What will you do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Invisible Woman

On the SheWrites Blog, Kamy Wicoff writes about The Invisible Woman.  This post triggered a memory from childhood, and the Invisible Man. When I was a little kid, around 1958 or '59, my brothers and I loved to watch the TV series The Invisible Man based loosely on the 1933 novel by H.G. Wells. The main character walked around with this mummy-like wrapping on his head, hands, and any visible appendage, and sunglasses so we could not stare into his empty eyes. You see, he was invisible underneath all the wrappings and clothing. Some scientific experiment gone awry, I believe.  This man was powerful, a force to be reckoned with.  We never once thought about his not having a brain or a heart. Fodder for nightmares in children. But we felt drawn to watch it anyway.

There was never a series about The Invisible Woman. Perhaps because women are too easily invisible in our culture, and that has been an accepted stance, until Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique stirred the crock pot with her silver spoon. Yes, there has been improvement, but not enough, especially in the publishing industry. From what I have found, 60% of published books and stories are by men and only 40% by women. Historically I imagine that is a great improvement. But is this acceptible?  Wicoff's post is about women, and how they/we become invisible.  Wicoff says, "What happens when women don't tell their own stories?  Their stories are told for them -- or more often, about them -- and the narratives that result are partial at best, and demeaning, damaging or downright dangerous at worst." 

I think about the women in my life, and how they may have been invisible. I read somewhere that  when psychotherapist Maureen Murdock asked Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth) about the heroine's journey he told her that women don't have such a journey, since "the woman is there." I have never felt there, although I have some ideas on where there might be.  Murdock went on to write her own book, The Heroine's Journey.  This calls me to question, who is telling the stories of the heroines in my life?  I've got some thinking (and writing) to do about this . . . More later on The Invisible Woman!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Novels, Body Hair and Taking Chances

I know folks are gearing up for Sunday’s Super Bowl. I'm no sports fan, except that I always root for the underdog. 

After a month of painful (only because of deadline stress) rewrites and edits, I decided to throw my new novel into the pot for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, and got tremendous help from some past winners in the CreateSpace (Amazon’s contest management site) on sifting down my pitch to a very tight few sentences. There are community pages there with offers to assist in steps along the way. Several authors and editors helped me with my preview and samples. I am amazed at how generous they were with their time. My final version was saved to the site just 30 seconds prior to the deadline (they lock all entries at the 5000 entry point).  After reading so much about “you have one in 100,000 chance of getting your novel published” (or one in a million, or whatever), I thought 1 in 5000 was much better odds.  And even if you become a quarter finalist you receive a book offer.    Some folks say, yeah but it's only for ebook deals. And I'm such a diehard hardback fan. We’ll see how it goes.

I also wanted to remind you of the AWP call for submissions – I’m sending off a ms this weekend, here’s their site: AWP. Richard Bausch encouraged me to send one of my manuscripts to them last year, and I did so. But nothing. I’ll try again this year – deadline is Feb. 28th. Hope is a thing with feathers . . .

And, Susan Cushman suggested I try small presses like Algonquin so I did get a ms off to them yesterday as well.

Writing is a full time job. I’m plotting how to retire early and still survive. So far I can’t figure out how to succeed. ;-)

Some have likened to working on a story to the feeling that the words have hold on every hair of your body. 
Sometimes when I've completed a piece I feel as if I've had all my body hair removed. Or given birth. And then I sleep. The following is from the blog Novel Matters
I’ve worked on a step-by-step list of how to write a novel. Perhaps you might find it useful.

Step 1
Please choose one of the following options:
a) Give birth multiple times. (You may also choose to give birth to multiples. Triplets work well)
b) Have all of your body hair waxed off in one afternoon. (It is preferable that you have this preformed by a person who does not speak your language) Repeat weekly for one year.
(This step ensures you have vast experience with pain, AND attempting to reason with characters who are indifferent to your needs.)
Step 2:
Commit acts of Random Bizarre Behavior (RBBs) in public places. Record people’s reactions to your behavior in a purple notebook.
Examples of possible RBBs:
- Enter a crowded elevator and begin singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the top of your lungs. Be sure to flail your arms around, especially during the chorus. Interrupt yourself often by asking others in the elevator to give you more room.
- Enter a busy shopping mall. Shake hands with everyone you see and thank them for their excellent customer service.
- Approach a female stranger. Address this stranger as “Aunt Bea”. Demand to see pictures of the new baby.
- If you are approached by a police officer: calmly and patiently explain that you voted for ‘the other guy’. If this fails, claim you are Canadian and don’t know better (this only works if you are in the US).
(This step exposes you to the full range of natural, spontaneous human reactions and emotions needed to create believable characters.)
Step 3:
Invent a perpetual motion machine. Give it a catchy name. Then, hide it in a closet for at least one year. After the appropriate amount of time has past, take the machine out of the closet, tinker with it until it moves at double the speed.
(This step ensures you are able to do the impossible – at least twice.)
Step 4:
Knock on a stranger’s door. Tell the stranger you are the love child they gave up for adoption. Mention you are unemployed. Repeat this several times until you are numb to all rejection.
(This step ensures – well, you know what it ensures.)
Step 5:
Take all of these experiences and divide them into chapters. Give it a plot and a catchy name. If possible, include vampires.

It’s possible to be on more than one step at the same time. So, which step are you on? Do share!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fear of Being Found Out: I Am An Imposter!

Pat Schneider is one of my heroes. She is a writer, poet, teacher, and wise woman. I found her book, Writing Alone and With Others, in 2004 when I was facilitating a writing group in a women's shelter in Jackson, MS.  I read the entire thing in two days.  It was exactly what I had been looking for. Even though I compiled writing prompts and had a loose structure for the group, she gave a name and structure to the method I was already using.

“Fear is close to the center of the first stories we will want to tell….Fear has a good reason for being; understanding it can make all the difference.” (Page 3)

In her book, Schneider quotes a piece by Sister Milagros Sanchez titled If I Succeed:
“If I succeed, my work will be public; I will be public. My work will be viewed by people…who will pry deeper, as if what I have revealed is not enough. They will demand more, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to deliver. They will find out what a big fake I am; I, myself, will find out that I am not THAT deep, THAT profound.” (Pages 15–16)

I have other fears as well.  That people may find that I'm not THAT good a writer.

Or even more fear that they will find that I am.

Have you ever seen something, witnessed an event or an action or a news photo that stirs up your emotions so profoundly that you have a visceral reaction to it? And you wrote about it?  Well I have. And it won a prize in the Memphis Magazine Fiction Contest last year. I entered two pieces and I really didn't think that story was the best one of the two.  But someone did. And paid me money for it.

What I saw that affected me deeply was a story in the New York Times and the photo that you see here. In the photo in the Times, two people are carrying an old beat up and patched mattress and all you can see are their legs.  In the background is a 1950's version American car sans engine, and people are watching from the balconies of run-down tenements. Envy in their eyes. I was so touched by that photo that I ran to my keyboard and wrote a story about a young couple carrying their marriage bed through the streets.

The story focused entirely on the young couple's yearning, the envy of their friends, and their fear of being found out.

Have you ever witnessed, heard, or read something that stirred your emotions to the point that you had to do something? And you wrote about it?