Thursday, January 31, 2013

Words and music

   Being able to combine music with poetry is a marvelous gift. I'm talking about the art of songwriting. Last weekend I attended  Peter Mayer's show. I'd never listened to his songs before.
    What I enjoyed the most about his show were the lyrics of his songs.
     Mayer's introspective songs are rich in metaphors, beautiful messages, irony, humor, questions...
      Feel free to browse his website and read the lyrics.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Description of places in creative writing

    As readers we love to be immersed in the places where the stories unfold. This does not necessarily mean that lengthy descriptions are needed. Sometimes two or three lines can be  powerful enough to achieve our purpose.
  As writers we can encourage readers to experience a place through all the senses:
-Perception of movement
  In addition to being an exciting invitation that awakens the reader's senses, a vivid setting can be deeply enmeshed in the characters and the tension.
 Let's examine some paragraphs from stories by well-known writers:

  "It was a bright day, a hot day, the day old Mr Prescott died. Mama and I sat on the side of the seat of the rickety green bus from the subway station to Devonshire Terrace and jogged and jogged. The sweat was trickling down my back, I could feel it, and my black linen was stuck solid against the seat. Every time I moved it would come loose with a tearing sound, and I gave Mama an angry 'so there' look, just like it was her fault, which it wasn't." 
 This is the first paragraph of "The Day Mr Prescott Died" by Sylvia Plath. I almost had to wipe my back after reading it. Can you feel the heat on your skin? I can almost smell the fumes of the bus and hear the engine, and we are just starting to get inside the character's mind.

"The mornings were beautiful. The snow flanked the paths in long, unbroken curves. We could put our heads into it and sift it about like sand and then shake every grain off our fingers. Up in the pine forests the trees were like sugar trees. After a while all this whiteness hurt the eyes and it became scarcely possible to see anything. Between the grizzled pines flashed the splinters of the low sun and above was the pure enamel blue of the sky."  This is a paragraph from the story "In a Winter Landscape" by Olivia Manning. This scene is very intense. It is a cool scene. The writer invites you to touch the snow, not just to look at it, and we imagine the sun rays sneaking between the trees. Let's continue reading the next paragraph of this story:
 "Near the hotel was a little lake with a tea-house built out into the water for summer visitors. The tea-house was a shabby red, but now, outlined and glittering with frost, it had a Japanese look. The snow had been swept from the ice and a loudspeaker broadcast dance music; a few skaters pressed forward and turned and  lifted feet to the rhythm of the music. People stood and watched them." The writer makes it very vivid by contrasting the red color of the tea-house with the snow. There is music; people are skating to its rhythm.  Three senses are involved now ( sight, hearing and touch).

  "Whenever we children came to stay at my grandmother's house, we were put to sleep in the sewing room, a bleak, shabby, utilitarian rectangle, more office than bedroom, more attic than office, that played to the hierarchy of chambers the role of a poor relation. It was a room seldom entered by the other members of the family, seldom swept by the maid, a room without pride; the old sewing machine, some cast-off chairs, a shadeless lamp, rolls of wrapping paper, piles of cardboard boxes that might someday come in handy, papers of pins, and remnants of material united with the iron folding cots put out for our use and the bare floor boards to give an impression of ruthless temporality. Thin white spreads, of the kind used in hospitals and charity institutions, and naked blinds at the windows reminded us of our orphaned condition and of the ephemeral character of our visit; there was nothing here to encourage us to consider this our home." 
   The writer threads the character into the place here. The analogy between  the gloomy room and the character's condition of being an orphan ignites intrigue and paints a vivid scenery. This story is "Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?" by Mary McCarthy.
  Words have the power to create the proper atmosphere, inviting  the readers' minds to swim through our stories effortlessly.
  Isn't this fascinating?    


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Alternatives to Duotrope

   As you know, Duotrope is no longer a free service. It started charging writers this month. For this reason, I decided to put together a number of free websites and resources that will help writers find the right market for their work. It is important to make clear that I don't belong to any of these organizations and I don't get paid to provide this list.

Patsy Collins's blog is an excellent resource. She posts announcements of free literary contests on a regular basis.

A website with free poetry contests

Poets and Writers
I sometimes used this one as a supplement to duotrope. If you go to Barnes&Noble, you can also check their print magazine. It has useful advice for writers.
You need to register to have full access to its services. I don't like the way the website is laid out, so I didn't explore it thoroughly. However, I know it has a system that allows you to track your submissions. You can also network with other writers and take part in forums.

First Writer
 Easy to navigate, First Writer is an excellent resource for writers
 After creating an account the site allows you to keep track of your submissions and to access the stats of the different magazines.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


      Have you met the characters of “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”? They are misfits who feel forced to hide their true identities. They are both afraid of revealing too much about themselves. We learn all about their intimate thoughts from the journals they write. Hence, the story, written in first person, is very compelling.
   Renée is a fifty-four year old widow, a concierge who lives with her cat. Like her cat, she avoids all social gatherings. She describes herself as ugly, short and plump; polite, but not friendly. She never went to college, but she probably read more books than any college graduate. She is an autodidact who devours art, philosophy, music and movies. Above all, she loves literature. How refreshing it is to read her words when she introduces herself and slaps the readers with this comment:
 “Let me explain it: if, thus far, you have imagined that the ugliness of ageing and conciergely widowhood have made a pitiful wretch of me, resigned to the lowliness of her fate—then you are truly lacking in imagination. I have withdrawn, to be sure, and refuse to fight. But within the safety of my own mind, there is no challenge I cannot accept. I may be indigent in name, position, and appearance, but in my own mind I am an unrivalled goddess.”
   There is a gifted twelve year old girl, Paloma, who believes that life is absurd and harbors secret plans to commit suicide in the future. Before that happens, however, she intends to write the most profound thoughts. Beware of the fact that some of her ramblings will annoy some readers: "In my opinion, the cat is a modern totem. Say what you want, do what you will with all those fine speeches on evolution, civilization and a ton of other '-tion' words, mankind has not progressed very far from its origins: people still believe they're not here by chance, and that there are gods, kindly for the most part, who are watching over their fate."
  These two delightful characters live in the same building in Paris. They are clearly introverted people. Renée (Madame Michel) will meet a Japanese gentleman, a new tenant, who happens to have two cats, Kitty and Levin, named after the characters of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina. Renée, on the other hand, named her cat Leo because she loves reading Leo Tolstoy. Kakuro makes this discovery.
     This is a book that finds beauty in sadness, pleasure in solitude; you will find yourself chuckling at simple scenes that happen in everyday life. It is not the kind of book for readers who seek action. It is, however, the story for those who revel in character development and a gentle load of reflections and irony. It encourages the readers to seek below the surface, to discover what shines beyond appearances for those who care to look further, to avoid following the collective mindset and the common prejudices. It suggests that most people are blind to the secret gifts of others.
    This is not to say that the main characters are perfect. Some reviewers out there complained that both Renée and Paloma are arrogant. I disagree. Even if they did have an arrogant side, it would not taint the novel or the theme. (Why are these reviewers expecting perfect characters?) In my opinion, their main weakness is that, in some cases, Renée and Paloma also fall prey to the claws of social prejudice. Why do I say this? Because they sometimes label people and forget to see what is beyond their appearances. I could give you examples of this, but I won’t. Read it and reach your own conclusions.
    “What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in so doing, places a seal of eternity upon them, a seal representing all those works that, by means of a particular form, have incarnated the universal nature of human emotions.”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Coping with bad news

  I've just read a quote from Jilda's blog that motivated me to write this post.  "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all".
  Are modern societies educating to love others or to compete with others?

  Reading the news over the last few weeks has taken a toll on my mood. Sometimes they disrupt my sleep. Staying blissfully ignorant is not a solution either,so how do you cope with the terrible news that reach us?
    I have the opinion that we can all do something to make this world a better place. Somebody said recently that kindness has less publicity than mean acts. That is true but it is not enough to satisfy me. As we strive to be happy we don't need to accept that the universe is unfolding the way it should. This being said, I have to admit that I will try to curb the information that reaches my head to stay mentally sane.
    There are many things that are out of our control and yet there is always something that we can do to have a positive impact on this world. But how do we control our feelings and emotions? If I were to feel differently about what happens, I would be somebody else. And I want to be who I am.
   If there is anything that pain has taught me it is to seek inner peace amid chaos.

 "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." Edward Everett Hale.

  I hope you can all find inner peace  through simple acts of kindness.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Uplifting rejections

  A few days ago I received an uplifting rejection. The editor of a literary journal took the time to say that even though my story was not a good fit for their upcoming edition, she enjoyed reading it.  She said she was sure I would have no trouble finding a home for it and explained  that her selection had nothing to do with the quality of my writing. She ended the e-mail by encouraging me to submit again in the near future. 
   I thanked her for this personal e-mail.
   In 2013 I would like to stop submitting to literary magazines that treat writers like numbers. I don’t expect editors to praise my work, but perfunctory rejections tell me something negative about those journals, so, being a humanist at heart, I will strive to avoid them altogether. (I also get rejections from these magazines but I don’t think these will matter to you). It is also nice when an editor takes the time to give you some feedback, however brief it might be.
  Two months ago I had an interesting response after submitting another short story of mine to a magazine that is classified as “consumer magazine’ by the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. The editor wrote: “Your story is good but it is not what we are looking for.” Two days later another editor wrote to me to say that he had shortlisted this same story for an anthology. We'll see what happens with that one. 
  Acceptances and rejections are part of every writer’s life. We need to accept them and move on. In the meantime, let’s keep writing, rewriting, editing and submitting. I have new writing goals for 2013 and I feel excited about them. (I know I will have to work hard to attain them but I welcome the challenge).

If you have a hard time with rejections, read this post. I hope it will give you a different outlook on them.

 Ursula Le Guin’s quote resonates with my views on the writing journey:
“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”