Category Archives: Writing

Best. Final. Ever.

So I gave my creative-writing final this week. That class has only three students, so instead of giving a conventional final, I walked in yesterday, handed each kid a Barbie doll, and gave them their choice of three writing prompts involving a sentient Barbie.

Prompt 1: Barbie lives in a Dream House owned by a 9-year-old girl with affluent parents and a bad habit of losing small objects. Barbie has several housemates who may or may not be sentient. She has a crush on one, and another is incredibly annoying. She has access to a Corvette, Jeep, and RV. Despite her luxurious surroundings, Barbie is dissatisfied with her life and has resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. She views the 9-year-old as a destructive monster, benevolent deity, or obnoxious landlady (your choice).

Prompt 2: Barbie lives in a crude dollhouse lovingly constructed from a cardboard box by her owner, a precocious 9-year-old girl from a working-class family. Barbie is the girl’s only store-bought toy; everything else is a hand-me-down, yard-sale find, or something homemade. Despite her meager surroundings, Barbie is satisfied with her life. She and the child are each other’s only friend. Barbie wants to help the child, who is being mistreated, but is hampered by the limitations of being a plastic doll.

Prompt 3: Barbie is living rough in a city alley after falling out of a dumpster that was being emptied into a garbage truck. Once a 4-year-old girl’s favorite toy, she was separated from her owner through some tragedy and is now fending for herself. She either desperately misses the child or is grateful to be rid of her. She is in mortal danger from some threat. She has no survival skills and is learning on the fly, acquiring or creating her own shelter and other necessities in whatever way you deem appropriate for a small plastic doll.

I’m not sure this prompt would have worked with another group, but these girls are clever, caustic, and fully capable of turning Barbie’s perfect pink fantasy world into a biting commentary on modern capitalism, a dystopian hellscape, or an existential nightmare.

They’re supposed to be turning in their final drafts tomorrow. I cannot WAIT to read them. I’ve promised the girls that anybody who makes an A on the final gets to keep her Barbie, so they are MOTIVATED.

Emily

Shameless self-promotion

bookfront

Remember a few months ago, when I told y’all I’d published a novel? I’ll be signing copies from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Annie Laurie’s Antiques, 536 Broadway in Cape Girardeau, as part of Cape’s monthly First Friday with the Arts promotion.

If you’ll be in the area, stop by and see me — and be sure to bring extra money for shiny objects, because Laurie always has plenty of them. (Remember that cool ’70s dining set I posted a few weeks ago? I bought that from her.) Make sure to check out the other downtown businesses, too — all the fun little shops and galleries stay open late for First Friday, and Minglewood Brewery usually taps a firkin of some interesting new brew they’re trying out.

I’ll have copies of both Greetings from Coldwater and Route 66 for Kids on hand Friday. If you’ve already read the novel and just want to come in and ask questions about it, I’m game to answer them (if I know the answers; Shirley is just about as enigmatic to me as she is to you), and if you wanted to get a jump on your Christmas shopping, this would be a good way to do it. If you don’t know anybody who wants a book, you probably know somebody who’d like something from Annie Laurie’s or its sister shop across the street, the Indie House, which is sort of an incubator for several artsy little businesses.

Bonus: I think Laurie is planning to have a food truck outside, so you can grab dinner while you’re there, and if you don’t see something you like, you can always cruise a few blocks to find good Cajun, great pizza, or amazing wings. Come visit us!

Emily

My novel is out!

So this happened:

bookfront

bookback

Can we just talk about how excited I am to have this in my hands at last? I’ve been working on this book for five years, not counting the 19 years I spent before that with the main character in my head, trying to figure out what to do with her.

It’s available to order now. Click here for the Kindle version; click here to order it in paperback.

Is it any good? I think it is, but I’m hardly an objective critic. I wrote a novel I wanted to read, set in a town where I’d like to live and populated with people I’d like to meet. It’s hard to be objective about something you’ve been working on for years, but I’ll put it this way: The writing process being what it is, by my most conservative estimate, I’d say I’ve read most of this novel at least two dozen times, and yet I still enjoy reading it, and every time I do, I still find something that feels new — some detail I’d forgotten I wrote, or some flourish that resonates differently now than it did the last time I looked at it. When I sat down with the printed proof a couple of nights ago to look for printing issues and any other little concerns I might have missed, I thought, “I’m really looking forward to reading this just for the fun of it.”

If I can edit a book 24 times and still look forward to reading it just for the sheer enjoyment of the finished product, I feel fairly safe in assuming the average reader will enjoy reading it at least once or twice.

I feel light this afternoon. And free. And at the same time, a little lost. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up without Sierra in my head, demanding to be written. She’s been part of my consciousness since 1991. But finishing her story has silenced the irrational but persistent fear in the back of my mind: What if I die before I finish my novel? It’s a relief to know I don’t have to worry about that any more, but it’s also a little strange to be finished with what I always assumed was my life’s work. I’m only 40. What now? I’ve got other projects going, of course — I’ve always got projects going, and plenty of them — but nothing as all-consuming as this book.

What will rise to take its place? I’m waiting to see. It’s strange to swap a bucket list for a blank sheet of paper and a couple of Pinterest boards, but it’s kind of exciting, too.

Emily

 

I’ve been busy.

Yes, I’ve subjected this blog to a shameful degree of neglect this summer. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

That’s right, kids. I’m about an eyelash away from being ready to publish Greetings from Coldwater. I’m anticipating a fall release on the Kindle version and — God willing — a paperback edition in time for Christmas. I shot the trailer above on and around Route 66 in New Mexico last spring, and I’ve been dinking with the novel ever since we got back.

frontcoldwatercover

When I started this project, I swore I wouldn’t self-publish, but the publishing industry has changed so much since then that self-publishing now requires less financial risk and far less annoyance than shopping a manuscript. I can go through Amazon to self-publish electronic and paperback editions without spending a dime. All I’m out is time — and less of it than I’d spend writing queries and copying manuscripts and standing in line at the post office to send them to people who may not bother reading them anyway. A big publishing house could probably sell more copies, but I don’t have the patience to read a thousand rejection slips before I find the right publisher. If some big-deal publisher reads it and likes it, we’ll talk.

I’ve spent most of the past 24 hours formatting the manuscript to Amazon’s specs, designing a cover, reskinning TumbleweedMotel.com, printing a proof, and uploading the trailer to YouTube.

I’ve also been busy drawing illustrations for the past couple of weeks:

 

freedsgarageweb

swinneysweb

graveweb

milagromirrorweb

tumbleweedweb

fridgeweb

shrineweb

jackrabbitweb

signsweb

casadejesusweb

Watch this space. I’ll keep you posted on the process and all the stuff I learn as I go.

 

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