1/16/21

2020 Writing Exercise Series #16: Erasing EAP "The Premature Burial" 1

  

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes. 

#16
Erasing EAP "The Premature Burial" 1

For today's exercise we have split paths for fiction and poetry, though I highly recommend that even fiction writers try the poetry exercise, because erasures can be a blast!

For poetry do an erasure or black-out poem from the following final selection of Edgar Allen Poe's 1850 short story "The Premature Burial".

Edgar Allen Poe is considered by some to be the writer that solidified the short story genre as, well, a genre. Not the first writer of short stories, or even popular short stories, but he wrote enough of them that with the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Irving Washington and others, critics were finally like—fine. Short stories can be a thing.

An Erasure/Blackout is really simple: you take the given text and remove many words to make it your own new piece. One way to go about the erasure that I like to do is to copy the text and paste it twice into your document before you start erasing or blacking out (in MS Word set the text background color to black), that way if you get further into the erasure and decide you want a somewhat different tone or direction, it's easy to go to the unaltered version and make the erasure/black-out piece smoother. Another tip is to look for recurring words, or themes.

If you insist on fiction (or if one of these strikes you), write a piece with one of these six titles taken from this section:

  1. Entirely Horrible
  2. Simple Abhorrence
  3. At Best Shadowy
  4. The Incomprehensible Mechanism
  5. Lustreless 
  6. Functions of Vitality


Erasure Selection:

from "The Premature Burial"

THERE are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for example, with the most intense of "pleasurable pain" over the accounts of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon, of the Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of the stifling of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black Hole at Calcutta. But in these accounts it is the fact — it is the reality — it is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard them with simple abhorrence.

I have mentioned some few of the more prominent and august calamities on record; but in these it is the extent, not less than the character of the calamity, which so vividly impresses the fancy. I need not remind the reader that, from the long and weird catalogue of human miseries, I might have selected many individual instances more replete with essential suffering than any of these vast generalities of disaster. The true wretchedness, indeed — the ultimate woe — is particular, not diffuse. That the ghastly extremes of agony are endured by man the unit, and never by man the mass — for this let us thank a merciful God!

To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality. That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be denied by those who think. The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly so called. They are only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism. A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle again sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels. The silver cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken. But where, meantime, was the soul?

Apart, however, from the inevitable conclusion, a priori that such causes must produce such effects —that the well-known occurrence of such cases of suspended animation must naturally give rise, now and then, to premature interments —apart from this consideration, we have the direct testimony of medical and ordinary experience to prove that a vast number of such interments have actually taken place. I might refer at once, if necessary to a hundred well authenticated instances. One of very remarkable character, and of which the circumstances may be fresh in the memory of some of my readers, occurred, not very long ago, in the neighboring city of Baltimore, where it occasioned a painful, intense, and widely-extended excitement. The wife of one of the most respectable citizens-a lawyer of eminence and a member of Congress —was seized with a sudden and unaccountable illness, which completely baffled the skill of her physicians. After much suffering she died, or was supposed to die. No one suspected, indeed, or had reason to suspect, that she was not actually dead. She presented all the ordinary appearances of death. The face assumed the usual pinched and sunken outline. The lips were of the usual marble pallor. The eyes were lustreless. There was no warmth. Pulsation had ceased. For three days the body was preserved unburied, during which it had acquired a stony rigidity. The funeral, in short, was hastened, on account of the rapid advance of what was supposed to be decomposition.

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As your background music sommelier I've chosen Vangelis to pair with your "Erasing The Premature Burial" series. For this amuse bouche of 631 words I've selected Vangelis' 1983 electronic album Horizons.

1/15/21

2020 Writing Exercise Series #15: Beginning, Middle & End 2

 

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.

#15
Beginning, Middle & End 2


F
or today's writing exercise you will write a piece of poetry or prose which begins with one image, scenario, line of dialog or place, includes another thing or event somewhere beyond the first and before the last stanza/paragraph, and ends with another required 'thing'.


Begin WithTwo people arguing in the street.

Somewhere in the middle: Someone buys a gumball from a gumball machine.

End WithStrawberries being squished.

Extra Credit RequirementsYour first sentence and your title should both be exactly five words.

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If you'd like some unobtrusive background music try this "Uncle Iroh inspiration" Avatar The Last Airbender lofi playlist. Because Iroh is just the best.

1/14/21

2020 Writing Exercise Series #14: Dueling Six Word Shootout 2

  

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.

#14
Dueling Six Word Shootout 2

For today's writing exercise write a piece that includes one or both of the following sets of 6 words. Don't front-load them all into the beginning of your piece, save at least one or two for somewhere to 'aim' your piece. Remember sestinas have 6 different end-words, but don't let me tell you what to write. Just use all 6 (or twelve) words in a fashion that isn't throw-away. Don't put them in in a way that you'll definitely later edit them out because they don't add to the piece. Make them important. This might require a little brainstorming at first. Don't be afraid, you can do it!

Set 1: 
1) Doubt 
2) Knot
3) Tout 
4) Taut 
5) Scout 
6) Loud


Set 2:
7) Renown 
8) Crowned 
9) Scrounge 
10) Mound 
11) Flan 
12) Pawn

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Bonus Exercise: If that's not enough, also include the following three things: A cell phone's cracked screen, Saturn and Charles Barkley.
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If you'd like some background music to write to, try "Genesis - Acoustic Covers for Piano & Chamber Orchestra played by Gazzara"



1/13/21

2021 Writing Exercise Series #13: Title Mania "Riot" 3

  

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.

#13
Title Mania "Drop" 3

For today's writing exercise you will write a piece of poetry or prose that utilizes one of the following titles, and if you want extra 'bonus points' also include the three items from below the title list.

Titles:
  1. Riot Grrl with Spikes and Baseball Bat
  2. Riot at the Capitol
  3. The LA Riots Through Haze of Memory and VHS Tape
  4. Live-Streamed Riot
  5. Homeowners Would Later Call the Celebration a Riot
  6. Riot, Riot, Riot
Bonus Exercise: Three Things
(Your piece must also include the following three 'things', if you choose this option)
  1. A Pitchfork
  2.  A Flashlight
  3. The Indian Ocean
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If you'd like some unobtrusive background music try this "Final Fantasy" lofi mix.

1/12/21

2020 Writing Exercise Series #12: Ekphrastic Fantastic 2

   

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.

#12
Ekphrastic Fantastic 2
For today, we're pairing images for you to respond to. The two images will be contrasting and it will be up to you how they can interact, how your writing can make the two pieces of art meet. Or, just pick one of the images and run with it if you'd rather. I'm not here to tell you exactly what to do, just to help you get the ball rolling. But if it was me, I would look for commonalities or how one image could be an imagination or memory or media within the other image, or if they exist in the same 'world', how you can get from one point in space and time to the other. But you do you boo-boo.

Image 1: Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann.


Image 2: Photo by Artur Rutkowski.


A bit more concrete today, how do you get from the crazy vivid tree to the bright red strawberries? You decide. Don't overthink it, take a couple minutes perhaps, but dive in and make this happen!

You got this!
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If you'd like background writing music, let's go with this video game inspired "SONIC • Chill Music + Rainstorm Sounds"

1/11/21

Spy in the Slushpile #8: Santa Clara Review

 

Spy in the Slushpile #8 Santa Clara Review

Psssst! Over here! 
Notebooking Daily snuck agents into the offices of your favorite literary magazines to bring you—the potential submitter—the sweet low down, the inside track, the full two scoops of raisins. Everything you need to know to make as successful of a submission as possible will be here, but remember that the number one rule to putting your best foot forward is to take the time to read the journal you're submitting to and FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. This is vital to show the editors that you respect their time and effort, and because some journals will reject submissions that don't extend the simple courtesy of following guidelines, without even reading it—and no one wants that.

Today we check in with our spy who was sent to the offices of the literary magazine Santa Clara Review.



Our dossier: 
Santa Clara Review is the student-edited print literary magazine from Santa Clara University. Founded in 1869, Santa Clara Review—formerly known as The Owl and The Redwood—is one of the oldest literary publications in the Western U.S. Published biannually in February and May, they say "At the Review, we promote the literary arts in several spheres: the student and alumni writing community within Santa Clara University, the academic literary community, and the national community of writers outside of SCU." The read no fee submissions via Submittable in poetry, fiction and nonfiction with issue deadlines for each year's issues as follows: Issue One (Fall/Winter): September - November; Issue Two (Spring): January - March; And their response time is up to four months. Their current deadline is 2/19/21 for all genres.

--

Doing my research I discovered that Santa Clara University's mascot is Bucky the Bronco, and boy was that a convenience! I dressed our spy up in the Notebooking Daily Mustang mascot suit (which happened to have the same color scheme) and crossed my fingers that editor Emma Kuli wouldn't notice it wasn't her beloved Bucky. The transcript follows.

1) I always recommend that potential submitters read their available online archive of recent pieces of a journal before submitting there (at least the genre which they're submitting), but if you could recommend, say three or so pieces (or however many) that you feel especially exemplify for one reason or another, what you're looking for, or that you are especially proud to have published and think everyone, whether they plan on submitting or not, should read? 
TL;DR Pieces that exemplify the journal. 
Distinct, unique tones, themes, and messages emerge from every issue of the Santa Clara Review. However, to get to know what the Review is looking for a little better from Volume 108.1, I encourage writers to look at the voice and characterization in Z.Z. Boone’s short stories, the vulnerability and attention to detail in “Occupation” and “Race Ethnicity and My Face,” and the two punch power of storytelling and precise use of language in Joseph Powerl’s “Prayer” and Kimberly Glanzman’s poems. 

Because Volume 108.1 may not yet have been released when you are reading this interview article, I also wanted to highlight the works from our 2020 Pushcart Prize nominees for potential submitters. Huda Al-Marashi (Volume 107, Issue 1), Tongo Eisen-Martin
(Volume 107, Issue 1), Seyed Morteza Hamidzadeh (Volume 107, Issue 02), Chloe Scheuch (Volume 107, Issue 1), Nefertiti Asanti (Volume 107, Issue 1), Melissa Ballete (Volume 107, Issue 1) stood out as some of the most powerful writers from Volume 107. 
2) Is there any genre, topic, theme or stylistic that you are surprised you don't see more of, or that you would like to see more of? For instance prose poems, stories about organized sports (or one in particular), non-conventional family narratives, non-standard typography, alternate history, high sci-fi, hybrid pieces utilizing white space... 
TL;DR I wouldn't kick these submissions out of bed for eating crackers. (updateable, if the interview results in an unwanted flux of submissions)
We would love to see more short play and screenplay submissions. A play or monologue that is able to pack a powerful punch in a few pages will definitely catch Review staff eyes. Additionally, most pieces we receive have a serious tone, so satire and works with a humorous tone are sure to stand out. We have published some beautiful translation poems and multilingual poems in the past, so we encourage interested bilingual authors to submit poems that stretch beyond the English language. 


3) If you could pick 2-3 pieces of writing that you just love that are already out in the world and somehow have the ability to have discovered it in your slushpile, itching for you to publish them, what would they be? 
TL;DR Wish I could've published that!
Something with the stunning use of language and sound within “Ode to the Beloved’s Hips” by Natalie Diaz would be a dream slushpile discovery. I would also be so excited to find a poem with the powerful storytelling of “Buried” by Patricia Smith among our submissions. We would love to find a story as haunting and witty as Peter Orner’s flash fiction piece “My Dead” in our submission pile. 
4) To your tastes, how would you describe the sort of "experimental" writing you seek? The idea of categorizing experimental or avant-garde writing is very slippery, as it means different things to different people, and it can even change over time from the same person's perspective. So in this moment, allowing that tomorrow you may feel differently and we won't hold you to it, what are you looking for in experimental writing? Is there a 'soft line' where it begins to lose meaning or goes too far (say, where you think the author/artist's intentions are subverted or hurt by the radical level of experimentation—of course allowing exceptions, we're not issuing challenges here), or perhaps a 1-10 scale with 10 fully embracing the avant-garde and 1 wanting no part of it at all. 
TL;DR The journal's place on the spectrum of 'experimental'.
We evaluate works based on not only craft, but also on what the piece does that is novel and unique. Therefore we welcome works that challenge the cannon’s restrictive standards, and this includes writing which takes experimental risks with structure or story. 
5) If you could speak directly to a potential submitter as a voice in their head, like their 'submission conscience', neither angel nor devil but bookish nerd that wants the person to have the best chance with their submission as possible, what would you want them to be sure to do or consider when submitting? 
TL;DR Please consider this when submitting.
Because our magazine is generally around 100 pages, it is important for writers to consider how their work would fit within a literary magazine. We have and we will publish pieces that go right up to our 5,000 word limit, but because space is limited and precious, we encourage you to send us both your long essay and flash fiction!

Additionally, we also encourage writers to use their unique perspective and experience to their advantage in their writing. Beyond just writing what you know, write in a way that shows the attention you have paid to the details of life. Even in writing that crafts a fantastical realm with little in common with the author’s world, attentive specificity will ground the reader (and our editors) in the written world you are creating. 


6) What three things/aspects/characteristics on the writing level would you say are especially effective or prominent in most ideal submissions?  
Ideal submissions stand out because they take risks. This might mean that a piece has very distinctive characters or really unique wordplay or language. Often, the poetry and prose we accept in one way or another encompasses a lofty, abstract idea in a small, tangible image or surrounds the reader with a  focus on something seemingly insignificant and otherwise overlooked.  
7) I want a submission to make me _____. Rank the following into three tiers: 1) most important, 2) somewhat important, 3) a nice addition/indifferent. 

Cry, Laugh, Think, Relate to it, Reread it for nuance, Ruminate on the message, Read it aloud (so I can better appreciate its sound), ______ (something of your own).
We ask different things of different works, but writing’s ability to make the reader feel something–whether they laugh or cry or lie on the kitchen floor in deep reflective thought after reading it–is very important, because it shows how the writing has transcended being simply words on a page. A crying or laughing or thinking reader has formed a new relationship with the work. Whether a work contains nuances that are only understood upon a second read is somewhat important, because it demonstrates the skillful writing and attention to detail we are looking for. However, because we want to consider readers that may not reread a piece, it is essential that even layered works can be enjoyed (even if not fully understood) on their first read. It is exciting to see powerful messages behind beautiful works, but it is not mandatory that there is a clear moral to your story. 
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Unfortunately when we first constructed our mustang mascot suit we hadn't expected a spy to make the drive from San Diego to Santa Clara (I told him not to wear the head the whole way) and our Mustang had to take a little nap at this point. Because not every journal will be quite so accommodating we'll keep reporting back from the various assignments of our Spy in the Slushpile.

2021 Writing Exercise Series #11: Inspired By... "Bumbershoot" 1

 

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.

#11
Inspired By... "Bumbershoot" 1

For today's writing exercise you will first read a short piece of writing, and then respond using one of the following prompts. 

Today's inspiring piece of writing is the poem "Bumbershoot" by the awesome poet Annie Stenzel who diligent Notebookers will be well familiar with by now. This poem was published in July of 2020 at the journal The Hellebore (A refuge for literary and artistic expression).

Seriously. Go read it. I'll wait.

I mean it, jumping right to the prompts will be borderline pointless as they won't have context. It's a 2 minute read, you got this.

One of the things I love about this poem is that it hits some heavy topics without feeling like it's ever getting heavy. It is poetic without being consciously 'poemy'. It is relatable but it is very much this poet's poem, not relatable because it is summary, generic or soft focus. Great stuff. Okay, now that you've ACTUALLY READ the poem, let's write something.

1. Object: Write a piece that describes something everyday/useful that you've held onto for a long time. Something you might have lost by now. This doesn't have to be nonfiction, but write in the first person and tell us about the thing's unlikely journey to remain by (or return to) your side.
2. Titles: Write a piece using one of the following titles selected from the piece:
1) Dilapidated, but Still Capable 2) Dripping Wet 3) Iffy 4) In Monsoon Season 5) Strange Materials 
3. Form: Write a piece of very tightly crafted prose poetry with the right margin dragged in to 5 inches. I pulled the poem into word and for Times New Roman size 12 font (what you should ALL be using as a standard) that's what Stenzel used. For bonus guidance try to make the piece as close to 350 words as possible.
4. Wordbank: A cross between a cento and an erasure, you can think of this as being like magnetic poetry on a refrigerator. Copy the text from the poem and paste it into a word document. Create a new piece using only words from that 'bank', when you use a word, highlight it in the bank and either 'strikethrough' or add a black background so you don't use a word twice.
5. Beginning Middle & End: Using the same 'things' from the piece's beginning/middle/end. For today begin your piece with an umbrella, in the middle there must be the appearance of a duck and in the end we must get a library, however you get from one to the other, make it your own.

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If you'd like some unobtrusive background music try this "Shades of Orange" folk guitar instrumental mix.

1/10/21

2021 Writing Exercise Series #10: Erasing Roger Ebert 18 "Ishtar"

 

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.


#10
Erasing Roger Ebert 18 "Ishtar"

For today's exercise we have split paths for fiction and poetry, though I highly recommend that even fiction writers try the poetry exercise, because erasures can be a blast!

Poetry: For poetry do an erasure or black-out poem from the following:  Roger Ebert's review of the 1987 film "Ishtar" (1/2 a star) (Starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty).

Roger Ebert has been the archetypal film critic for decades, and he's written thousands of reviews. Because of their nature, almost their own bit of ekphrastic art, this series of erasures will be lots of fun!

An Erasure/Blackout is really simple: you take the given text and remove many words to make it your own new piece. One way to go about the erasure that I like to do is to copy the text and paste it twice into your document before you start erasing or blacking out (in MS Word set the text background color to black), that way if you get further into the erasure and decide you want a somewhat different tone or direction, it's easy to go to the unaltered version and make the erasure/black-out piece smoother. Another tip is to look for recurring words, in this example 'bingo' occurs multiple times and could be a good touchstone for your piece.

Fiction: If you insist on fiction (or just feel like writing a "Title Mania" piece), write a piece with one of these  titles taken from this section:

  1. Play Dumb
  2. A Little Fugitive
  3. A Multimillion-Dollar Expedition in Search of a Plot
  4. Ninth-Rate Songwriters
  5. Down the Garden Path
  6. When They Were Zombies


Erasure Selection:

Roger Ebert's review of "A Stranger in Town"

It's hard to play dumb. There's always the danger that a little fugitive intelligence will sneak out of a sideways glance and give the game away. The best that can be said for "Ishtar" is that Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, two of the most intelligent actors of their generation, play dumb so successfully that on the basis of this film there's no evidence why they've made it in the movies.

"Ishtar" is a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy. Elaine May, the director, has mounted a multimillion-dollar expedition in search of a plot so thin that it hardly could support a five-minute TV sketch. And Beatty and Hoffman, good soldiers marching along on the trip, look as if they've had all wit and thought beaten out of them. This movie is a long, dry slog. It's not funny, it's not smart and it's interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting.

The plot involves the two stars as ninth-rate songwriters who dream of becoming Simon and Garfunkel. They perform bad songs badly before appalled audiences. Their agent gets them a gig in Morocco, and once in Northern Africa, they become involved in the political intrigues of the mythical nation of Ishtar. Isabelle Adjani plays the sexy rebel who leads them down the garden path, and dependable Charles Grodin supplies the movie's only laughs as the resident CIA man.

The movie cannot be said to have a plot. It exists more as a series of cumbersome set pieces, such as the long, pointless sequence in the desert that begins with jokes about blind camels and ends with Hoffman and Beatty firing machineguns at a helicopter. It probably is possible to find humor in blind camels and helicopter gunfights, but this movie leaves the question open.

As I was watching "Ishtar," something kept nagging at the back of my memory. I absorbed Hoffman and Beatty, their tired eyes, their hollow laughs, their palpable physical weariness as they marched through situations that were funny only by an act of faith. I kept thinking that I'd seen these performances elsewhere, that the physical exhaustion, the vacant eyes and the sagging limbs added up to a familiar acting style.

Then I remembered. The movie was reminding me of the works of Robert Bresson, the great, austere French director who had a profound suspicion of actors. He felt they were always trying to slip their own energy, their own asides, their own "acting" into his movies. So he rehearsed them tirelessly, 50 or 60 times for every shot, until they were past all thought and caring. And then, when they were zombies with the strength to do only what he required, and nothing more, he was satisfied.

That's what I got out of Beatty and Hoffman in "Ishtar." There's no hint of Hoffman's wit and intelligence in "Tootsie," no suggestion of Beatty's grace and good humor in "Heaven Can Wait," no chemistry between two actors who should be enjoying the opportunity to act together. No life.

I don't know if "Ishtar" was clearly a disaster right from the first, but on the evidence of this film, I'd guess it quickly became a doomed project and that going to the set every morning was more like a sentence than an opportunity. It's said this movie cost more than $40 million. At some point, maybe they should have spun off a million each for Hoffman and Beatty, supplied them with their own personal camera crews and allowed them to use their spare time making documentaries about what they were going through.


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You may have noticed this was a 'bonus' exercise to catch up for New Year's Day when I extended the 2020 prompt series by a day so I could get a new graphic made. So, bonus!

If you'd like some background music to write to, try "Minimalist Chillstep" lofi mix. 

2021 Writing Exercise Series #9: Three Things, Five Words 2

 

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 30 minutes.

#9
Three Things, Five Words 2
For today's writing exercise you will write a piece of poetry or prose which contains the following three things, and these five individual words. The three things should be important to the piece, not just a throwaway reference used because it has to be. This is prompt time, baby! 

If you're not sure where to start, begin by finding a connection between two of the 'things'—whether that is a shared appearance, locale, one of the things might interact with another (or all three), some way that the two are likened or could be physically together. Use one of the things along with two of the 'words' 
in the beginning of the piece and explore for a bit, not returning to the second ''thing' until about 1/3-1/2 of the way through what you imagine the length of the piece (which may be totally off). By then you should have a direction and it's off to the races. 

'Three Things'
  1. Pajamas
  2. A Taco
  3. Almond Milk

'Five Words' 
Include these five words in your piece: 
Lapel, Boredom, Flawed, Haw, Kite.

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If you'd like some background music to write to, try this "I'm Good & You?" mix from our good lofi buddy Feardog Music.

1/9/21

2021 Writing Exercise Series #8: Sentence Calisthenics 1

 

The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 35 minutes.

#8
Sentence Calisthenics 1
For today's writing exercise complete the following steps for a specific period of time, using the timer on your phone or computer and setting it for 5 minutes for each 'set'. The point here is to produce at very least 6 sentences in each set, but you're looking for both quality and quantity. Don't write a bunch of sentences with the same construction or that are boring—it's better if you have no idea how in the heck you might use the sentence. Something funky, interesting.  Normal, well-phrased sentences are of course good to have in the mix too, but include some quirky ones in each set.

At the end of every set mark your favorite 1-2 sentences.

In order to complete the large number of sentences demanded of this exercise it is imperative that you write fast. Don't stop to think too much at all until you've reached the final exercise. The process of this quick production is to thrust past second guesses or other stumbling blocks that sometimes impede your writing. You're aiming to write 30 individual, unlinked sentences in 25 minutes so you have ten minutes to organize and write that actual piece using the 'round up' prompt. This means you're going to be writing more than a sentence a minute. You can't do that if you're dawdling or trying to figure out the 'perfect' phrasing. The first couple times writing to these sprint-style prompts you may barely squeak the lines out in time, but as you get more used to it you'll get more both in quantity and in quality of your sentences. 

Save all of your sentences to a "Sentence Calisthenics" document, if you participate for awhile we'll have some bonus exercises that will refer back to these sentences, because sometimes you can't see the gold hiding in plain sight when you've just written something. Having fresh eyes might result in a quick, awesome piece. So, save those sentences!


WRITE FAST, DON'T OVERTHINK

Getting into the mindset: Before you start your timer, take a moment and breathe and think about things that work in sets of three, and instances when not succeeding at a goal could ultimately be a good experience. Keep thinking of these things in the back of your mind as you're writing and in between sets. By no means should all of your sentences revolve around these things, we just want your mind centered with a few anchors in place before we charge into our piece. When you feel set, read the set instructions, appropriate Wordbank, and start that timer.

Set 1: Using the first word bank write six (6) or more sentences which include one of the words and someone or something running (or at least moving forward somewhat quickly). Only use the word "run" a maximum of three times.

Wordbank 1:
  • Ruse
  • Intuition
  • Mole
  • Oregano
  • Spark
Set 2: Now write six (6) or more sentences which use two words from that first bank. At least two (2) of the sentences must be fewer than six words. Remember to mark 1-2 favorites for each set.

Set 3: In preparation of the next six (6) or more sentences you should first pick two words Wordbank 1 and type/write them out. Each of your sentences for this 5 minutes must include one of those two words, an adjective, and one of the words from Wordbank 2. Because there's a lot of moving parts be sure to write quick in order to get your six (6) or more sentences done in time.

Wordbank 2:
  • Truce
  • Cognition
  • Foal
  • Panel
  • Quirk
Set 4: Now write at least six (6) sentences which include one word from Wordbank 1 and one word from Wordbank 2 and either a color or a smell. You're marking 1-2 favorites, right? Keep doing it.

Wordbank 3:
  • Bruise
  • Mission
  • Explode
  • Marshmallow
  • Fork
Set 5: Now Look back at all of the sentences that you've written and re-write six (6) sentences to include a word from Wordbank 3 as well as the other required elements. One (and only one) sentence should be longer than 15 words.

The Round-up
1) Gather up all of your marked favorite lines and pick from those favorites at least three sentences to build your piece around. 
2) Now that you know the core of your piece, go back up to the un-favorite lines and pick three additional sentences that you must use (even if you 'spruce' them up by tightening or quirking up the language). 
3) Now you have 6 sentences that are unconnected. You have a large chunk of a jigsaw puzzle but you've lost all the rest of the pieces. So it's time to make those pieces yourself. Make sure your piece has a 'point' or some sort of larger meaning above just the literal narrative/descriptions. Make an observation for better or worse, large, small or teensy tiny even. But, something new, and unique to your brain.

4) OPTIONAL COMPLETE-A-PIECE. If your piece hasn't jumped right out at you, use this 'formula'. First, throw out three of those six sentences that you don't care for as much. At least two of them. Now write a piece which is broken roughly into 1/3s with the first 1/3 including one of your sentences and setting up a (relatively) content-with-their-life narrator looking back at a childhood hobby/interest/passion (a sport or something competitive). Give your narrator either a current job or spouse which is described with one quirky/unexpected concrete detail (things like: he always burns his marshmallows when making s'mores or the title is office assistant but it could be called shredding and coffee runs). The second 1/3 should briefly recall a failure at that passion or hobby (losing a game/match, embarrassing self etc) and include 1-2 of your sentences. The third 1/3 should return to your narrator's 'relatively-content' current life and think briefly about how little that failure ultimately mattered, ending with three positive images of small things that the narrator gets enjoyment from (you know, a 'few of your favorite things'), beginning with something with a taste/flavor, and ending with a gesture or 'tic' of a loved one that they love (the way they ___ shouldn't just be mentioned, it should be very succinctly shown to us so that we can picture our own loved one doing the exact same thing, no generalities here folks!). And that's it. You have your piece. This will definitely take longer than ten minutes but may just be worth it.

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Want some unobtrusive background writing music? Try this "Lofi Coding Mix" [Stay Home Edition].

1/8/21

Spy in the Slushpile #7: The Racket

Spy in the Slushpile #7 The Racket
Psssst! Over here! 
Notebooking Daily snuck agents into the offices of your favorite literary magazines to bring you—the potential submitter—the sweet low down, the inside track, the full two scoops of raisins. Everything you need to know to make as successful of a submission as possible will be here, but remember that the number one rule to putting your best foot forward is to take the time to read the journal you're submitting to and FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. This is vital to show the editors that you respect their time and effort, and because some journals will reject submissions that don't extend the simple courtesy of following guidelines, without even reading it—and no one wants that.

Today we check in with our spy who was sent to the offices of the literary magazine The Racket.


Our dossier: 
The Racket is a short online literary journal based out of San Francisco and edited by Noah Sanders. It is published weekly and considers submissions that contain work(s) of poetry and/or prose with a total combined word count of 2000 words or less. Read. Write. Resist.


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I sent my autonomous reporterbot to stand around casually with editor Noah Sanders at The Racket headquarters in San Francisco and see if his innocuous appearance might generate some extra helpful responses and it did! The transcript follows.

1) I always recommend that potential submitters read their most recent couple issues of a journal before submitting there (at least the genre which they're submitting), but if you could recommend, say three or so pieces (or however many) that you feel especially exemplify for one reason or another, what you're looking for, or that you are especially proud to have published and think everyone, whether they plan on submitting or not, should read? 
TL;DR Pieces that exemplify the journal. 
Oh man, I mean, we definitely have a certain vibe that subconsciously filters through into The Racket Journal, but when I’m picking pieces I’m always trying to think how can we push outside of my very legit biases when it comes to the work. That said, I love poetry that has a narrative, that has a little grit in its teeth, that expands past flowery descriptions. Good examples: “Type Place” by Rohan DaCosta in Issue 19, “Cut the Grass” by Jorrell Watkins in Issue Twenty-One, “Suntanned, Windblown” by Lauren Parker in Issue Twenty-Two
2) Is there any genre, topic, theme or stylistic that you are surprised you don't see more of, or that you would like to see more of? For instance prose poems, stories about organized sports (or one in particular), non-conventional family narratives, non-standard typography, alternate history, high sci-fi, hybrid pieces utilizing white space... 
TL;DR I wouldn't kick these submissions out of bed for eating crackers. (updateable, if the interview results in an unwanted flux of submissions)
We recently received a ten-part poetry series about baseball in the future. And it was amazing. Just this super cut-and-dry description of what baseball would be like - for players and fans - in a near, near future where everything was just a touch more technologically evolved.  So, I want to say sci-fi, but not just like bleep-borp, robot-laser-gun-space-ship sci-fi, but strange takes on the mundane, on technology, on this ever more bat-shit world we live in.

3) Hard sells—and not just the standard (though very important) "don't send hateful, misogynist, racist etc" work. Is there a plot, trope, character, motif, idiom or even phrase you would like people to think twice about before using? One that you see a ton, or that stick out when you're reading, in a negative way for whatever reason.
TL;DR Hard sells.
I feel like I’m going to alienate like half of the writers who submit with this answer but I really struggle with just poetry built around traditional nature, uh, stuff. We get a lot of poetry that just feels like descriptions of pretty trees or how rivers make someone feel and it’s rare that I place one in the magazine. Maybe my personal tastes run a little more urban, or maybe I just see to much of them, but they slide right off me.

4) If you could pick 2-3 pieces of writing that you just love that are already out in the world and somehow have the ability to have discovered it in your slushpile, itching for you to publish them, what would they be? 
TL;DR Wish I could've published that!
First, this is the hardest question of all time. Dream Slushpile Time Travel Come Upon: every piece of writing George Saunders has ever published in The New Yorker
More realistically, Elizabeth Stix (a Bay Area writer) published this piece called “The Bear” in Tin House and I’ve heard it read out loud a few times and read it myself way too many times and I wish we could’ve got that one. It’s supposedly just three dreams she had - all featuring bears - and wrote down almost word-for-word  when she woke up and then sent out into the universe. It is very good.
5) To your tastes, how would you describe the sort of "experimental" writing you seek? The idea of categorizing experimental or avant-garde writing is very slippery, as it means different things to different people, and it can even change over time from the same person's perspective. So in this moment, allowing that tomorrow you may feel differently and we won't hold you to it, what are you looking for in experimental writing? Is there a 'soft line' where it begins to lose meaning or goes too far (say, where you think the author/artist's intentions are subverted or hurt by the radical level of experimentation—of course allowing exceptions, we're not issuing challenges here), or perhaps a 1-10 scale with 10 fully embracing the avant-garde and 1 wanting no part of it at all. 
TL;DR The journal's place on the spectrum of 'experimental'.
Experimentation crosses the line for me when it becomes about form over function. If a writer is experimenting but the piece is still rooted in a truth or an emotion or a moment or- then it works for me. If there’s a reason for the experimentation - some sort of thought writ large - then I’m in. But, so much experimentation is just people playing with form or playing with the visual aspect of poetry or just dumping words on a page because it’s “different” and that, well, that does not work for me. Experiment a way people, but do so with agency! 
6) If you could speak directly to a potential submitter as a voice in their head, like their 'submission conscience', neither angel nor devil but bookish nerd that wants the person to have the best chance with their submission as possible, what would you want them to be sure to do or consider when submitting? 
TL;DR Please consider this when submitting.
I know this sounds petty, I do, but think about what font you’re using. And if that font is anything but 12-point, Times New Roman, don’t submit it until it is. If the greatest piece of writing ever written ended up in the submission box in Comic Sans, it probably wouldn’t get published. Maybe. But like, probably not.

7) What do you think differentiates prose poetry from flash fiction (or micro fiction), with the caveat that of course there will be exceptions to all 'rules' in writing, so it's something of a soft 'line' by nature.
Personally, I don’t need a line between prose poetry and flash fiction. If there does need to be a line though, I’d say it’s simply a matter of rules - grammatical, punctuational, etc. I feel like flash fiction still needs to play inside the sandbox of fiction; it has punctuation and “dialogue” in the more traditional forms. Prose poetry on the other hand can drop the commas and the semi-colons and the whole grammar thing off at the babysitter and just do whatever.
8) What other journals do you really enjoy reading, or do you feel especially akin to?
I love Joyland - just really wonderful, off-the-beaten path Fiction. I love Foglifter - a truly fantastic LGBTQ+ publication out of the Bay Area. And though they’re just a reading series for the moment, the folks at Something Ordinary are putting together really amazing line-ups of poets. I’d love to see a journal from those two.
9) Is there any time of year when you receive either fewer submissions, or when you're buried by submissions?  
We’re still pretty new and aside from one tidal wave of submissions earlier this year we’ve had a pretty consistent trickle coming through. I’m battening down the hatches though for the beginning of 2021 though. I feel like “submit to 100 journals” ends up on a lot of resolution lists.
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Limited greatly by drone battery power, and with their batteries near-empty, our reporterbot had to get all the way back to San Diego and the two said their goodbyes. But not every journal will be quite so accommodating—because of that we'll keep reporting back from the various assignments of our Spy in the Slushpile.