How To Be a Real Writer

roadhouse1

Pretty sure this is the only blog where you’ll find writing tips via ROADHOUSE references

If you really want to piss me off, you can say the following phrase.  “Oh, I’m a real writer.”  At the very least, I’ll text everyone I know about what a goon you are, or I might sub-tweet you.  Maybe I’ll laugh in your face, or maybe I’ll go completely Patrick Swayze and rip your throat out, leaving your corpse on the floor of the coffee shop as a warning to others.

“Real” writers.  I heard that phrase a LOT in grad school.  I went to a grad program with a commercial fiction as well as a literary fiction program, and there was occasional contention between the two.  “Oh, I would never write for the pulps” (Yes, she actually said “pulps.” What is this, 1932?  Dial down the gaudy patter, ya loopy dame.)  “Oh, I write real fiction, but maybe I’ll write a sci-fi novel sometime!” (like it’s so easy, anyone can just slum it).  And it’s not just lit fic people.  I heard the “real writer” bullshit from people in my own workshops, who thought they were better that everyone else there because of some arbitrary metric, a goal post only they could kick the ball through.

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Book Swag and Temptation

I love writer swag.  Notebooks, fancy pens, tote bags, stickers with book quotes on them.  I drool over The Writer‘s monthly Take Note column, listing all the things I could buy to make myself a better writer.  If I sling my typewriter tote bag over my shoulder, people will know that I labor over the craft each perfect sentence in my masterpiece.  If I wear my NaNoWriMo t-shirt, people will see that I am capable of writing a novel in 30 days.  They will see me with my expensive pen and my leather-bound notebook at the coffee shop and murmur, “Yes, there is a real writer, you can tell she is very serious because she has a a scarf with books on it.”

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On Writing “Rough Night in Little Toke”

61mfW7jxH8L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_You kids, with your fancy animes and your Crackles and your CrunchyRolls, you don’t know how hard the rest of us used to have it!  Back in my day, we had to get anime from a CATALOG.  Specifically, the Viz catalog, which arrived every so often (quarterly, perhaps?) at my house on Park Place.  It was a happy day when it arrived, filled with treats from far-off Japan, Ranma 1/2 and  Akira and manga, so much manga, plus a lot of filthy stuff that came with a big fat NOT FOR KIDS bar across it.

I devoured that catalog.  This was back when anime came in clamshell VHS cases, 2, maybe 3 episodes at a time.  And that shit was NOT cheap — I think I paid about $30 for All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku, my first anime (purchased from Tower Records).  Years later, I would buy the entire series on DVD for $6.  Times have changed.

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The Night Belongs to Mona

As I mentioned in my last post, my crime writing notebook, Gail, is nearly full.  She had an interesting life; early character sketches became Stella and Miles in “Narc” (forthcoming in The Big Click) and “Rough Night in Little Toke” (featured in Hanzai Japan,) as well as the home for the starts of three possible novels.

Mona was an exercise in desperation and failed plans.  Initially I had planned to build her signatures out of grey-tone sketch paper, but with space running out in Gail and no time to get to a store that would have a selection of paper for me to feel and test, I went with the normal sketch paper I had on hand.  I had intended to use a French stitch, but the instructions I had in one of my books were vague at best, and by the time I had my paper punched, surprise, I realized I had to have five holes, not four as I had originally thought.  Coptic it is!

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Steely Dan, New Notebooks, and Other Dark Sarcasm

Let me start by saying that I’m listening to a lot of Steely Dan as I write this, so if it comes off as rambling, dark and sarcastic, I apologize.  Every time I put on a Steely Dan record, I find myself thinking why am I not spending every minute of every day listening to Steely Dan?  Becker/Fagen are to my 30s as Morrissey/Marr were to my 20s, a constant, reassuring soundtrack.  Every time I listen to an album, I discover something new to love about a song I’ve heard a thousand times before. (How could I forget about “Caves of Altamira?”  Was “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” always this brilliant?).

Matthew & I saw our third Dan show at the Beacon on Wednesday; last time we saw them play Gaucho in full and when they played “Josie” I thought my heart would explode.  The first time we saw them, they busted out “The Second Arrangement.”  And I’ve seen Donald Fagen play with the Dukes of September Rhythm Review, as well as seeing fellow Dukes Boz Scaggs & Michael McDonald on their own tours.  (Also, I am kind of in love with Donald Fagen and wish he would write a charmingly sleazy song about me, more “Slinky Thing” than “Cousin Dupree.”)

But Wednesday night, they opened with “Black Cow” (one of my favorites) and played “FM,” which made me so insanely happy that I screamed.  They played “Josie” too, and “Peg,” and “Black Friday.”  If they had played “What a Shame About Me,” I might have died of happiness.

In addition to the show, Matthew and I took a few days to work on some writing.  The way I’ve been barreling through notebook pages, I’m on Dutch’s last signature, and he’ll only last another week, at most.  And Gail, hale and hearty as she is, is nearing the end of her line, with only a signature left before she’s retired to the bookshelf.

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De-Stem Your Prose: Writing Advice from SIDEWAYS

“They didn’t de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit.” Miles  (Paul Giamatti) Sideways.

This is my favorite way to describe over-wrought prose.  Back in college, writing “leaves and sticks and mice” in the margins was a shorthand among my friends to cool it on the adverbs and get back to the action.  Too many writers use miles and miles of description to give their story some semblance of depth, when in reality, the character has spent the first three pages getting dressed.   Yes, description is important, but leaves and sticks and mice do not good wine make.

(A variation on this comes via Nick Mamatas, genius; “I’ve seen more first pages ruined by socks and coffee than I care to count.”)

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How To Not Be a Stressed-Out Monster

After a couple weeks of crushing chest pains and stabbing feelings in random parts of my stomach, I managed to get a doctor’s appointment, where they did a bunch of tests (including an EKG) and determined that I have an ulcer brought on by the debilitating stress that is my everyday existence.

A little background on me.  I am and always have been an anxious person.  I fight it pretty much all the time, but it manifests in weird ways, like waking up in the middle of the night convinced that I reported Common Council voting “yes” when they really voted “no” and my headline will be wrong and everyone will hate me.  Even after I have double and triple checked, it still keeps me up at night.

Lem

#ShieldLife

Couple that general anxiety with editing a book and planning a wedding, and, well, you wind up with an ulcer.  I named mine “Lem.”

Don’t get me wrong — I love my job and my book is awesome and my wedding was magical, but these things are stressful and I internalize stress.  My doctor wrote me a prescription, which included “relaxing activities — music, walking or scrapbooking.”

Well, I wasn’t going to take up scrapbooking, but I did dig out a whole bunch of craft stuff — including cross-stitch, sewing and knitting — to help sooth my nervous soul. When I can’t write, I turn to crafting as a way to keep myself creative.

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On Triathlons and The Myth of ‘Wasted Words’

628x471One of the coolest parts about my job as a reporter is that for all the meetings I attend and hard news I write, I also get to do a whole host of feature stories, which means I get to meet a lot of interesting people.  And last week, once again, I got to dip into my email and pull up Olympic triathlete Sarah True’s (formally Groff) contact and email her congratulating her on qualifying for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Sarah, like her sister Lauren ( NYT bestselling author of Monsters of Templeton and the forthcoming Fates and Furies) are Cooperstown natives, so whenever they do something awesome — which is seemingly all the time — I get in touch and write a story.

And as I looked through photos of the qualifying race, I thought about what it takes to compete in a triathlon.  I ride my bike into town to get coffee, sure, and I can run to catch a bus pulling away from the curb, maybe swim a little in a hotel pool when I’m on vacation, so seeing someone like Sarah kicking ass on the course just blows my mind.  And she got there by practicing her butt off, swimming Otsego Lake as a teenager, and getting up every day to ride and run and swim some more.  You don’t get to the Olympics twice by playing video games and eating chips all day.
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