Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Pseudo-Hiatus

Hi folks.

This picture will never die
because it says so many things.
You may have noticed my absence last week. I almost wrote a post about the week that swallowed my soul (because, really, it did) and then spit me back out, but I didn't think you wanted to read all about my worries and woes. So I kept it to myself.

Unfortunately, I'm still in recovery. While I love blogging, and miss you all terribly, some things have to give. So I'm taking a pseudo-hiatus for a little while.

What does that mean? Well, it means I will be blogging irregularly—probably once a week—through the end of October. I have a few blog posts promised for various reasons, and those will happen. But I'm not sure I can handle more than that.

To Campaigners in my groups, I owe you an apology. I didn't realize how hectic things were right now, and I probably shouldn't have signed up. I will still come visit you (if I haven't already), but I can't be the active Campaigner that I had hoped to be.

So, the bottom line is that I'll be around, just not as much as I'd like. Here's hoping things settle down a little more by November, so I can NaNoWriMo again!


Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Power Ballads

Review of Power Ballads by Will Boast

From Goodreads:
Real musicians don’t sign autographs, date models, or fly in private jets. They spend their lives in practice rooms and basement clubs or toiling in the obscurity of coffee-shop gigs, casino jobs, and the European festival circuit. The ten linked stories in Power Ballads are devoted to this unheard virtuoso: the working musician. From the wings of sold-out arenas to hip-hop studios to polka bars, these stories are born out of a nocturnal world where music is often simply work, but also where it can, in rare moments, become a source of grace and transcendence, speaking about the things we never seem to say to each other. A skilled but snobby jazz drummer joins a costumed heavy metal band to pay his rent. A country singer tries to turn her brutal past into a successful career. A vengeful rock critic reenters the life of an emerging singer-songwriter, bent on wreaking havoc. The characters in Power Ballads—aging head-bangers, jobbers, techno DJs, groupies, and the occasional rock star (and those who have to live with them)—need music to survive, yet find themselves lost when the last note is played, the lights go up, and it’s time to return to regular life. By turns melancholy and hilarious, Power Ballads is not only a deeply felt look at the lives of musicians but also an exploration of the secret music that plays inside us all.

Boast's ability to wield these narratives is awe-inspiring. Beginning with a preteen tuba player who wants to polka, through rock stars and their loved ones, through choir masters and rapping teens, each story echos with musical truth. These stories take the music industry and make it universal, accessible.

Several of the stories have common characters, revolving around Tim, the drummer trying to make it in the Chicago music sphere, and his girlfriend Kate. They way these short stories are independent and yet interwoven provides almost a novel-like quality. This includes 6 of the 10 stories. A 7th is tangentially related, similar to the stories interwoven in Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Admittedly, I had read the final story "Coda" in Narrative Magazine several months ago. While I enjoyed it then, I found it much richer and a more fulfilling read this time, prefaced by several other stories about the same characters, giving more depth to the emotions therein. The emotions that build over the course of the stories is also quite powerful. After "The Bridge", I had to stop reading. Fiction almost never makes me cry, but this story was one exception.

The other stories show other aspects of the music industry. Perhaps my favorite of these, "Sidemen", examines the life of a touring rock musician's wife and the difficulties with that lifestyle. The sorrow Boast captures in this story resonate with me, someone who has no connection with the music industry. Yet the feelings of loneliness are common and approachable.

I love all of the stories in this collection. Congratulations to Will Boast for winning the Iowa Short Fiction Award. From this selection of his work, it is clear he deserved it.

Recommendation: Read this now!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Watching Willow Watts Launch Party and Review

Congratulations to Talli Roland. Today's the launch day of her new novel, Watching Willow Watts.

In celebration, she's hosting an "If I could be anyone, I'd be..." party.

So, here goes.

Photo Credit: Leah Tannen
If I could be anyone, I would be Audrey Hepburn. Not only was she beautiful and talented, she cared deeply for the people and the world around her. She was a beautiful person, both inside and out. When I was younger, I wanted to be just like her. I even had the long cigarette holder.

Why are we talking about this? Because of the fantastic book, Watching Willow Watts, in which the main character (inadvertently) becomes a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. (Gosh, wouldn't I love for someone to decide the spirit of Audrey had been bestowed upon me and everyone thought I was the next Audrey. *swoon*)

First, I want to say that I love Talli Roland's style of story-weaving. Her creativity never ceases to amaze or amuse me. The sense of humor in each scene always keeps me laughing. Several moments in this story move toward dark humor, and maybe I'm not laughing out loud then, but I'm still entertained and ready to read more.

The story progresses through several weeks as Willow Watts struggles with her own identity and her new life as Marilyn Monroe. One of many facets of this story that make it great is Willow's strength and perseverance through these tough times. We can all take a little something from Willow's strength, which she finds within herself throughout the story.

If you like a good, fun ChickLit tale, you should definitely read this (and anything else by Talli Roland).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Interview with Will Boast

I've recently had the pleasure of reading Power Ballads, a collection of short stories by Will Boast. I'm very excited to welcome Will to talk to us today about his new collection—now available—and life in general. Stop by on Friday for my review of the collection. But first, a brief introduction.

Photo courtesy of willboast.com
Will Boast was born in England and grew up in Ireland and Wisconsin. His story collection, Power Ballads, won the 2011 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices 2009, Narrative, Glimmer Train, The Southern Review, The American Scholar, and Five Points, among other publications. From 2008-2010, he was a Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University, and, this fall, will be a Charles Pick Fellow at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

So, without further ado, I'd like to welcome Will Boast.

Rosie: Congratulations on winning the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Can you tell us about the process of your being considered and how you found out about the award?

WB: Thanks! The Iowa Short Fiction Award has been around for about twenty-five years and, along with the Flannery O'Connor Award, is considered one of the most prominent book contests for story collections. In my experience, readers of literary fiction love short stories, but the publishing world, mostly based in New York, perceives them as a tough sell to a larger audience. (Mention your story collection around an editor or agent and watch how fast their eyes glaze over....) My agent felt that trying to publish my stories wouldn't be a good first step for me, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got lucky, because the Iowa Award was the very first place I sent my manuscript! The nice thing about the Iowa Award is that it's read blind and is juried and judged by writers. So, their primary concern, really their only concern, is the manuscript itself and whether it's a good and satisfying read.

Rosie: Which authors would you say have most influenced your writing? In what ways?

WB: Tough question! A few years ago I discovered (along with all the rest of the American reading public!) Roberto Bolano's novels and stories. I haven't tried to emulate him--because mimicking such a distinctive writer is probably a bad idea--but I love the way he creates an alternate world for himself in which all of his fiction takes place. His world is populated with writers and poets (mostly failed, failing, and distinctly minor writers and poets), some real, many more invented. So maybe I borrowed that approach for Power Ballads, but reduced the size of the world to something more like Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

Rosie: Your short stories focus on different aspects of the life of musicians. What made you want to write about the music industry?

WB: I spent a couple years in Chicago playing music, going to see shows, working with musicians, and drinking with musicians. In college, I played a lot of music (too much, really), and when I moved to San Francisco, I became involved with the music scene here as well. The musicians I've met have all been dreamers, and their desires and obsessions almost always put them in compromised positions--financially, artistically, romantically--even the ones who have ended up having a lot of success. I knew that, for the most part, I didn't want to write about rock stars, because I find that story pretty boring. The musicians I most admired were the obscure and deeply uncool ones, and I wanted to write a sort of fan letter to them. That said, I don't really think of Power Ballads as ultimately being about music or musicians. Music is maybe just the way, the entry point, to address other things.

Rosie: Several of the stories in Power Ballads revolve around two characters, Tim and Kate. Have you ever consider expanding their story/stories into something longer? More of a novel format? In fact, 7 of the 10 stories directly or indirectly revolve around Tim and or Kate's lives. Why did you decide to include these stories in this collection, instead of focusing more or less on Tim and Kate?

WB: I think that Power Ballads is that longer thing! I'd been thinking about writing stories about journeyman musicians for a while and had a couple stories that more or less fit that bill kicking around. It was somewhat accidental that Tim found his way into as many stories as he did, and Kate came in even later. It seems like a story often has a life of its own, and you just end up following whatever thing seems the most vital or interesting or fun at the time. That said, both Tim and Kate appeared in "The Bridge," one of the oldest stories in the book. Something about Tim as a narrator continue to resonate for me, and several more stories revolving around his obsessions and short-sightedness ended up coming out in fairly quick succession.

Rosie: What other kinds of projects do you have lined up?

WB: I'm working on a novel and a memoir. I'm also trying to make a start in narrative journalism.

Rosie: Where else can we read your work?

WB: There's a list of publications and links to online stuff at willboast.com. Recently, I've had stories out in the American Scholar, the Literarian, Narrative, and ZZYZZVA.

Rosie: And a random question, just to keep you on your toes: If you could be any insect, which one would you be and why?

WB: Not being the most insect-friendly of people and despite the fact that getting stung is a bummer, I'd have to say a honeybee. No other insect goes to such obsessive extremes of behavior--forming a colony, building a hive, making honey, serving the queen. As a bee, you'd know your place in the world, and you'd get to feel useful.

Thanks so much, Will, for joining us today. If you're interested in Will Boast's book, again be sure to stop by on Friday for a review of Power Ballads or click on the link below.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

First Campaigner Challenge

I normally post MWF, but we're heading out of town tomorrow, so I thought it would be best to put this up now. I won't have any post tomorrow.

As I'm still struggling with my writing mojo, I'm not sure if I love this flash fic or not, but here goes nothing. It's exactly 200 words (yup, I'm a geek like that.)

As always, I'm open to any and all comments you may have. And thanks in advance for reading.

The door swung open, and Samantha stared into the darkened study room. She'd planned to meet her friends here at seven before grabbing dinner. Just the three of them. No crowds, no hoopla. Just dinner and quiet company.

But the room was black, empty.

Something felt wrong. Lewis was as punctual as a tightly wound watch, and Cheryl thought "late" meant arriving twenty minutes early. So where were they? Her imagination whirled. Had someone or something attacked them?

Was it still there waiting for her?

Inside, carpet fibers rustled. Samantha narrowed her eyes, searching in the darkness while refusing the cross the threshold. What made that noise? What was in there?

It felt wrong.

While her impulses told her to run, her feet wouldn't move. Curiosity plucked at her attention. Against her better judgment, she reached inside for the light switch. Blinding florescent lights flickered to life.


Swear words ran through Samantha's mind as hands gripped her arms and dragged her inside. She spotted Lewis and Cheryl at the center of the crowd. She had felt more comfortable thinking her friends were hurt.

Trapped. Now she was trapped. She glanced around, searching for an escape.

The door swung shut.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome to my first post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. And, if you're new, welcome to my blog.

This is something I've written about a lot lately because, well, it's apparently something that's been bothering me.

Recently, we moved. For the record, we did it all ourselves, with no packers or movers. Several weeks of packing, days of moving, a week of homelessness, a day of moving, and weeks of unpacking. To say the least, it was difficult to find the mojo to write during all of this.

Now I'm back to work, writing every day in the morning and working part-time in the afternoon. I started with major editing of my WIP. And I found that editing wasn't helping get my mojo back.

So, this is my concern. Once I actually regain my mojo, will editing and revision still kill my writing mojo? Does anyone else have this problem? I know that some people really enjoy the editing and revising. But if not, how do people manage their writing thrill and the revision process?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Struggle and Persistence

I have a relatively new crit partner, and in addition to trading work and brainstorming with each other, we've also been trying to keep each other accountable on weekly goals. Last Sunday when I sent her my goals for the week, I was horrified to see that I had 15 rather serious goals to achieve. She challenged me to completely mark 5 off my list. I'm happy to say that I crossed off 10 (which included writing this blog post).

One of my goals was to write for at least an hour per day on my new project. This proved to be harder than it seems.

My permanent desk muses:
one of my cats and the PowerPuff Girls
Saturday in particular was a day of writer's block. I struggled, staring out my window, messing with my cat, hoping that the PowerPuff Girls would save my from my strife. I stared at the words I had already written and though, "Eh. Who cares?" It was a rough day.

Then I came across this blog post from one of the fellow Campaigners. It helped me remember that my first draft doesn't need to be perfect. No one else has to see it. As long as I keep at it and keep working, it will come together in the end. And then I can come back and cut out that superfluous scene where they're watching a movie, right? :)

As long as I remember to edit the life out of it before I start sending it out to my poor crit partners. *innocent whistling*

We all have those days when it's hard to get the words out. But on a first draft, it helps to turn off the perfectionist inside. Let's just hope I can keep it up.

What do you do when you run into writer's block? How hard do you try to polish the first draft? Do you edit while you write? Or revise everything later?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Entwined

This book has been getting a lot of hype lately, and so when a friend recommended it, I thought, "Sure, why not?" It's got a beautiful cover, which sometimes is enough to suck me in, and the promise of a cute, light fantasy always draws my attention.

Review of Entwined by Heather Dixon

From Goodreads: Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it. 

The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation. 

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. 

But there is a cost. 

The Keeper likes to keep things. 

Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

This book carries lots of promises: fighting against her entrapment, struggling for freedom. And, yet, I had several problems.

First, I have no idea how old Azalea is. Maybe this isn't the most important complaint, but the expectations a reader has about a character's maturity changes greatly whether the character is 15 or 18. There's a lot of life experience that can be packed into those few years, and so not to give her a specified age--only to state that she's "of age", which isn't defined until well into the story--made me think her about 18 and therefore REALLY immature for her age. Come to find out through some general mental figuring, she probably turned 16 through the course of the story. However, as the oldest of 12, she'd probably still be more mature than she came off.

Second, until about 300 pages into the 470+ page tome, Azalea doesn't WANT anything. She's simply reacting, moving and swaying the current but not trying to GO anywhere. She struggles against her confinement, but she doesn't take any major steps to do much about it. Actually, no, I take that back. The poor girl is confined in mourning and all she wants to do is dance. But what's her goal? Where's she going? Does she want to teach dance at the local girls school? Does she want to do something other than have temporary bits of fun? Not that I can tell. 300 pages in, she finally has a goal, and she starts to work toward an end game, but in the first 60% of the book, her struggle is aimless and meandering. And therefore left me wondering why I was reading it.

Lastly, characterization was lacking. Azalea felt somewhat flat to me, even overshadowed by her next two sisters' personalities. Perhaps it was due to Azalea's lack of goal? I'm not sure. It didn't help that there were 12 sisters all between the ages of 16 and newborn (and, might I say, OW!), their mother, their father, the Prime Minister, Keeper, the love interest, and several other men throughout the story. Sisters melded into one another in my brain, as did the male suitors over time. I can't figure out why she needed 12 sisters, because it made several points in the plot confusing, unless it was to explain the mother's illness (this is not a spoiler; it's in the first chapter). I think, had more attention been focused on who Azalea was and what she wanted instead of trying to juggle dozens and dozens of characters, this would have been a richer read.

With all this complaining, I must say that Heather Dixon creates a beautiful world with well described imagery that sucks the reader in. While I wondered several times why things were happening and what I wanted to get from this read, some of the beautiful images captured my imagination. I also enjoyed the slow development of Azalea's romantic interest, though there were times early on when this got lost because he would disappear (through understandable circumstances within the story) for close to a hundred pages at a time. In fact, her romantic interest was probably my favorite character of all. Maybe he should have his own book :)

Recommendation: Light, summer read, but if you've got something else you'd rather read, stick to your instincts.

Have you read Entwined? What did you think?
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