The Under Ground Writing Project

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On the Futon Pages: WWO #4

Posted by Ali on April 17, 2013 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)

This is the spot where I spent a significant portion of the evening last night. I hunkered down with my laptop, a soft blanket, and my dog and spent some quality time reaching my goal for the week. I even passed it, just a little.

 

Last week's goal: Spend two hours working on the dragon story.

Actually accomplished: 2.5 hours on the dragon story.

 

It's a modest accomplishment, but I'm super pleased that I hit it. Sometimes it's all about the baby steps. More than the time goal, I'm pleased that I figured out what I want the main conflict to be. I've been fiddling with a string of options and writing, deleting, re-writing, deleting some more... as I've tried them on. Nothing really seemed right, until I tried on one more idea and it stuck. Now my heroine is off to the king's castle to have a frank chat with him about the problem of all these knights who keep trying to kill the dragon. We'll see if the idea is still sticky next week, or if I've changed my mind again and gone off in some other direction.

 

Goal for this week: Two hours working on the dragon story.

 

What about you?

Whatcha Workin' On? #3

Posted by Ali on April 10, 2013 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (2)

I've made progress on the dragon story, but it's not finished yet.  I'm working through plot structure and trying to figure out how I want to arrange the scaffolding.  Once I head in one direction, I decide that a different one would work better, or maybe that other one...  So, my progress has been circular rather than linear, but I'm getting there.

 

In other news, I ended up with a snow day on Tuesday, so I went on a bout of spring cleaning.  So, on the domestic front, I'm feeling pretty productive just now.  Lots of laundry done, even more laundry put away, things tidied, buttons re-sewn, three pairs of sunglasses re-discovered, a bathroom cleaned, and two bags full of old documents shredded.  Also, I did my taxes.  Not too shabby.

 

I'm taking a different approach this go around and setting my goal in terms of time, since this story is proving more labor intensive than I originally estimated.  This week, I'm going to spend at least two hours working on the dragon story.  If, by chance, it takes me less than two hours to wrap up the story, I'll move on to another project.

 

How about you?

Whatcha Workin' On? #2

Posted by Ali on April 3, 2013 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (2)

So, my first week of accountability crashed and burned. I haven't made any progress on the dragon story.

 

Before I commit Seppuku out of shame, though, I did get engaged last week and so my dance card wound up being full of sharing the news and the first stages of wedding planning. Maybe I'll justify my lack of word count by writing a wedding story. Thus, I was really doing research this week.

 

Now, for take two at accountability. Goal this week: Finish the dragon story.

 

How about you? How'd your goals turn out? What's on the docket for this week?

Introducing Whatcha Working On? Wednesdays

Posted by Ali on March 27, 2013 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (2)

Why Wednesdays? Because of the alliteration obviously.

 

I'm trying a new thing where, each Wednesday, I talk a little about what I'm working on and where I want to be on that by next Wednesday, and then I get nosy and ask you what you're working on. Why? Because accountability breeds productivity.

 

My evil plan is that, by making public goals I'm going to get more done. By asking you about yours, hopefully you will too. Play along and tell us your current project and what your next step is on that project. Also, anything goes. If you're working on a historical novel and your project of the week is going to the Renaissance Fair, that's cool. If you're brainstorming this week, reading, editing, doing something that'll get you inspired, working on writing exercises, or internet stalking your favorite writer... It's ALL GOOD.

 

I want to make a space to talk about ongoing process, what's working, what's not working, and hopefully we can all learn more about how other people do things (and steal their good ideas about getting words on the page).

 

Here are my current raw materials:

-I've written a first chapter of a novel (longhand), as well as some notes on plot points. Next comes transcribing/cleaning up the first chapter.

-I've written the first few paragraphs of a story about a dead guy and I'm thinking through some world building details in my head.

-I've written just over two pages about a girl, a dragon, and the fact that not all damsels need (or want) rescuing.

 

For this week, I'm going to focus on the dragon story. I imagine it as a relatively short one and it'd be nice to have it knocked out by the time next Wednesday rolls around. So, my official goal for the week: Finish the dragon story.

 

What about you?

Baking at Altitude

Posted by Ali on January 16, 2013 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (0)

When you live at high alititude, this is how baking works:

You find a recipe, you know the one, Death by Chocolate brownies, or Make Your Tastebuds Explode with Joy cheesecake, and you're in a baking mood, so off you go. You measure the ingredients with care, mix them with love, pour the mix into the baking dish, and pop that bad boy into the oven.

Some time later, the timer tells you that your lovely dessert is ready. Except, it isn't. The middle is still all jiggly. Your recipe probably says something about probing the confection with a toothpick or a knife to check for doneness. When you draw back your probe, it's covered in goo. That's not right.

Back in the oven it goes. You let it go for another ten minutes, surely that will do the trick. You check. No luck. Ten more minutes... and so the cycle repeats until, finally, the gooey middle has set and your knife comes back clean. As it turns out, all the waiting was worth it. Those brownies are To Die For!

 

Sometimes, that's writing. Or, rather, pre-writing. A while back, I got an idea. It started with a woman who has no face. Every day, she has to draw herself a face, or else she won't have one. I liked this idea, except it wasn't a story. What does the woman want? What's the conflict? I wanted something with life or death stakes, no subtle literary stuff here.

 

I know how my mind works, so I held on to this idea, but I tossed it to the back of my mind, a.k.a. the oven. Every now and again, I pulled it out and did a bit of what iffing, trying on different scenarios. Each time, the knife came out gooey. Back in the oven it went until, finally, the batter set and I realized the woman with no face was a hitman and the conflict was a job she didn't want to do, but failing to kill the assigned person meant she was in danger herself. Pretty standard issue stuff, but it fits.

 

Now the idea is baked. There's still some finishing touches to do - a bit of frosting here and there - but I feel like I can start writing the story now. The idea is ready to eat.

Guarding the Stories

Posted by Jenny Maloney on November 5, 2012 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (2)

 

from left: The Honorable Theresa Cisneros, Debra Gallegos,

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, and Juliana Aragon Fatula

A couple weeks ago, I attended a beautiful event put on by the Pikes Peak Library District called Latina Voices. There were poetry and prose readings by my friend Juliana Aragon Fatula and Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, theatrical and singing performances by Debra Gallegos, and a keynote speech delivered by the first Latina Judge in Colorado: the Honorable Theresa Cisneros.

 

There was one piece that particularly stuck out for me and it influenced the rest of the presentations considerably. At one point Andrea O'Reilly Herrera was discussing how she'd interviewed her family for her book - and why she'd done it in the first place.

 

She wrote her book because she believed every generation has to have at least one person who will guard the stories. If there is no one to interview, no one to record, no one to do the hard work of presenting the stories, then all those experiences just kind of fade away. If you don't protect and present your own stories, what happens to them? They die.

 

This presentation struck a chord with me because my grandmother passed away earlier this year. She was my last grandparent. Her husband had died before I could meet him, and my father's parents were distant long before they left.

 

Years ago, I gave my grandmother a book called The Story of a Lifetime. It's a neat book with a lot of questions about how a person grew up, what they loved, what they hated. Basically, it asks all the questions you would want a grandmother to answer - just so you can have a little piece of her.

 

After she died, I got the book back. The only section she answered was the part about her early life.

 

Here's my favorite bit:

Q: What were the attitudes among teenagers about sex, smoking, drugs, and alcohol?

A: We tried everything there was to try. Thank God there were no drugs in our day. I guess we would have tried them too. We had very little money so there were only special occasions when we had alcohol. Cigarettes were cheap and sex cost nothing.

 

While this early-life section is amazing and Grandma was incredibly frank (as you can see) I couldn't help but feel sad at the sections that are gone. Sure, there are her old friends who are still around who can tell you how she met her husband and how she felt about her children. Yes, her children are around to tell about how she parented. Her grandchildren are around to tell you about useful Christmas gifts: socks, flashlights, and purse hangers.

 

But I don't know about how she met her husband. I don't know how she felt when her mother died. I don't get to know what she would've thought about my stories. There is this huge, yawning gap.

 

Still. I will always have "Sex is free."

 

I think the best way to guard stories is to tell them.

 

As I was listening to the Latina Voices presenters, I kept thinking that here are the stories. All four of these women were presenting their lives through different mediums. Juliana through poetry - which tells a story in and of itself. Andrea through her family histories. Debra through monologue and song. And Theresa Cisneros, a judge who claims no kinship with creativity, told the true-life story of her alcoholic, abusive father - who raised five kids on his own and no one got left behind.

 

Through their stories I got to know them and so many other people: Juliana's son, Andrea's great-aunt and uncles and a lot of Cuba, Debra introduced me to friends and coworkers, and Theresa gave me her father and siblings.

 

So, if you're a storyteller - get to telling, friend.

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

Posted by Jenny Maloney on June 8, 2012 at 11:20 PM Comments comments (0)

As I'm sure a great many of you know, literature lost one of it's most prolific and talented writers recently. I think everyone and their brother has read Fahrenheit 451 (and if you haven't, you really should!).

Here is the man himself discussing the fine art of writing for yourself. Keep on, keepin' on, writer friends. And, Mr. Bradbury, you will be missed.

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Brandon Sanderson on the Benefits of Writers Groups

Posted by Jenny Maloney on April 18, 2012 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)

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An Evening With David Sadaris at The Pikes Peak Center by Debbie

Posted by Jenny Maloney on May 14, 2011 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (2)

David Sedaris is a best-selling author and radio contributor, a keen observer of human interactions, and a very funny man. At the Pikes Peak Center recently, a very appreciative audience was treated to a live reading from several of his works, followed by a Q&A session and a book signing.

 

Reading or listening to his work, I am constantly amazed that the people who inhabit his world are so different from anyone I know and yet so very familiar. That is the beauty of a David Sedaris story/essay. You’ve seen these people. Maybe even know a few of them. But you’ve never looked at them in quite the same way that he has.

 

There’s Mrs. Munson, the woman who steps into the Starbucks line right in front of you when you’re in a hurry. She leans back and reads the menu board. “A latte’,” she says to her husband, “Is that one of those things Sheila gets?” You cringe, and maybe whisper the same expletive as Sedaris. Or you may sympathize with Mrs. Munson, the vacationer who is trying something a little different. Sedaris manages to do both.

 

As I wiped my eyes, wet from both laughter and pathos, I wondered how I would put together an article about the show. About Sedaris, the writer. “He’s just funny, and brilliant, and funny,” I thought. How does that help another writer?

 

Then I realized his show is a lesson in writing. Here are a few of the highlights.

 

Inspiration

 

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is Sedaris’ latest best-selling book. It is a collection of fables with titles like “The Mouse and the Snake,” “The Parenting Storks” and “The Vigilant Rabbit.” He introduced “The Cat and the Baboon” by telling how he came up with the idea of a book of fables.

 

He was reading a book of South African myths and fables about anthropomorphic animals. “I can do better than this,” he said, “These are terrible.” So he wrote 25 stories over two years. Only 16 made it into the book. Which, I guess, is also a lesson in editing.

 

Sedaris’ subjects are usually much more human. He often writes about strangers and the odd acquaintance, but more frequently the Sedaris family and David’s friends are front and center in his stories.

 

During the Q&A, an inebriated woman asked, “How’s the rooster?” but her words were so slurred that he mistook it for “How’s your brother?” Sedaris explained that he is uncomfortable talking about his family in public, because he doesn’t have their permission. He gives his family copies of his work before it’s sent to the publisher. If they want something cut, he does. It seems they don’t cut much, but it’s nice they have the chance.

Word Choice/Perspective

 

Sedaris talked about walking out of a store and seeing a frail, white-haired lady struggling to get into her car. It was parked in one of the handicapped spaces, and he felt sorry for her. Then he noticed the bumper sticker. “Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman”

 

He continued, “As the brittle old hag pulled away . . .”

Revision

 

Sadaris told the audience that after every reading he revises the stories, based on audience reaction. Even with the huge base of critics he has, it must be much like any critique group. Not everyone is going to react the same way. He still has to be the final say in what stays and what goes. But he tackles it. Sometimes every single night.

 

Maybe that’s why the stories are so good when they make it into books.

Listen To Your Audience

 

No one in my group remembered to bring a book for David to sign—By the end of the evening, we were on a first name basis—and a couple wanted to get home early. So we didn’t go through the line to meet the author.

 

But I’ve seen interviews with him about his signings. People tell him jokes. All kinds of jokes. And he listens politely, and laughs or groans.

 

Then he uses the best ones, and sometimes the worst ones, in his show.

 

If you haven’t read anything by David Sedaris, start by going here: David on YouTube 

 

You can also find links to stories he’s read on This American Life (TAL) at their website: This American Life

 

I first heard him on TAL so it’s his voice I hear whenever I read a Sedaris book. It makes the stories even funnier somehow. Listen and see.

 

Feel free to visit Debbie's Member Page or her blog: They're Making Me Blog.

Thoughts on Readings and a Poem by John

Posted by undergroundwritingproject on April 28, 2011 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (3)

A couple weeks ago, John and I had the great pleasure of attending an open mic hosted by the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series at Black Cat Books in Manitou Springs. I heard about the event through my writing buddy Iver Arnegard, who was the featured reader for April.

 

The layout goes something like this: first half hour or so dedicated to anyone who has something to read, then a break to mingle and make friends, and then the last half hour or so dedicated to a featured reader. Check out the series website here to keep posted on upcoming events and whatnot.

 

First off, let me say that Iver did a smashing job—which isn’t surprising because that’s just what he does. Plus I was pleasantly surprised because the whole group that read did great. And that can really be hit-or-miss during open mic time. (We’ve all been there, right?)

 

As I was sitting back being impressed by everyone I tried to think of things that make for a good reading. A lot of writers, seeing as how we’re always head-down with our noses in our keyboards, are uncomfortable giving readings.

 

And, dare I say it?, a lot of readings can be boring. That’s because we writers don’t always understand that readings are not about the writing, they are about the performance of the writing.

 

The next time that you have to give a reading, dear writers, here are a few simple, simple, simple things to keep in mind. You don’t have to be an American Idol, but you do need to:

 

1. Smile. Even if you’re reading something depressing, there will be a moment or two to smile at the audience.

2. Professional appearance. Now, I’m not saying that you have to wear a suit and tie, but you should be what I like to call First Date Presentable. Would you meet your first date with a stain on your shirt or your hair/teeth unbrushed? Probably not. Remember that you’re trying to seduce readers…and you can’t be seductive without deodorant. ’Kay? ’Kay.

 

3. Know your material. You don’t have to memorize it (but if you can, that helps). You don’t want to be stumbling over words that you’ve worked on for years. It makes it look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Plus you want to get your nose-out-of-notes remember? Look at the people who are looking at you.

 

4. Speak clearly. If you’re mumbling or not enunciating, the audience doesn’t know what you’re talking about. You could be telling a wonderful story or a beautiful-language laced poem but the audience will fall asleep if they don’t understand a word coming out of your mouth. Warm up with tongue twisters. Practice.

 

5. End strong. After many readings there’re opportunities for Q&A. Which is great. Audience participation and all. However, never end on an answer to a question. Know the last thing that you will say. If it’s one more poem, great. If it’s a quote, awesome. But don’t leave the last thing the audience hears out of your mouth to chance. It’s the impression that resonates the most.

 

There’s my thought process on the subject. John has a much more creative response—and we’ll end on that because resonance is what we end on, right?

 

Thoughts on a Poetry Reading

By John Ridge

What goes in a Poem?
Should it rhyme? Have a cadence?
Who counts syllables?
(That was a Haiku)


Where does the line reside between Prose and Poetry?
Is it blurry? Is it distinct?
I’ve heard people read Essays.
I’ve heard people read Poems.
I’ve heard people read Short Stories.
I’ve heard people read bits of their Novel.
To be honest,
I could only hear the Poems for their rhyming phrases.


Let me ask you this:

How do you read out a line that’s on this side of the page?

Do you lean over this direction?


What about here?

Do you lean forward on the podium?

Or should everyone be leaning on this side?


Hear me, Calliope. Hear me, Erato. Hear me, Polyhymnia. I beseech you, O Muses of the Ancient World, what is the way to a Poem? How can a mere mortal conquer the sound of thought? How can the sweet caress of your inspiration be called upon during the marriage of ink to paper? What are we to do?


I’m willing to bet the answer is something similar to:

Whatever you want.


Talk about whatever you want.

As long as it’s important to you.


Words, when especially spoken, need time to sink into the human brain.

So don’t throw Spaghetti against the wall.


Unless you really like throwing Spaghetti.

Then have at it.


Don’t talk too fast.

Don’t talk too slow.


Be abstruse, adroit, ardent, audacious.

Be eccentric, eclectic, efflorescent, eloquent.

Be impertinent, impetuous, incisive, ingenious.

Be obstinate, ornery, ostentatious, outright.

But, most importantly, be you.