Sunday, March 25, 2012

Not your usual writing contest

The last thing I wanted to do today was drive my son and his friend to the mall to see a movie. There was no good reason, except that Sunday is about the only day that I don’t have to run around town completing tasks and errands and accomplishing other annoying objectives like driving to work.

As soon as I dropped the boys by the theater entrance I turned on the radio, and I'm so glad I did. If I hadn’t been in the car, I never would’ve heard this fun story from NPR’s Studio 360 host Kurt Anderson, who was a minute or so into a story about attaching stories to worthless stuff.

I love stories about stories. I’ve written about the value of stories and why we tell them (see my March 18, 2011 post). But the gist of this story about stories was that selling items of little or no value with an interesting but fictionalized backstory makes the items more valuable. In an experiment, they hired writers to make up the stories, and quantified their results by auctioning off the items on eBay. They sold the items for a lot more than they were worth, and the stories were then collected in a book titled Significant Objects.

The good news is that they are sponsoring a contest in which anyone can go to the website, see pictures of three items picked up from the thrift shop they visited during the show, and write a fake backstory. The winner of the best story for each item will receive the item as a prize!

I’m attaching a link, so you can listen to the interview, watch the video, and create a fake backstory!

Write soon,

Monday, March 19, 2012

"I write, therefore, I am"

Today’s guest post is by Joe Schwartz, a local writer who spoke recently at Saturday Writers. His bio and links to his work are located at the end of this post. Thanks Joe!

When I first read the Don DeLillo quote, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down,” I felt enlightened. The truth of that statement is magnificent for those so inclined to write. Even more so for those who are searching for the answers to their lives through the art.
            Any counselor worth her salt will tell you the first thing they want you to do in the process of healing is to journal. To the non-writer this is a challenging task and almost impossible. I wish I could reach out to all those overwhelmed by the task and tell them they should try and write fiction.

            I wrote my first novel four years ago. If you have ever sat down with this goal in mind it can be intimidating, overwhelming, and the most rewarding thing you may ever do if you can cross that finish line known as ‘The End.’ Each time I have been moved to an emotional kind of refreshment in myself. That is to say, I feel with each novel or collection of short stories, that I have once again put myself in harm’s way and lived to tell about it.

            Many people don’t realize fictional stories are laced with truth. It is the world as it has revealed itself to one specific individual, and reading a great book is no different than studying a painting or watching a ballet or seeing an amazing movie. There will be only one first time for any of these things. Great art is like a child’s first ride on roller coaster – it will define them for the rest of their lives. The exhilaration, the anxiety, the fear, the thrill of the ride, and the ecstasy of having cheated death will be deeply coded in the sub-conscious of the rider for the rest of their life.

            My first time going to the literary amusement park by myself was a marvelous shock. I was still na├»ve enough to believe stories all had happy endings and that only bad guys died, if anyone at all. How innocent I was when I first read ‘Of Mice and Men,’ I find almost laughable. It was the first book to have a deep emotional effect in my life. It is still the gold standard to me for all my reading. Sometimes I have to wonder if Steinbeck had me in mind when he wrote that extraordinary book, and yet, I know he did not. He was trying to write social commentary through a parable palatable for the masses, but disarming enough not to be recognized by the administration he was trying to reform. Certainly he had no idea that a fourteen-year-old kid in St. Louis was going to read it some fifty years later and have a mental big bang explosion that would begin to shape and form and define his universe of ideals.

            I learn something about myself every time I write. Once, I had to stop writing a novel for two years because I could not tell if what the character was describing, if this world he had crawled from of physical and verbal abuse was his alone or if I had opened a locked door in my mind. To be more succinct, it totally freaked me out! I later went on to finish the novel and am quite proud of the work I accomplished. To answer the former, yes, there was some serious vein of truth in my childhood that was revealed to me, but by my exploring it through a fictional character, by allowing him to explore the dark crevices of my mind where I feared to go, I had in fact established my own personal superpower that was unafraid and able to overcome the worst of my memories while I sat most safe and comfortable at my kitchen table being amazed as the words seemed to type themselves onto the face of my computer screen.

            If you write, I bid you good luck and good writing. Be honest, i.e. write what you know, and you will create an art made of truth and beauty indefinable by yourself, that can revealed exclusively to you by your audience. If you read, then I beg you to see in between the lines, to discover the real person hiding behind this mask called fiction.

Joe Schwartz is a writer living in St. Louis writing exclusively about the Gateway City. He has two published books to his credit 'Joe's Black T-Shirt' and 'The Games Men Play.' There is no bigger challenge or delight to any author than being read. That being said, read Joe for free using the coupon codes 'Joe's Black T-Shirt' FX56M & 'The Games Men Play' CF46N That is 36 stories for the low price of absolutely nothing! In advance, thanks for reading.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Never give up

Do you ever think you’re too old to write a book? If so, you are wrong.

I just came across the story of Captain James Arruda Henry, a 98-year-old first-time author. A 98-year-old first-time author is a story in itself, but it’s even more amazing when you consider the fact that he was illiterate until his mid 90s!

Henry is a retired lobsterman in Mystic, Conn who self-published “In a Fisherman’s Language,” which contains 29 stories about his life. According to his website the stories were collected from his earliest memories of his grandfather’s farm in the Azores to a snippet of his daily life today. “James shows how a life powered by commitment, hard work and determination can redefine a person at any age.”

You can order a copy from the third printing through his website or  The book is also available for Kindle.

Write soon,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My friend Erma, er, I mean Donna

Last spring I wrote about the "community" among writers. Many generous souls are crucial in helping other writers by sharing their experiences and offering guidance and encouragement. I witnessed that community first hand last week when my friend Donna Volkenannt won first place in the Erma Bombeck Writing Contest for her essay titled “Honey, Can I Borrow Your Garter Belt?”. Congratulations, Donna, that is a big deal! Everyone who knows her is happy for her. She works hard, and it shows.

Several writers had dinner with her the night she got the news. Every one of us was thrilled for her success, and happy to celebrate with her. Sometimes during our monthly dinners we share stories about the long road to publishing success, and the problems we encounter on that road. That’s when we offer up encouragement and empathy.

But that night we all shared the excitement of her good news, and celebrated her success together. Each one of us was able to feel some of the joy she felt, and enjoyed it right along with her.

One of the best things I can hope for my writing friends is to have a strong community of writers surrounding them. I noticed in her blog post announcing the win, Donna gave special mention to the people in her critique group who helped improve her essay . Thanks, Donna, for reminding us that no one does it alone.

Write soon,