Friday evening in Red Fork

guitarcase2 guitarcase1

I spent most of my Friday evening practicing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on the guitar and trying to figure out Neil Diamond’s “Coldwater Morning.” Awesome that my Neil Diamond songbook has tabs, so I don’t have to keep Googling the chords to learn the song. Too bad my Judy Collins songbook doesn’t include such niceties.

Walter spent Friday evening using the guitar case as his very own playroom.

He’s lucky he’s pretty….

Emily

 

 

I thought I was in a dream …

alley

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” — Jack Kerouac

I ducked down this alley the other day as I walked back to my car after a dentist’s appointment downtown. The brick pavers reminded me of Jack Kerouac Alley, which runs behind City Lights Books in San Francisco.

It was nice to have a little reminder of San Francisco on a cold Oklahoma afternoon.

I riffed a little bit about alleys on my work blog. If you want to read the full entry, click here.

Emily

Munchkin Tuesday: Tiffany

So today I’m running an errand for work, minding my own business, when I walk into a store and hear a spectacularly wretched cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” come over the speakers.

I don’t know who was responsible for this monstrosity, but as a child of the ’80s, I cringed.

I know it was originally recorded by Tommy James and the Shondells, but if you ain’t Tiffany, I don’t wanna hear you sing “I Think We’re Alone Now,” because I spent most of seventh grade belting that into a hairbrush and trying to decide whether to be awestruck, inspired, or just wildly jealous that she had a record contract when she wasn’t even out of high school. (I think I mostly opted for awestruck. I harbored no delusions about how my own pipes compared to hers, and even at age 12, I recognized how frickin’ brilliant that mall tour really was. Talk about marketing to your target audience — a teen pop act playing shopping malls in 1987? Holy crap. That’s genius.)

There wasn’t much I liked about junior high, but dammit, Tiffany makes the short list. If you’re anywhere close to my age, I bet you can’t even listen to her voice without remembering the scent of Salon Selectives hairspray, the taste of raspberry New York Seltzer, and the sound of an Apple IIe powering up. (You just heard it, didn’t you?)

Here she is a couple of years ago. Stay with her through “Could’ve Been.”

Girlfriend’s still got it … and how great is it to hear her sing it like she knows what she’s talking about this time? ‘Course, y’all know I’m a sucker for that sort of thing anyway.

Emily

Hippie Writing Coach, Vol. I, Issue 1: Sex scenes

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently read a terrible novel by a writer I generally respect. The book would have been fairly good, had the author not packed it with gratuitous, hackneyed sex scenes that led me to suspect she’d penned it in the midst of an epic battle with menopause, during which she wrote the most explicit scenes she could think up as a means of coping with mind-bending hormone swings and/or reaffirming her own sexuality.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the message she meant to send.

Mad props to girlfriend for taking a risk, but she just didn’t have the literary chops to pull it off. Few writers do. Graphic love scenes are problematic for several reasons:

Tone. Let’s face it: Sex is an innately ridiculous act. There’s nothing dignified about it. It’s a biological function that elicits giggles every time it’s mentioned — which makes it difficult to write about while maintaining a serious tone.

Cliches. If you write a steamy scene in clinical terms, it will sound like a biology textbook — or worse. (I can’t read the word “buttocks” without hearing the voice of Forrest Gump.) But euphemisms are no better, because every single one of them is a cliche.

Connotation. Pop culture is full of references to sex — which makes it easy to stumble into unintentional double entendres. One slip, and your tender love scene becomes an episode of Beavis and Butt-head.

Variety. If you include dialogue — which you should — you’ll need dialogue tags. Repetition is the enemy of good writing, but it’s difficult to avoid in a love scene, because your tag options are basically limited to onomatopoeia: Characters in the throes of passion might “gasp,” “moan,” or “sigh,” but they are not likely to “argue,” “complain,” “contradict,” “explain,” “grumble,” “inquire,” “reply,” “retort,” “snarl,” or “stammer.”

Personal embarrassment. Even if your love scene is brilliantly written, you need to be prepared for the consequences of sharing it. People automatically assume you based the protagonist on yourself. Do you really want your boss thinking he knows exactly what you do in bed?

Explicit scenes are generally more trouble than they’re worth. If you’re determined to write one, here is the best approach:

1. Write the steamiest scene you can conjure up, paying close attention to the issues listed above.
2. Have a cigarette afterwards.
3. Use the cigarette to ignite your paper.
4. Watch the flame consume the page, taking care not to set your desk on fire in the process.
5. Finish writing the novel.

Emily

Coming soon: Free writing lessons

I just finished reading a novel that should have been good but ended up awful, largely because the author — a good poet and a pretty solid nonfiction writer — was new to fiction and made a lot of self-indulgent rookie mistakes. I don’t blame a rookie for being a rookie, but I definitely blame her editors for coddling a rookie whose success in other areas probably intimidated them.

I think the problems with the book bugged me more because I just spent several weeks revising and rewriting my own novel, and I’ve spent the past week or so helping a friend with his dissertation, so I am keenly aware of the perils of editing. It is an unfortunate reality that editing often involves tearing apart a project that’s been years in the making, examining the pieces, and handing them back to the writer to reassemble. That can be a painful process, and its success depends on a combination of trust and tough love: As an author, you have to trust your editor to critique your work with its ultimate success foremost in her mind, and as an editor, you have to care enough about your author to protect him from the consequences of publishing work before it’s ready, even if that means telling him things he may not enjoy hearing.

As the book I read this weekend illustrates all too well, even a big publishing house may not have the kind of gutsy, demanding editors a writer needs — which is where self-editing comes in. If you’re your own toughest critic, you can make your editors’ lives easier while compensating for any weaknesses they may have.

With that in mind, I’m starting a new weekly feature called “Hippie Writing Coach” — or, as my sophomores called it, “English class.”

Each Monday, from now until I get distracted by a shiny object, I’m going to post a short writing lesson. Some of the issues I address will be large-scale concerns, such as organizing a paper or developing a character; others will be little nitpicky issues, such as the difference between “your” and “you’re.” I’ll include samples (including some thoroughly embarrassing examples of my own work), advice on self-editing, and maybe an occasional writing prompt. I’ll entertain questions in the comments.

To get things off to a provocative start, tomorrow’s topic will be: sex scenes. Don’t act like you didn’t just bookmark me.

Emily

Daybook for Jan. 9

Haven’t done one of these in ages. I don’t have a better idea tonight, so this will have to do:

For today…

Outside my window… cool January darkness.
I am thinking… that I ought to be working on an editing project right now.
I am thankful for… my new printer. After 10 years of hard use, the old one didn’t owe me anything, but it had gotten awfully slow, so instead of replacing the toner last night, I replaced the entire printer. The new one is much faster.
From the kitchen… grilled salmon and a sprout salad.
I am wearing… jeans and a black shirt.
I am reading… part of Zaphod’s dissertation.
I am hoping… that Joan Baez will be close enough to Tulsa for me to go see her in concert sometime this year.
I am creating… a lot of daydreams that might manifest themselves in the form of mixed-media paintings sometime in the not-too-distant future.
I am praying… to remember how blessed I am. Sometimes I forget.
Around the house… sleepy dogs and a mischievous cat.
One of my favorite things… the Phoenix Cafe. It isn’t quite Makanda, but it feels almost as comfortable.
few plans for the rest of the week… run a few errands and catch up on a few projects at work tomorrow; relax and enjoy a guitar lesson and a visit with Zaphod tomorrow evening.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you…

coffeetank

Clearly, somebody’s marketing department gets me….

Emily

Resolutions

I didn’t have many New Year’s resolutions this year, but I did promise myself I’d do more hippie crap, because it makes me happy.

Here’s my first real effort in that direction:

sprouts1

sprouts2

I ordered a sprouter before Christmas. It came in before I left for Tucumcari, but I didn’t start any seeds until I got home. I now have two trays full of alfalfa sprouts and a tray of lentil sprouts. I’m looking forward to eating them in salad tomorrow.

Sprouts are nice. They’re cheap to grow, and they taste like spring, which makes them especially nice in the middle of January.

As January evenings go, this one isn’t bad. I’ve got Emmylou Harris on Spotify, a cup of Wild Berry Zinger on my desk (sweetened with honey from our apiary, of course), and a design project in front of me. It’s not the ballpark on a hot summer evening, but it’s acceptable.

Speaking of the ballpark, Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 36 days. Eep!

If I’ve counted right, we’re also 93 days out from the Drillers‘ home opener. The bad news is that I will be missing that game. The good news is that I will be missing that game because I will be sitting in the second row at a Judy Collins concert in Kansas.

Sometimes my life is just flat awesome.

Emily