Monday, February 28, 2011

Scheduling Change

Hello, dear Fellow Sophisticates! News of a small order: I shall be (exploratively) changing my Monday posts into Tuesday posts. Monday has slapped me in the face one too many times. There are other fish in the weekly sea, and that siren Tuesday has been calling to me.

Okay, it's because my new job covers the weekend and monday. But! Tuesday! And Wednesday! Are days off! So, I'm gonna switch to a Tuesday and Thursday schedule for now. Plus, it will balance out all those overly-productive Monday-Wednesday-Friday bloggers out there. You can visit me in between! Or, you know, possibly go for ice cream. Or work. (Okay, I didn't just say that)

If you have concerns, rants, wailings, or gnashings of teeth, please feel free to e-mail me at

Also! I am still, and always, looking for great flash fiction! Send it to me! Tell your friends! Or enemies! Anyone who can type coherent sentences! I have some good stuff coming, still, but I'm always looking for more.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trying to Write Outside a 9 to 5 Life

So... what's your day job?

I ask partly because I'm curious (nosy), and partly because I've been thinking about this lately in regard to my own life. The reason, of course, is because I have a new job.

And it's a great job. I got hired as a full-time In-house editor at an editorial company called Scribendi (which you can find at We handle just about everything, doing critiques, edits, and proofreading for just about any kind of written material possible. Creative writing? Check. Corporate? Check. Business? Check. Personal? Check. ESL? Check. Academic? Check. Technical? Medical? Scientific? Check, check, check.

In other words, I get to sit and play with sentences all day. For a sentence junkie like myself, this is a permanent high. Indeed, I get paid for taking my drug of choice. A fiscally responsible addiction!

But it has got me thinking about the connection between day jobs and the writing life. How does your day job influence your writing? It's interesting to try and chart influence. Owning the fantabulous Inklings Bookshop was great for me in terms of writing. I was surrounded by great books all day, and I could always snatch a few moments to write during the work day. Now, I worked a lot, six and sometimes seven days a week, without taking a break or vacation for five years. But those stolen moments during the day were wonderful. It made each work day somehow more alive.

The carrot factory, however, was not so fortunate for the writing life. I worked even longer hours and lhad even less time off, and there was no time to write during the work day (which was often 14 hours or longer). Only scraps of writing slipped off my fingertips in that period. Which is okay. Sometimes this is the way of things. Paying the bills comes first (otherwise the ferocious wee ones and the vampire infant might devour me). But the work certainly wasn't conducive to writing.

Now I'm editing and writing all day. This makes me pretty jazzed, but there's also the risk that the day job will soak up all the writing energy that used to go to my personal writing. It hasn't yet. I'm still excited to see that blank page. But you never know. I've met a lot of people who've found this to be true, this conflict between professional and personal writing.

And there are other elements, too. Work can influence writing in other ways--subtle and almost subliminal ways. The relaxed, bookish atmosphere of my old shop? Good. The weariness and physical discomfort resulting from the carrot job? Less good. Doing something you love? Good. Doing something you don't? Less good.

And yet each job has its own experiences, its own unique practices and people. Writers are usually observers, watchers, and friendly (hopefully) voyeurs. We pull in life around us, twisting and tinkering and transforming. Transmuting it, really, into something utterly new upon the page. And yet familiar, leaking a personal reality, a personal tone of experience. And when the 9 to 5 job (or the 6 to 6 job, as it might be) forms so much of your waking life it can't help but influence what you write. Won't some of that work experience, however changed, find its way to the page?

So... what do you do for a day job? (Or, what have you done in the past?) And what does it mean to your writing?

Friday, February 18, 2011

In the Land of Dead Letters

by Bryan Russell

In the Land of Dead Letters

Eduardo had taught at the University, American History, specializing in domestic policy, but his drinking and the affair with the student (well, two of them, really, but no one knew about one of them, except, of course, himself and the lovely Lila) became big problems, and he didn’t have tenure, and wasn’t ever gonna get it, either, as he’d stopped publishing, no one wanted his articles, least of all himself. He tried giving a few away, once, but students didn’t even want them for term papers.

He got a job at the post office. Probably better than he deserved, and he liked it more than he expected. He didn’t have to publish, and his wayward postulations on history faded from his head–they weren’t really his, anyway. And he liked the mail, liked all the envelopes with addresses, the endless strangeness of handwritten names and numbers.

It was orderly, the post office. Everything carefully coded. Zip codes and postal codes, letters spiraling out into the world, destinations alive in ink. Zip zip. Zing zing. Off they went into the world. This number meant there. That number meant here. Everything was official. The government sent tax notices out in flights of a million, flocks whistling out to towns and cities and along muddy rural roads.

Yet some letters went nowhere. Typos, spelling mistakes, forgotten stamps. Broken-winged, they couldn’t fly. Sloughed off by the flock and falling to earth. Piles in the dead letter office.

Yet each one held a voice. Eduardo looked through them. He fingered them, read them, listened to them. Something old burned inside him–a sense of history. Not a history of the books, of the scholars and academics, pontificating to students, but a history of small slippages, of checks gone astray, of letters lost, of reunions forgotten and old lovers missed. A history of silent voices. Of silenced voices.

Eduardo gathered them. One night, after work, he started binding them together. One sheet, then another. Insurance forms, legal papers, ungainly poems, love letters stilted by desperation. He bound them together until he had a history of the blank spaces between worlds, of the empty moments between people. A history of missed conversations.

The book was vast and huge and ungainly, and he had trouble carrying it to his car. He took it home, driving faster than normal. He lugged it inside.

Lila’s voice, on the answering machine, told him to stop calling. It was over. Perhaps she was seeing the Professor of Foreign Policy now. Hot stuff, foreign policy. The War on Terror, history as foresight.

Eduardo looked at the dead letters of his book. He hauled it out to the backyard. The grass was weedy. It was a rental and he didn’t feel much like cutting it. He put the book on the ground. He lit a cigarette and stood smoking, watching the book. After awhile he leaned over and pressed the cigarette on the top page. It smouldered. A little flame licked out.

Eduardo stepped back. The flame grew. Orange ate into the papers, into the dead letters, swallowing them one by one, like old leaves. Sometimes he thought he heard voices–singing, wailing, whispering. But they all vanished in the end.

The voices of time could not resist the wide nothingness of the future, the great wall of history already written, already growing into the present. Bricks piled up, the past hidden from view.

There was a burnt patch in the scraggly ground, ash sifting among the weeds. It was against his tenant’s agreement, he was sure. But it wasn’t much of a rental anyway.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bernard Pivot Blogfest! Yes, the French are confounding

Check out Nicole's blog for the Bernard Pivot details and participants!

What is your favorite word?
Cookie. Give me. Now.

What is your least favorite word?
Poop. I shudder...

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Words. Words other than "poop".

What turns you off?
I won't say it.

What is your favorite curse word?
I like to pretend I don't curse.

What sound or noise do you love?
Baby burbles, currently as performed by the Vampire Infant.

What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of my alarm clock. Dear God.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Well, do you mean besides being a novelist? Hmmm. Well, I'm fascinated by physiotherapy and virology. Maybe something along those lines.

What profession would you not like to do?
Carrot factory worker. Or riding an ice cream bike. Been there, done that.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Well, I'll let you in despite all that."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow - A Review

Shop Indie Bookstores

So, a certain book came into my possession. A space book. A cosmic space book. A cosmic space kapow book. A wonderful wonderbar book.

It starts, as all good books start, with a corndog. And, of course, a spaceship. A talking spaceship. Jacob and his best friends, Sarah and Dexter, make the trade of a lifetime and blast off into space.

Accidents, of the hilarious kind, ensue. Dastardly villains appear - Space pirates... and substitute teachers. I mean, what could be more villainous? (And I say that having been one. A substitute teacher, that is. My spaceship's broken.)

The book, as anyone who might know the author would guess, is funny. Charmingly funny. Kids will love this. And quite a few adults channeling that inner child, too. Or channeling that inner substitute teacher. One or the other.

But, more than that, it's a good book. A story of friendship, of three kids having an adventure... and finding their way in the world (or the universe - slightly broken as it might be). Three kids who, if they hadn't blasted off for space, might have found a home (a few years later and a little older) at Hogwarts Academy. A story of three friends whose pasts shape who they are, and shape who they might be. A poignant story of a boy and a missing father, a story of what a child might do to fill a lonely void. And the friendships they find along the way.

Coming in May, 2011, from Dial Books for Young Readers.

So long, and thanks for all the laughs...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Falcon - The World in Miniature

by Marlene McKay

The Falcon

The tiny field mouse sensed, rather accurately, that his days were numbered long before his dark, beady eyes found the Peregrine Falcon. He scurried through the long grass, desperate to get away, his only thought: survival. There was nowhere for him to hide from the rapidly approaching raptor and the attack, as it would, killed the small, defenseless rodent instantly.

The powerful, slate grey bird that hunted for the sport of it only, never because it was hungry, threw the mouse aside unceremoniously before flying off to a nearby outpost overhanging the ocean. It surveyed the surrounding through with shiny black eyes, drinking in every detail, until quite sure that there was nothing out of the ordinary in the immediate vicinity.

The Falcon spread its wings seemingly in preparation to take flight again. But the wings continued to rise upwards and outwards, from where they phased into the muscular arms of a man; the rest of the body followed as he regained human form at a remarkable speed. From a leather pouch around his neck, the olive skinned man removed a loin cloth which he carefully tied around his waist. He inhaled deeply, relishing the cold salty ocean air that stung his now expanded lungs. Power, he thought, as he rested his eyes on the waves crashing tumultuously against the cliffs below, can be found in so many different things. Soon this will all be mine; this and every other thing on earth; this and every other thing in the heavens above it.

‘I will overthrow the Master. It is only a matter of time until I regain my name and then,’ he snapped his fingers, ‘power will be mine once again.’

Almost two miles away, from a vantage point high up, the Eagle cocked his head to the side as he drunk in every word and listened to every thought of the Falcon’s. His father had warned him many years ago, that the time would come when the Falcon would remember who he had once been. This will happen, he had said, when knowledge was no longer sacred and man finds it difficult to continue believing in those things he cannot see. The Eagle had sensed for almost one hundred years now, since the outbreak of the First World War to be exact, that the time was nearing although the chain of events did not cease to amaze him. How yet another angel fell for lies and deceit was beyond him. But that was all in the past now. What mattered from here onwards was that the girl had to be protected at all costs, for the name that the Falcon desired was locked within her and would be immediately revealed in the event that her soul was corrupted beyond any saving grace. It was now the only obstacle that remained between the Falcon and the portae inferi, the gates of hell, and the only thing he required in order to release every single twisted, degraded, maimed, cruel and perverted soul contained within. And where would they go once set free? To earth, naturally.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rhythm (And Blues?) of Writing

Music has been the theme of the last few weeks, and I've been thinking about the musicality of writing. For there is more to the meaning of words than the rational and symbolic, as the rhythm and sway and sound of a string of words has its own meaning, its own text open for interpretation.

Words are symbols, really, markers for meanings either concrete or abstract. They are rational. They are parcels of compact messages, communicating specific ideas, signifiers for something in the real world. Yet their impact telescopes far beyond this, affected by the tone and sound of the words themselves.

And sound is not entirely accurate, for often words are read silently. Yet, even still, they create a sort of mind sound, a sonic impression, an imagined voice. And if the rational message is in the direct symbolic reference of the words, their emotive strength is often found in this mind sound, this strange audio-visual interpretation of the texture of words and sentences.

This is what we want, isn't it, if we want to make art out of our words? Yet how difficult, how challenging, to find the bluesy soul of sentences. How do we wed the rational meaning with the emotive tone and rhythm of language?

What is it about a comma here, or a comma there, that shapes the felt impact of words? The sound and flow of a line as a sort of instrumental background beyond the voice of a singer. The sad wail of a trumpet, the deft flutter of a flute, the drums sounding in some deep cavern of the world and singing of the slow march of continents.

What is the music of writing to you? How do you find the sound of your writing? What do you want from the music of your words?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Marriage of Summer and Winter - The World in Miniature

by Bryan Russell

The Marriage of Summer and Winter

They met in the spring, of course, with blossoms on the trees. January Heights with her hair down, so fey and beautiful, lingering and dancing and singing pale songs in the hollows of the woods. So odd, so different, Nathaniel August thought, so unlike the sun-licked girls of summer.

They were married with garland wreaths around their necks, and January became wide with child, and yet diffident and shy, the wreath withering to a noose. She kept creeping away, hiding in small caverns carved into the trunks of trees. Nathaniel August grew angry as the weeks passed, for he could not find her, hidden away as she was in the womb of an old oak tree, and his mood soured with the growing cold and the coming of winter. He blinked his eyes – the sunlight, reflecting off the new snow, seemed alien and strange.

Nathaniel came suddenly upon January in the woods, dancing, white fingers twining in the air, bare feet spinning through dusts of snow. Nathaniel pointed his gun and shot January, and she fell, her white hair whistling sadly like the wind.

The child, peering from the hollow of a tree, turned and fled, running swiftly into autumn, trailing red leaves like sparks and singing of the end of things.

Where had summer gone? Nathaniel August had slept through it, ignoring the blue skies, the yellow sun, the white clouds. He woke and returned to the clearing to find January. She lay on a bed of leaves, a hole through her, pale and cold and perfect. A layer of clear ice crept over her, lit with winter light.

The wind came from the north, and Nathaniel August sat, waiting, and his skin turned to snow, and his breath flashed to frost in the air, whispering only slowly to the ground – a blanket for his January. Nathaniel’s eyes were dark as coal, and when he opened his mouth to sing a lament his lungs froze, melancholy breath entombed.

The winter was long, the snows cold. But all things pass, and spring crept up, and blossoms came again to the trees, peeking through white shrouds.

Nathaniel’s tongue grew into a flower, a dark stem reaching out, white petals blooming. The petals fell, drifting down to cover January. Warm petals, touched with the heat of memory, melting slowly through the skin of ice. January breathed, pale limbs stretching.

She stood. The sun turned Nathaniel’s shroud of snow to water, and January drank and was refreshed. Beneath the snow was sun-touched skin, warm and brown and tasting slightly of strawberries when she kissed it.

Nathaniel’s breath flowed out, the melancholy air whisked away by the warm breeze, and they looked on each other and smiled. Nathaniel August told her it was fine, so fine, she could sleep through the summer. He would find her again in the autumn, and they would dance in the trees with their spark-haired child and sing of the seasons.