Supporting the (Local) Arts

I finished my one-act play a couple of weeks ago and it go me thinking about what is going on theatrewise in my local community. When I was in Colorado, I went to a show every couple of months. Out here in Columbia, I haven’t been to any shows. It’s kind of sad really. Part of what has held me back has been the cost of tickets. I realized though, that there are lots of affordable options (matinees, non-premium seats, student rates etc). As a writer and artist, I really need to be supporting my local community. Besides, if you want to get good at something you have to immerse yourself in it. If it is playwriting, one of my latest passions, read plays and go to plays. I’ve been reading The Playwright’s Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing and I find it helpful too but it is no substitute for getting your butt in the seat at a theatre.

Last night, as part of my support for local arts resolution, I went to a Jasper Magazine Salon (check out their FaceBook page for details). They had some folks out from Trustus Theatre who will be performing in the upcoming The Motherfucker with the Hat. It was a great evening and I learned a lot about theater, particularly acting and directing. Who knew there are acting theories? I didn’t. I found it fascinating and realize that in addition to reading plays, I also need to do some reading about acting theory if I want to become a better playwright (this is in addition to poet, memoirist, and educator).

Hearing about the dedication of the cast to their craft and performances really had an impact on me. I already had tickets to Trustus’ Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche ($15 tickets) but now I also plan on going to Motherfucker (that abbreviation makes me smile). I’ve got tickets to the Koger Center’s balletSnow White ($15 tickets!) and I am going to Columbia Marionette Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast tomorrow ($5 tickets!). There’s just so much going on around me that I haven’t even noticed. By nature, I am a workaholic and I think being a writer and painter adds to my isolationist tendencies. It was nice to get out of the house last night and do something that got me out into the community and taught me something new. I didn’t have the balls to ask about script submission (yes, my play is looking for a home) but baby steps. I also tend to operate out of lack, or perceived lack. I’m a grad student and the sole support of my household. I don’t have money but there are places I could save so I can support the local arts more. Priorities people – I need to reevaluate mine.

Next week, the Jasper Salon is on the dark side of Snow White. Come on out. I’ll be there!

Follow Your Freak

So yesterday, after I finished posting about workshopping, I decided to read a few pages of Writer’s Digest before bed. There was a short piece with interviews from four Pulitzer winning novelists. I was excited to see Junot Diaz (author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown). First, I appreciate him being honest about the arbitrary nature of such prizes. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be flaunting it if I won. I can’t help it, I’m a magpie and awards are bright and shiny. He did talk about the way in which the award allowed him to reach a different set of readers.

Anyway, here’s what he had to say about his writing philosophy:

“To be an artist, first and foremost, which means to be always on a journey of discovery and not a journey of approval. Which is a fancy way of saying my philosophy is: Take your time, follow your freak and prefer from an audience the complexity of conversation over the simplicities of approval.”

So once again, Diaz is saving the day with his words of wisdom. No, I have not been following my freak. I’ve been open to sharing very personal work but I have wanted approval more than I have been seeking discovery. I’m not entirely sure what following my freak would look like, maybe just knowing that I am an artist and not needing the outside approval from others? The other day, on my Facebook page, I asked when I would finally make the transition from student to writer. I’m already a writer but I will always be a student. There will always be new things for me to learn that will help me grow as a writer.

Be sure to grab a copy of this month’s Writer’s Digest. There’s an interview with Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead (on of my tv favs) and lots of other goodies. Also be on the lookout for Diaz’s new short-story collection This is How You Lose Her coming out in September.

Drunken Boat Rejection

I’m leaving for Charlotte tonight and then it is off to Boston tomorrow for a quick visit before the semester starts. In the meantime, here’s the rejection I got from the Drunken Boat. Strange that it was emailed to me at almost 1 am. That did not help me sleep. Fairly standard automated reply.

Dear Brandi Ballard,

Thank you for sending us your submission. Unfortunately, our readers felt that it was not a good fit for Drunken Boat, and we will be unable to publish it.


The Editors of Drunken Boat

To Tell it Slant or to Tell it Slant

I met with my creative writing teacher yesterday and mentioned the book Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Poalo. She then asked me if I had the blue version or the red version. I was confused. We used it as a text for my introduction to creative nonfiction class and I didn’t know there were other versions.

So I did some checking on one of my new favorite sites (big help with citation information) the ISBN Database. I found out there are in fact two versions. The red cover, which will henceforth be called the Awesome Edition is ISBN: 0072512784 and the blue cover, which will henceforth be called the Sadface Edition, is ISBN: 0071444947.

My teacher said that most people use the Awesome Edition because it has more information. I looked at the table of contents and sure enough, the Awesome Edition features an extra section that is not in the Sadface Edition. The Sadface Edition is missing the entire first section of the book which is all about the fundamentals of creative nonfiction. Here is the table of contents for what is missing in the Sadface Edition:

Introduction: Where to Begin?
Part I: The Foundations of Creative Nonfiction
Chapter One: The Basics of Good Writing in Any Form
Scene Versus Exposition
Specificity and Detail
Developing Character
Point of View
Image and Metaphor
The Rhythm of Your Sentences
Try It
Suggestions for Further Reading

Chapter Two: The Particular Challenges of Creative Nonfiction
The “I” and The Eye: Framing Experience
The Autobiographical Act
The Pact with the Reader: Creating Trust
The Permutations of “Truth”
Cueing the Reader
Some Pitfalls to Avoid: “Revenge Prose” and “The Therapist’s Couch.”
Try It
Suggestions for Further Reading

What I find truly hilarious about the situation is that I recently lent my Sadface Edition to my sister. I told her it was good but seemed like it was missing something. Turns out I was right, it was the entire first section (wakka wakka). Anyway, I’ve ordered a copy of the Awesome Edition on Amazon. I got it for $8 with free prime shipping. I was a little worried about someone sending me the wrong edition (this has happened to me several times on Amazon esp. with textbooks), so I ordered one that was fulfilled directly by the company. Then if something goes wrong, I have a more direct course of action I can take (no waiting on the seller to reply to emails).

The book is offered on different sites so be sure to shop around. Some people are charging way too much for this book. Many of the sites I visited had it listed for $40-$75. This book came out in 2004! Some joker on Alibris is selling his copy for $2,772 (see pic). Uh, that’s for good condition mind you and no signature. I wouldn’t pay that much for a copy of the Raven handwritten by Edgar Allan Poe in his own blood. Well…maybe I would…if I was rich.

Another note about Amazon, the correct version is very hard to find on their site and isn’t even listed on Brenda Miller’s author page. Oh, and the Kindle version they have for sale under the Awesome Edition ISBN is actually the Sadeface Edition so don’t buy it. No fear though, in my absolute nerdom (ooh does that have one d or two? shrug), I have already emailed the company and explained their mistake. Sometimes I just have too much time on my hands.

Meta-narrative and Talking Things Out

I ended up turning in a series of fragments for my memoir piece. I numbered them to keep things separate but couldn’t really find the thread that connected it all. Each time I sat down to write, I would come up with a scene or a fragment. Some of it was events from my childhood and the rest were things that were happening while I was writing. My teacher suggested that I create a meta-narrative in the form of struggling to get the writing done.

It seemed like a great idea. I’m always fascinated by works where the writer talks about their writing process. I also realized that I was shying away from writing my current self into the narrative. Because there isn’t the perspective/distance granted by time, I don’t see myself as involved in the story. It seemed strange, like Kaufman writing himself into his screenplay in Adaptation. The idea that I don’t belong in my own story is preposterous, especially since I primarily write trauma. Somehow everything I learned from reading Writing as a Way of Healing. So I decided to use the struggling writer as the meta-narrative but I still didn’t have any kind of a theme.

This Saturday, I met with a friend that I took a creative nonfiction class with in the spring of 2009. I told her about the fragments of work I had and she asked me to read them to her. She’s a great listener and really supports me in my work. Anyway, after hearing me read she said that she got a sense of different kinds of violation. She was right. I wrote about the violation of space, sacred space, the body, positions of trust, and so on. With this in mind, the revision was easy. I ended up cutting a couple of scenes and I added in a good bit of new material. It still isn’t where I want it to be yet, but I’ve got a great start.

For the next section, I’ll be writing lyric essay. I’m hoping to write some every day so I am better prepared. It seems silly but I realized the importance of sharing my work and getting someone’s opinion of it. If you do this, make sure you aren’t sharing with a friend who simply says “it was good,” or these kinds of helpful statements. I prefer honesty. If I lose you as a reader, I want to be told.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. BTW- The Seneca Review has a special issue out this month on the lyric essay.

Low Cost MFA?

After my meltdown last night, I head to AWP’s website and looked through their listing on creative nonfiction low residency MFA programs. I found seventeen programs that were under $30,000. Most were in the low to mid twenties.

I feel a lot freer now that I know there are other programs for me to choose from. Cost is a big concern of mine especially since most low residency programs don’t offer financing. I’ll be saving about $20,000 so I think I can afford to fly to my residencies. I’m using my MFA handbook to create a chart so I can pick which schools I want to apply to. I’d like to narrow it down to five because of application fees.

The Baby-sitter’s Club?

The Baby-sitter’s Club has been relaunched. Author Ann M. Martin has written a prequel to her series entitled “The Summer Before.” The 1980′s series is also being rereleased. I wonder how such a huge series will be received by readers today. I wasn’t really a Baby-sitter’s Club fan, as I was five when it launched. I did read a few of the Sweet Valley High books, but it was hard to get them in order so I couldn’t really follow the story line. I did have a huge collection of Fear Street books, but over time the series got stale. Sweet Valley High had 181 books, and I know that Fear Street had even more. I’m hoping they condense the stories down as I just don’t think that long of a series would necessarily work, especially if the publishing industry is in trouble (at least print). Maybe I’m out of the loop. Are there any lenghty young adult series out there now?

AWP Day 2

Well, I was excited about going to see Martin Espada at the AWP conference but when it was time to get up I didn’t. Instead we slept in and went to the Denver Art Museum. I felt a little guilty for not going back, but yesterday was boring. The book fair was huge, with tables from The Writer and all sorts of journals/magazines/schools but in a way is was too large.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to the conference after check-out tomorrow or if I’m going back home. Part of the problem is I am used to the Springs. There, five miles would only take you fifteen minutes. In Denver, it’s more like forty-five. I’m kicking myself for not getting something closer, even one of those seedy motels on Broadway.

Ah well, I did enjoy walking around the museum today. I’ve decided to start an inspiration album on my Facebook account. I’ll take pictures of things I find interesting or inspiring and upload them from my phone. I think that’ll help when I’m feeling stuck. It seems promising, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Author J.D. Salinger dies at 91

Yesterday J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, died of natural causes. I won’t go into too much detail as I feel the article in the Times covered it nicely. I’d rather take this time to comment on his work. Although I haven’t read Nine Stories, I have read The Catcher in the Rye. I’ll admit, the book is a bit dated but it has entered a sort of folk-lorish infamy as the book serial killers, bombers and murderers all seem to carry. I know John Hinckley Jr. and Mark David Chapman had it. I’ve heard the Boston Strangler and Timothy McVeigh did also. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

I did find the book a rather difficult read. Possibly because of the language used by the main character, Holden Caulfield. He mostly went on tirades about “phonies” and how you couldn’t trust adults. The writing style was kind of lax, much like Stephen King (who is an excellent storyteller). Maybe it is just my generation, or the fact that I am a woman and this was a boy’s coming of age story, but I just didn’t get. The story didn’t seem to have a point. If any of you out there have read it, please let me know what you think.

I do have to say that I read it because of its connection to criminals. It didn’t make me want to shoot anyone or blow anything up, so much for that theory.

Although the book was never made into a movie, it did make its way into 1997′s Conspiracy Theory. Supposedly, Salinger didn’t want it made into a film. I wonder, in the event of his death, if his estate will turn it into a screenplay. I hope not. Plus I don’t think it would really work, too much time has passed.

The Catcher in the RyeNine StoriesConspiracy Theory

Readers Slog Their Way Through Slush on

I was reading an article today from the Wall Street Journal about the death of the slush pile. At first, the thought that I could have as low of a .008% chance of being plucked from the slush pile depressed me. But then I read on about a website by HarperCollins called Authonomy. This website allows you to upload a minimum of 10,000 words from your manuscript. Visitors to the site can read, recommend and comment on your work. Those with the highest scores each month will be read by HarperCollins editors.

I have to hand it to them. They’ve found a way to digitize the slush pile and also use free labor to cut through it. After all, if you can’t get people to read it for free, what makes you think someone would pay $14.95 for a printed book? I hope more publishers use this method. I think it’s brilliant and can’t wait to start reading.

Sadly, I am nowhere near 10,000 words so I won’t be uploading my work. I’ve been planning a memoir but in the meantime I have been busy writing short stories and poetry. Lately I have had a tremendous outpouring of creative energy. Let’s hope it lasts. I also have three manuscripts out for review at the moment. Wish me luck.