The Art of Medicine in Metaphors

51W5fiDabHL._SY380_This is a bit of a belated post. Last summer, I was contacted by James Borton to see if I was interested in helping put together a manuscript for a call he had done on illness narratives. By the end of the year, and after countless hours of work, we had a book. An anthology to be exact. The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives came out in January and it makes my heart feel good to see the stories out and in the public. These are people, myself included, writing about illness, injury, and death. These are family members, patients, and care-givers. That’s part of what makes this collection unique. We have doctors writing poetry alongside patients writing poetry (or narratives).

In putting together the collection, I had to read the manuscript several times (it was with these stories in mind that I created the cover painting). It began with reading the Chicago Manual of Style and figuring out things like how to create a table of contents, how to number the pages, and what is the difference between a prologue and a preface. If you are a writer, I suggest you spend an evening reading it over. It is eye-opening. Even armed with this knowledge though, it was a steep learning curve when the manuscript got accepted by Copernicus Healthcare. There was formatting in the document that I wasn’t even aware of. Each time I looked over a new e-version of the manuscript, I found additional errors. We even had outside proof-readers. I guess, no matter what, there will still be some issues but it is worth the work to make sure you have put out a quality product.

What we ended up with was a quality product. When my sister proofread, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives she found it overwhelming. It brought up a lot for her. To me, as a memoirist, that’s the highest honor a work can receive. To have a reader say, I feel so much when I read this that I have to take it in a bite at a time is huge. To know that there is a community that has developed out of this work  makes my heart happy. The comments that have started to come in on Amazon and the reviews on multiple blogs and websites prove attest to the book’s reach. The collection is $14.95 and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and many other booksellers.

Semester Wrap-up and Playwriting

In a meeting with one of my mentors, I found myself listing all of these great things that had happened over the semester but then still somehow sounding like it wasn’t great. I tend to underemphasize the good and overemphasize the bad. My therapist and I are working on shifting this. It is hard to sit with my accomplishments (as she says). Why? I was raised thinking that to talk about ones own accomplishments was to brag and bragging was unattractive. No one wanted to be around a selfish braggart.

Part of working on this is to recognize the good. This semester I successfully taught my first English 101 section. I fell in love with teaching, something I didn’t expect. I saw my students grow in their writing and that makes my heart happy. I presented a nonfiction work as part of a panel on motherhood (I have decided not to have children yet) at the Southern Women Writers Conference in Mt. Berry, Georgia in October. At the conference, I won a place in a poetry workshop with Barbara Hamby. She was amazing and truly generous with her time. I also got to hear Dorothy Allison (swoon) speak and was first in line to get my book signed. It was wonderful to be able to tell her how her book, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure opened up my memoir for me. Before that I was blocked and lacking direction. She shook my hand, signed my book, and even talked a little shop with me.

Earlier this month, I got to give a poetry reading at an event benefiting Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. I had people come up to me afterwards and ask where they can read my work (thus the drive to produce a chapbook). The anthology I am co-editing, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors, is being published and I just finished the final edits this evening. The first class I tutored at Kirkland Correctional Institution just graduated, which was one of the most beautiful events I have ever attended. This is in addition to finishing two workshop classes complete with portfolios. Life is good, yet busy. Unbelievably busy at times. So much so that there is a terrible rumor going around the program that I don’t sleep.

In telling another of my mentors about the prison tutoring I did and the related poetry I’ve written, she suggested playwriting. So, here I am in the midst of memoir, working on a chapbook, and planning a class, and now thinking about writing a play. She recommended starting with John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” I also grabbed a copy of Playwriting: Brief and Brilliant by Julie Jensen. It was a really short read, about 80 pages and large print. As a short primer, it does its job. My main concerns were a quick grasp of the general conventions and formatting. I got that in an easy to read format. I do wish she had included a sample manuscript so I could see more, especially of the second page which lists characters, setting, and has a synopsis.

I was a bit worried about getting “distracted” by another project but it is amazing what I can get done when I am not watching television or playing World of Warcraft. Today has been a work day and I’ve been hugely productive. I might have to try this unplugging thing more often. I’ve often felt that I didn’t spend enough time reading, maybe now is a time to change those habits. Just in time for the new year. Anyhow, back to Jensen’s book, she has a nice four page list of her favorite plays. I plan on reading as many of them as I can over the break. Well, while I work on my memoir and chapbook. A writer’s work is never done.

Old Friend from Far Away

I am a huge Natalie Goldberg fan. I know I have posted on Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) and Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life
several times. I’m too lazy to look but you can either take my word for it or use the search function. Last night, my creative nonfiction teacher brought in Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. This one has been on my wishlist for quite some time. What I didn’t know was that it is a book full of nonfiction prompts. The prompt we did in class was “no thank you.” Write down “no thank you” on a piece of paper and start writing. Each time you pause, write down “no thank you” again. This worked really well for me and I was able to get a good start on my collage that is due in the next few weeks. I ordered the book this morning and can’t wait until it comes.

Sixteen Days Left

I am leaving for South Carolina in sixteen days. I am excited but at the same time a little apprehensive. The program entails graduate classes (creative writing, lit, and theory), teaching classes, studying for a comprehensive exam, thesis and thesis defense, and a foreign language translation exam. It just seems like so much work (although that is the point right?). I know I will be fine as I work well when challenged but I am still nervous. Mainly because I don’t know exactly what to expect. I am glad we are arriving two weeks before school starts so I can get familiar with the area, that will help.

As far as writing, I have not been sticking to my daily goal. Mostly because I have been sick but also partly because I am avoiding it. I hope to start again on the 15th. I do have two pieces that need a final edit and then can go out.

On a side note, I finished The Two Kinds of Decay. I appreciated the way the stories moved back and forth through time but, at points, it was confusing. Her illness ends and she then struggles with alcoholism though not much information is given about that (perhaps there is another book forthcoming). It seems sort of thrown in at the end. Her treatment of the lack of details was honest and added authenticity to the work. She is up front with the  reader which always goes far. It was interesting and kept me reading up until the point where she started talking about alcoholism.

Thanks Natalie Goldberg

One of the books I return to over and over again for writing inspiration is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. One reason I like it is that it is composed of short sections. I don’t have to sit and read for a long time. In fact, it is perfect for reading just before writing. Anyway, I picked it up about three days ago and the first section I came to was the part where she talks about filling one notebook a month as a writing goal. I went to Wal-mart and bought a couple of pretty spiral notebooks so I could get started. Luckily it was the 15th as I only like to start writing notebooks on the 1st or 15th of the month.

So far it has worked. It is hard sometimes to fill the required number of pages (works out to rough 4-5 pages a day). That just takes time and adjusting to the writing practice again. Most people have this romantic images of writers but it is actually hard work. Very hard work. The discipline is the hardest part. It is probably easier for those who have deadlines, which I don’t. Deadlines have always helped me get my but in gear. It is just hard when you have no one to hold you accountable.

No Conference

So I did not get to go to the Sigma Tau Delta conference this week to read my work “Patient States She Hates Herself.” I was bummed but in a way relieved; I have a lot of work to do over the break. It looked like we were going to get funding but then the airfare tripled.

I have been trying to focus on my trauma presentation coming up at the Shepard Symposium. This week I am housesitting and I thought it would help give me some quiet time. Instead, I find myself missing home and watching mini-marathons of Criminal Minds. I did manage to buckle down yesterday and get my outline finished and sort through all of my research. I also spent a good chunk of time reading Julie & Julia for my food writing class. I got the movie tie-in edition because I am a sucker for that kind of marketing crap. I was surprised by how good it is. It reads like a memoir with some scenes of fiction (mainly dramatizations from Child’s life). Powell does a good job of developing herself as a character and really giving the reader a sense of why she needs to master Mastering the Art of French Cooking, even if she doesn’t yet realize why. I read sixty pages last night and really enjoyed it. If you haven’t seen it, check out the movie. This may be the one time in my life that I like the book as much as the movie and vice versa. We’ll see.

Anyway, I am going to get back to work. Hopefully I make some headway today. Happy writing.

Look Out Genre, Here I Come!

If you are like me, you have several novel ideas that ended up in a folder somewhere; lost and never written. When my sister suggested we write a genre novel together one of my old ideas came to mind. I got out the sample chapters and the two of us were able to use them and write an outline in a couple of hours. We are going to have to figure out how to co-author. Right now, we are going to alternate chapters. I am hoping that works. It is a fantasy novel. I am excited to try my hand at genre fiction again. I have to say, genre fiction is one of my guilty pleasures that I don’t get to indulge in often enough.

We’ll see how it goes. It is about the middle of the term and we are both incredibly busy. I should try and read some genre fiction in order to get back into the swing of things. I have the entire Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind which was the basis for the tv show Legend of the Seeker (LOTS). I am still pissed off that it got canceled. There has not been a good fantasy show since Xena Warrior Princess. Finally, along comes LOTS and the network pulls the plug after two seasons. Ok, I got that out of my system….sort of. You can check out the campaign to save the show here.

If you are new to the genre check out the following writing books:

The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference

Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy

Here are three that look promising. I haven’t read them so no guarantees:

Alchemy with Words: The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy Vol I
The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy Vol II: The Opus Magus
The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy Vol III: The Author’s Grimoire

I might have to try to talk the hubby into letting me buy more books. I have an addiction as I am sure most of my fellow writers do. Happy writing!

Feeling like a Winner

I got an email today from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. I won a copy of Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda in their online sweepstakes. You just can’t go wrong with free books. By the way, you should check out Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. It is from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. It was the textbook for my first creative writing class (fiction) and I am glad I kept it. The sections on point of view and theme are extremely helpful. You’ll find that a lot of the information pertains to creative nonfiction as well as fiction.

I am pleased to say that I have written every day in 2011 so far. Hmm…I just realized that it is 1/11/11. Interesting. Anyway, it has been going well. It is easier for me to be productive if I do my writing first thing in the morning, even with non-writing related activities. Once that burden has been lifted, I feel freer to pursue other things. I am still working on my paper on the trauma narrative. I also have two scholarship applications to complete along with the symposium proposal and I am collaborating on a paper on forms of resistance in the Jim Crow era. On top of that, school starts Tuesday. Yikes! Well, I don’t think it will be too bad. I cut down to four classes, three days a week. For me, that is a vacation. I really want to have the time to put into my classes (especially food writing) so I come out of it with publishable work. I also need to research journals for my paper on Zora Neale Hurston. Her birthday is this month and I was thrilled to see that The Writer had an article about her.

That is about it for today. I am going to get my research papers together from last semester and see what is potentially publishable.

You Are a Writer!

I braved the icy streets on Saturday to go to Borders. I know, we just had a blizzard in Colorado on Thursday but they had a 50% off coupon and the streets didn’t look that bad on the traffic cameras. Turns out, the roads were terrible. I knew the side streets would be. They only plow and drop gravel on the main roads in Colorado Springs. It has been that way for a couple of years now. Even today our street was still a mess.

Anyway, I picked up a copy of The Writer’s Notebook. It is a collection of craft essays based on the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. I have looked at this book before and was tempted but did not buy it (even though the first essay is by Dorothy Allison, who is an amazing writer). That was two or three months ago. I was trying to decide between this book and The Forest for the Trees, which I hear is amazing. I was not sure but I knew I did not want to splurge and buy both (hey, I am a college student, what do you expect). Anyhow, I was flipping through The Writer’s Notebook when I noticed a small piece of paper tucked between the pages. It was a handwritten note on the back of a torn strip of paper. It said “You Are a Writer.” Are was underlined twice, writer once. If I could figure out how to underline I would. Needless to say, that is the book I bought. The note really made my day. Plus, when I got it home I discovered it came with a bonus CD featuring two panel discussions. I was so excited about the note that I did not even notice.

So, update on my resolutions: I wrote today and yesterday, a good start to developing my writing habit. It is funny, when I write for a short while in the morning, I feel lazy for not writing anything else during the day. Of course, this writing time is separate from research and revising time (as suggested in The Writer’s Portable Mentor). I started using A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. It has daily prompts so I don’t have to think about what to write in the morning. I have the old version, apparently there is a 2010 revised edition with all new prompts. A lot of the other sections seem the same (I can only see so much in Amazon preview though) but it would be worth it for a new book of prompts.

Anyway, I made some headway on my trauma narrative conference proposal. I hope to finish it up tomorrow and send it off. Then I can get back to working on my fiction short and my two longer works. I’d really like to finish the short story before the semester begins. Hope your writing is going well too.

Oh, on a side note, I am thinking about taking intermediate fiction as a sixth class next semester. I really only need four courses in order to graduate but I want to make sure I have enough under my belt to feel confident in a teaching position in the fall. I also figure that most introductory creative writing students are going to write fiction, which I have less experience with. What do you think? Am I totally nuts?

The Creative Habit

My teacher suggested I read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. That was during my first semester at UCCS back in the fall of 2009. Ok, so last year. Whatever. Anyway, I did not buy the book right away because she suggested about thirty other books during the semester. My husband picked this one off of my wish list for my birth (love the Amazon Wish List).

I was a little skeptical because it is written by a choreographer (one of the greatest mind you). I was not sure what it would have to do with writing. I finished the first section a couple of days ago and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. Turns out that most creative minds share the same kinds of fears (mostly rejection and success). The first chapter was about preparing and the rituals that many artists use to signal to themselves that it is time to create. For me, cleaning my desk seems to help. I feel overwhelmed when my desk is messy. She has exercises in each chapter. Generally, I am against creativity exercises. They are generally banal and unhelpful. Tharp’s are different. For instance, she recommends that the artist builds up her tolerance for solitude because “Solitude is an unavoidable part of creativity. Self-reliance is a happy by-product.”

I am not going to post the exercises as I really recommend you get the book. So far, it is the best book I have read on accessing and sustaining creative energy.

On a side note, I have finished my piece for the women’s journal and will be mailing it tomorrow. Now to work on my fiction short.