Archive for July, 2011

More from Tourist Trap, again following right after last week’s. Six sentences is very short this week–several 1 word sentences.

No moon to help her see, and no faint lingering of daylight, either. “Roi?” she called out anxiously. “Timi? Flame? Penny?” Only the soft rush of the river water answered her.

Other six sentence Sunday posts:

These books are from a list handed out the last day of the Summer Arts Festival. Rather than put in the publisher, I have linked whenever I could to the book’s Goodreads page.

Addonzio, Kim and Dorianne Laux: The Poet’s Commpanion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry.

Addonizio, Kim: Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within.

Behn, Robin and Chase Twitchell, eds: The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach.

Bernays, Anne and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, 3rd Edition. 

Blythe, Will, Ed. Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction.

Gerard, Philip, Ed. Writing Creative Nonfiction. (Not positive the link is right.)

Gerard, Philip, ed. Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life.

Hugo, Richard. The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.

Kooser, Ted: The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets.

Kowit, Steve. In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Miller, Brenda and Suzanne Paola. Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction.

Moore, Dinty W. Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-fiction.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet., Stephen Mitchell translation.

Root, Robert L, and Michael J. Steinberg. The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction, 5th Edition

Slager, Daniel, ed. Views From the Loft: A Portable Writer’s Workshop.

Teachers and Writers collaborative books.

“Art of” Series by Graywolf Press. (Click on “creative writing” link.)

Wooldridge, Susan. Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words.

This was the last day of classes, though we still have two afternoons and evenings of concerts. (I’m going to three tomorrow: opera and musical theater, dance, and orchestra.)

Frank suggested two books: The situation and the Story, by Gornick, and Reality Hunger: a Personal Manifesto by David Shields. He told us to keep up with our blue books. Either he or Peggy handed out a long list of suggested books on the writing craft. (I’ll copy it for Saturday’s blog.)

Jonny talked to us about stage fright. He said that anxiety is normal; we would have something wrong with us if we weren’t anxious about speaking to a crowd. However, he had a number of suggestions for not letting that anxiety interfere with performance. We had our own “recital” this afternoon, with everyone reading aloud, mostly from things we had written, and he tried to prepare us for it. He pointed out that problems could arise from poor perception of such things as volume or imagining problems, and pointed out that reading things we had written would be more stressful that reading others’ work.His positive suggestions included re-channeling energy to the performance, positive visualization, don’t be afraid to pause and take a deep breath if you choke up, and above all practice! Read aloud to another. Finally, if you choke up before a performance, tense and then relax all of your muscles.

Peggy wound things up and had us ask questions of all faculty and fill out class comments.

I hope to put some pictures up later, but I’m still having camera problems.

Jeanne had us read a poem: “From Here to There,” by Naomi Shehat Nye. She had us write about readiness, using the wild word “furnace.” Furnace took over mine.

Jonny talked to us about preparing our voices to read using 3 levels: Breath, sound, and warming up with tongue twisters. Articulation is important.

Frank brought us back to Annette and Stevie again, using them as a lead into POV. He talked about our blue books and the art of the essay, stressing that real essays are written by a particular writer, and read by a particular reader. He then reread the last paragraph of “My Mother in Two Photographs, among Other Things,” by Aleida Rodriguez, and posed the question: How do we know an essay is over? He recommended The Sense of an Ending, by Frank Kermode.

Possible techniques:

Lift language to a higher level

Add event

Satisfaction? Must it be? Inevitability? Promises carried through, or thwarted in an interesting way.

Characters should be advanced.

Margo then took over, before lunch, and had us lay out our sheets in the order they had determined for the book, reserving the page we wanted for our own book. After lunch she showed us how to stack the two-page folders in proper order, with the frontpiece and backpiece in their proper order. We then repeated this in the forms, two pieces of wood clamped at right angles, and fastened adjacent pages together with two-sided tape. Finally she showed us how to crease and apply the cover, and add the title. We wound up the day with a book apiece to take home, with embellished pages written and painted by every person in the class.

Tomorrow afternoon the class member will read in Schaible Hall, starting at 1:30 pm. This will be a public event, open to anyone.

I took pictures, but my camera is refusing to download them.

Jeanne gave us two poems, “Notes to Self on Comfort” by Elizabeth Bradford, which consistently used the word “balm,” and one of her own, “Next to Me,” which consistently used the phrase “Next to me.” She asked us to write a list poem using a repeated phrase, with the wild word “list.”

Even Jonny was stencilling his pages.

Jonny kept us indoors again (it was pouring rain on my way to class) and talked about the tools used in readings. If showing and telling are important distinctions in the written word, open and closed focus have to be kept in mind with oral presentation. Open: eye contact, speaking to audience.  Closed: a variety of uses. Some of which were speaking to an absent other, prayer, introspective, interior thought, ar a question to which you do not expect an answer. Some description may also be read closed, for instance by looking at an imaginary scene.

Peggy talked about revision. I’ll put the list she gave us below, but first she had us discuss some of the things that invite us into a book and things that put us off. My list? I look for a book that makes me forget I’m reading it, and characters I can care about. (I may care about a villain by wishing he were dead (or worse) but I shouldn’t be indifferent about him. What I don’t like? A book that bores me  or that is unclear Two essays were mentioned: I Could Tell Your Stories by Patricia Hamph and The Art of the personal Essay by Philip Lapate.  She told us to revise first for what was not there; then for what should be removed.

The book will be called "Feathers," and here's a feather for the cover.

In the afternoon we finished the stenciling to embellish our pages—32 copies each good copies, picking our 4 worst of 36 as discards.

Peggy’s revision list:

Peggy Shumaker


1.  Find three places to make the writing more precise.

2.  Introduce a turn, a plot twist, a new direction.

3.  Up the emotional ante.  What feelings did you overlook?  What feelings would be unexpected at this moment?

4.  Change tone for a moment.  (somber/humor, noisy/quiet, grubby elegant)

5.  Turn some declarations into images.

6.  What’s not there yet?  Identify three places you might expand.

7.  Add some element of surprise.


Peggy (center) on the first step of the production line.

8.   Trim deadwood.

9.  Remove the working title and see what else is possible.

10.  Add three repetitions.

11.  Introduce a formal complexity.

12.  What have you avoided?

13.  Look at each character.  What does the character bring to the piece?  How else can that character act?  What else can that character reveal?

14.  How have you handled time?

15.  Look at your transitions.  Which ones work invisibly?  Which ones call attention to themselves?

16.  Do you have elements of public, private, and inner lives in this piece?

17.  Are the factual details accurate?

18.  Consider your setting as vital as a major character.  How else can details of place inform the emotions of your piece?

19.  Where does your dialogue give the illusion of actual speech?  Where does it come off as wooden, posed, windy?

20.  Mess with the plot.  When should it be linear?  When should it jump?

21.  Be aware of what a change in diction makes possible.  Is your word choice very plain–on purpose?  Is it ornate?  To what effect?  Where can you use jargon or slang or coinages?  Where can you use words from another language?  Where can you use words from a specialized area of knowledge?

22.  Look at the balance of image, scene, and action.  Keep to a minimum exposition and summary.

23.  Ask yourself, what does the reader need to make this journey with me?

24.  Have you bossed the reader around?  Talked down to her?

25.  Question the point of view.  Whose story is this?

26.  Why is the point of view character telling this story now?

27.  Listen to the voice.  Is this the right voice to tell this story?

28.  Is the voice credible?  If not, how can its unreliability benefit the story?

29.  How would a shift in point of view change this piece?

30.  Is this piece built mainly on scenes?  Images?  What’s driving this piece?

31.  What connections (discoveries, epiphanies) does this piece make?  Which ones should it leave for the reader to make?

32.  What should be resolved?  What should remain unresolved?

33.  What didn’t occur to you in the first three (six, dozen, 127) drafts?

34.  What secrets are your characters keeping?

35.  Are there parallel stories (ideas, scenes, images) that will enrich this one?  How can you braid them together?

36.  Fragments?  Why not?  For effect.

37.  Rhetorical questions?

37.  Be ruthless on behalf of the poem, story, or essay.  Your favorite part may have to go.

38.  If you ask a trusted reader for advice, think hard about what parts of that advice to take.  Maybe you can apply great advice to the next piece you write.

39.  If you change the order of some sentences (lines, paragraphs, chapters), what happens?

40.  Listen to your piece.  Read it aloud.  Notice where you hesitate.  Look at those passages again.  Read it again.  Listen again.

41.  When you’re almost done, what’s left for the reader to feel?  What’s left for the reader to think about?

42.  Look at the promises this piece makes.  Has it fulfilled them?  Has it thwarted the reader’s expectations in interesting ways?

43.  If anything you can think to do with this piece would only change it, not make it better, maybe you’re done.

**Proofreading is another process entirely.  Do it often.  Ask for help.  Your eye will correct errors, especially in the final stages.

I watched the new Disney live-ation Alice in Wonderland recently, then went back and watched the original cartoon version, and finally rechecked the books. Plural. Disney used bits and pieces from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (cards) and Through The Looking Glass (chess) with a fine disregard for which world was which, so unless you’ve actually read both books, you may have trouble sorting out which quotes came from which book. I might add that the blurb for the combined book also mixes up the two worlds.

“I’m older than you, and must know better.” Carroll. Context? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Lory is insisting on primacy in figuring out how to get dry before the Dodo comes up with the idea of the caucus-race. What’s a lory? Webster’s unabridged says it’s “any of a subordinate genus of birds of the parrot family, usually of a red color, inhabiting southeastern Asia, Oceana, and the Malay Archipelago.” So at least it’s from the same part of the world as the Dodo.

“What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations? Carroll. Context? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice cannot see why her sister is reading such a boring book.

“Nobody can do two things at once, you know.” Carroll. Context? Through the Looking-Glass. The White Queen is advising Alice to think of something else rather than cry.  Obviously she hasn’t heard of multitasking, but then recent studies have shown that it isn’t as effective as people like to think.

“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” Carroll. Context? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is the question the Mad Hatter asks Alice. According to Carroll, the answer is “Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat, and it is nevar (sic) put with the wrong end in front.” (I think it’s a pretty lame riddle, too.)

“They know I can’t get at them, or they wouldn’t dare to do it!” Carroll. Context? Through The Looking-Glass. The Tiger-lily in the garden of live flowers, annoyed at the impudence of the daisies.

“It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” Carroll. Context? Through the Looking-Glass. The Red Queen to Alice, just after a frantic race to stay in the same place.

“All working societies have to balance the tension between individuals and society.” Bowling. Context? This is from my new book, Tourist Trap. It is part of Roi’s discussion with Penny of some problems with her society as they are pulling the sleds with the hang gliders back to the storage shed.

Jeanne Clark started the morning by having us read two poems: “What Work Is” by Philip Levine and “The Shipfitter’sWife” by Dorianne Laux. She then asked us to write something on the theme of work, using the wild word “balm.”

Jonny talked on text and subtext, and gave us a very simple script (speeches were mostly one or two words) of two people talking past each other, when read from the page. He challenged us to read in pairs, using intonation and gesture to provide meaning. It was threatening rain today, so we didn’t go outdoors.

Peggy pointed out that characters can misunderstand each other. She assigned us to write something about parents and children, and as examples gave us “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins and “Wrought,” a poster by Alison Bechdel. Our pieces could start from: strident arguments, revisiting a perception from your childhood, make an allusion, mix media, consider a long ago event and allow it to offer insight, set the scene of a discovery, the context of an inspiration, possibly a single word, like lanyard, an iconic photo, a year in your life, images. We had a choice between memory and reality. (I hope I read my handwritten notes correctly!)

Afternoon we had our second day of painting, plus our first day of individual conferences with our faculty. A few people have actually finished their sheets, but I’m not in that group.

Frank Soos gave us a problem in voice and character development. We were given two scenarios:1. Annette (mom) and Stevie (son, 13 yrs old): build the dialogue and interaction between these two, beginning with Annette’s opening line: “Stevie, want to tell me about this baggie I found in your room?”

We wound up with several scenarios, with one or the other coming out somewhat on top. (Mine is in the comments as far as I got.)
Second saw a mom with a 4-year-old daughter, whose first line(at a laundromat or grocery store) was “Mommy, can I have some candy?” We didn’t have time to work this one out, but several people had seen similar scenarios. I pointed out that the situation could be heightened by letting the daughter be diabetic.

Jonny Gray did not take us outdoors (it was threatening rain) but discussed readings. Some of the things we discussed were scene of telling vs scene of event, the line from certainties through probabilities to possibilities and finally to distortions. Another continuum runs from evocative reading aloud, through interpretation to full embided presentation to critical performance. His advice on baseline technique was to frame the peace with an introduction (prompting) and closure.

Jeanne Clark had us read a poem: “The Artist Speaks of Gray,” by Anne Coray. She defined a caesura or pause, which in this poem was indicated not only by puctuation and line breaks, but also by variation in the amount of space between words. We were then invited to choose a color and write about it, incorporating a list and using the wild word, “bucket.” I had to leave early as I was reading at Lunch Bites, but for some reason my poem and the two others read all chose brown!

Margo had studio in the afternoon, and we got down to work on the Porchoir. Margo had all of our poems copied, and we each got 36 copes of two facing pages to embellish. This is going to take time—I got my first color applied to all 36 pages, but I still have 4 colors and a number of stencils to go. We only have 2 more days for painting.

Sorry no pictures today; I should have taken some of the class painting.

Available-light photo, 11 pm 7/24. Yellow cast to windows is due to my rusty water.

Sunrise 4:26 am, sunset 11:26 pm for just under 19 hours with the sun above the horizon. We’re losing almost 7 minutes a day now. The sun is now dipping almost 5 ½ degrees below the horizon at solar midnight, and in  about 4 more days nautical twilight will be back and civil twilight will no longer be as dark as it ever gets.

Not much rain last week, and a fair amount of sunshine. Great for our outdoor exercises at festival, but the garden is starting to look a little parched. Next week’s forecast? More clouds, possible afternoon showers, daytime temperatures high 60’s to low 70’s.

The garden has been neglected the past week because of Festival, and the zucchini and broccoli are threatening to get ahead of me. The beans and peas, which normally peak around Festival, are slow this year. Lots of green tomatoes but nothing ripe yet, and I’d better plan on beet greens – and a few small beets – for supper in the next few days.

This is a direct follow-on from last week, but the point of view character is now Amber.

Cold. So cold. One of the others must have rolled up in all the covers, or she’d rolled away from them, somehow. Amber reached out, seeking the warmth of other bodies, and found only sand and rounded pebbles. Driven by an urgency she did not understand, she managed to roll onto her side and open her eyes to the night.

Starlight blazed overhead, waking faint echoes in the river washing over her feet and legs.

Tourist Trap is now listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, by the way, and I have my first author copy.

Other Six Sentence Sunday authors