have to right click and rotate that pdf counterclockwise to avoid a neck cramp, but it's there at least).

So give it a shot. The image is that of a wedding cake in the middle of the road. How you get there is the adventure.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 5, 2014

August 5: Wordbank day!

Everyone's favorite is back! Spend a few minutes browsing the following links and write down ten or more words that stick out to you as being interesting or unique. Research each word briefly: check for interesting facts about its history, if there's a place, or a town with the same name, its connotations and differences from similar words. Anything interesting take a quick note of it in your notebook.

Tumble, cascade-feedback in a botany term glossary, end, fall, green. Now, go do your research, gumshoes!

Now for the actual neural stretching.

1) Make that wordbank (10 or more words with your notes about them). I've always been a fan of the word "Cusp" which is tucked into the "end" link.
2) Write three phrases, lines or sentences using one of the words from the list as the last word.
3) Write two full sentences that are only four words long and use one of the words from your wordbank.
4) Write two phrases, lines or sentences that use one of the words, and the name of a specific type of flower.
5) Rewrite two of your previous attempts with either fewer words, or more specific verbs, or both.
6) After the jump there are four images. Pick one and write a short piece inspired by it in some way. Use a couple of the words from your wordbank. Or say screw that, I got an idea for a piece doing the research for the wordbank and I'm going to write that.The idea is to get the wheels of your brain working in a literary way, so whatever you write is a win.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Notebooking Daily Writing Exercise August 4, 2014

August 4: "A Summer's Day"

Today's narrative exercises will be focused on something of a summer theme, and include music for those daring enough.

Pick one of the following narrative prompts (or multiple of them if you feel you can) and write a short piece somehow including or even just inspired by the prompt. If you start off with the idea and suddenly it takes a sharp turn left, but turns out good, why stop that? Whether you write a lyric Triolet, a nonfiction sketch or a series of vignettes each exactly 100 words, your form is your choice entirely.

As potential inspiration listen to these amazing pieces by Joe Hisaishi entitled "One Summer's Day" "Summer" and even though it's more for spring, the full  twenty minutes of "Hatsukoi" or First Love, just because it's my favorite.

1) An unexpected storm strikes in the middle of a sand castle building contest. Describe the destruction.
2) A game of baseball/soccer/fu/ootball is interrupted by an very unusual animal.
3) A lazy summer afternoon by a pond is embraced in all its serenity.
4) A game of tag has carried over into the evening, and when it's finally called, one (or more) are missing.
5) A backyard barbecue begins a string of events that ends with over fifty people dead. How?
6) A small airplane flies dangerously low over a small town... too dangerously low perhaps.
7) Include the following things: A glass of iced tea in the sunlight, a bee or wasp, a smell reminiscent of green,  and thunder.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Notebooking Daily Exercise August 2, 2014

August 2: Plums!

Today we'll focus on the fruit that is Plum. It's said to be one of the first foods cultivated by humans. Even two thousand years ago there were already 300 different varieties in Europe alone. It can be fermented into wine, eaten fresh, baked into pastries, dried and salted to make the snack saladitos

or even just dried to make prunes.

Do at least ten to twenty minutes of reading about plums. Follow links, research cultivation, the ways they're used, their history, everything you can. Take notes of interesting little bits in your notebook.

Once you're done with your research, look at other things that plum is related to (places, people--don't forget Professor Plum!). Notably plum can refer to a color (#8E4585) that was even picked as Sherwin-Williams' color of the year for 2014, whatever that means. But hey, maybe your rabbit hole of research will lead to a story about someone having a mental breakdown while deciding on paint colors, or maybe mine will now.

Now that you have notes, pick two or three of the most interesting bits and find a way those can be connected. Whether you decide to write a haiku about the swaying shadows of plums along the Caspian Sea in antiquity, an epic poem about a plum obsessed conqueror, a three act play about a plum-whino/philosopher contemplating life in the dark labyrinth that was ancient Rome at night, a toddler painting the walls of his playroom with Gerber plum baby food, whatever strikes you.

Just be sure to write it right away. Don't worry that it won't be good, it may not be, but it may smuggle an awesome paragraph out of you to be utilized later in a more thought-through piece. Remember, this notebook is to get you writing, not creating masterpieces in one go.

If you need added constraint, because I know some of you masochists out there do, try writing it in blank verse, or just with syllabic lines of ten (ten syllables per line). If you're writing it in prose, include at least four sentences that are just two words long (subject/verb).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Notebooking Daily Exercise August 1, 2014

August 1: Wordbank day.

I know everybody loves wordbank day, where we find a list of ten interesting and slightly unusual/not-everyday words, do a little research around the internet for any odd coincidences/fun facts about the words, and then do a short series of writing exercises which force you to use those words. I love the little rabbit-hole trails that you can end up tumbling down while doing your research. My favorite from doing these exercises got me from a word for a shade of purple to a webpage about the frequency of Finnish swearing when compared to other local countries.

Choose ten words from the following links: Elegant, Unattached, Destructive, Affix, Wasted.

1) Write two phrases, lines or sentences using two words from your list.
2) Write one phrase, line or sentence using three different words from your list.
3) Write a short narrative (20-300 words) that uses one of your wordbank words as the last word.
4) Write a three sentence vignette that uses the three words from #2, one in each short (5 words or fewer) sentence.