Sunday, October 5, 2014

Shout out to my friends, part 2

Hey-O, friends. This one's for you!
(Again, I couldn't fit everyone in a single post, so expect another soon.)

To quote White Christmas, "Sisters. Sisters. Never were there such devoted sisters," Sarah and I are hopelessly devoted to quality writing, laughing, and awesomeness, and therefore are willing constituents of Nerdom and Whedonverse. We prefer to see the world through an optimist's lens and never take ourselves to seriously. She is bright, talented, funny, and fully equipped to combat a zombie apocalypse with the frontal assault of bad puns, followed by an arsenal of survival strategies gleaned from years of research. Obviously.

I heart you, Sarah-ba-dare-ah.

Normalcy is overrated.

“True friends are always together in spirit. (Anne Shirley)” 


C is about 10 years my elder, so we didn't know each other much until I was well into adulthood, but I'm sure glad we had the opportunity. She is the most selfless person I know. If we even happened to be in a hostage situation, you could count on her to befriend the bad guys, talk them down with her amicable charm, and, later after the weapons were cast aside voluntarily, she'd take the whole lot, hostages and criminals, out for mani-pedis. She's a peacemaker with the heart the size of Virginia.
And I love her guts.

New Orleans, 1996. Three sisters in the finest 90s attire Walmart could provide. 

“Be slow to fall into friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant.” 
― Socrates


Kris is the inspiration behind my ENTIRE writing career. Back in 2001, I read something she wrote in a notebook and thought, "Hey, I bet I could write too!" I launched head-long into a life-long aspiration, and can firmly say that her words--though I don't recall the exact passage--galvanized me to dream, to achieve. For that I can NEVER repay her, but I hope she knows how much her friendship means to me. We are silly gigglers when together and share an obsession with Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who. She's got mad art skillz and superb taste in music. She is a forever pal. (You'll never be rid of me! bwahahahaha!)

Tube-tops aren't my thing. Kris is. 

“It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.” 

“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” 
― P.G. Wodehouse


Lisa - She and I met because...well, her brother and I were high school sweethearts. Despite our terrible, crippling break-up after senior year (the boy and me), I found Lisa again in my late twenties and just like that our friendship was restored. In some respects we have unassailable differences--*ahem* politics--but good friends, like boxers, can manage to feign right when confronted by an opposing jab, especially when the contender is irreversibly stubborn. ;) Nevertheless, we get along great. Superficially, the glue to our relationship is our affinity for shoes and clothes, and our fierce love for our babies, but the true adhesive is emotional support she provided me during a 2-3 year crucible.  She is the epitome a Christ-like sister. She mourned with me when I mourned and gave me the means to escape to her waiting shoulder. For that I am eternally grateful. Love you, Lisa!

When you wish upon a star, you get Lisa.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” 


Z-man and I have known each other for 17 years (12 1/2 of that as husband and wife), and our origin-story, circa 1997, could be the love child of My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks. I cannot wait to write that memoir. He makes me laugh, shares my interest in ALL things nerdy, and  dresses up for ComicCon or Halloween when I bat my eyelashes. He puts up with my nagging and shoe fetish--though, to be fair, his is just as strong--and is an Olympic-grade snuggler. I love you!

Last Halloween with my Z-man. 

“The best relationships - the ones that last - are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is... suddenly the only person you can imagine yourself with.”


Spike - Woman's best friend. An angel on earth.


“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dear friends, I heart you

This post is about my buddies. I was fortunate enough to travel all over the US in my early years and recently to Spain, in so doing I met some of the greatest people in the world. (I'm not biased at all.)

This is M. She and I met at Marshfield Junior High when I happened to sit next to her at the lunch table and announced, "My mom had nine miscarriages!" We've been best friends ever since. She's been my rock through all the stresses of my life. I would take a bullet for her.

My best friend in the world. M. 
"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." 
--Ralph Waldo Emerson


These two I met while working at the UVU Library back when in was a two-story closet. I run races with T (on the right) and go shopping with D (left). All of us love Doctor Who, Buffy, Supernatural, ComicCon, and watching the Oscars for the jalapeno peppers and Swedish meatballs. (Sometimes we even joke about dressing up for the party, but we never do.) We love board games, Dr. Pepper, and riffing on each other.

D, me, and T hanging out on one of our movie or speed scrabble nights. 
"Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: 'What! You Too? I thought I was the only one.'" 

--C.S. Lewis


Mel was in my ward back in Missouri in the early 90s. She lived with my family for a summer when we were young, but our friendship really took off when we reconnected a few years ago. She has a sensational giggle and the best sense of humor--a notable duo--and is one of the most intelligent women I've ever met. She's a force to be reckoned with. Here we are in costume for the Sundance Film Festival in February 2014.

Mel and me eating pancakes like a boss.
"Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends." 
--Virginia Woolf


Roni Jo and me, rock-climbing
Roni Jo taught two of my courses in my reading endorsement program, which I took in 2007. But segued from teacher-student to pals last October, when we started rock-climbing together. She is vivacious and brilliant. I learned from her to be brave, to stand up, proudly, for your beliefs. Also, she's a killer resource for all your education-based questions.

"I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better." 


The first time I saw K in person was at the Barcelona airport. She's in my cohort at Cedar Crest. We shared a cab to our hotel and, in two weeks, pretty much traipsed every inch of the city. She loves people and shares my unquenchable passion for gelato and writing.

K and me 
"Be true to your work, your word, and your friends." 

--Henry David Thoreau


N and me running the Invasion 5K
Nic and I are old college buddies. Back then, we were busy with our new husbands and school, so our friendship orbited around joint English classes. But later, after we both had a couple kids, we reconnected via facebook and leaned on each other for support during some very stressful times in our lives. She's kind and has a inexplicable, enviable amount of inner strength and endurance.

"The only way to have a friend is to be one." 

--Ralph Waldo Emerson


This is B and me. B is one of the many talented writers in my cohort. Her work is delicious, her words chewy. We only had a couple of meals together, but I think she's great, every outspoken, comedic, down-to-earth bit of her. 

I love this woman! B! You're the best!
"There's not a word yet for old friends who've just met." 

--Jim Henson

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Two babies. One womb. (A Writer's Dilemma)

I had a friend, a new mom, who ached for another child before her newborn had learned to roll-over. When she shared this desire, I listened, curiously nodding my head and masking the fact that I had no frame of reference for that kind of yearning. I spaced out my children by nearly four years, partly for medical reasons and partly because I preferred not to have two kids in diapers simultaneously. It was all I could handle as a working mother. Only one poop-machine at a time, thank you. ;) But now, as I read COMMITTED by Elizabeth Gilbert, the non-fiction compilation of her global research on the nature, history, and cultural variations on marriage, I can finally understand my friend's craving. 

I've birthed a hefty 62,000 word memoir, A KISS WITHOUT A MUSTACHE, and in the editing process, I'm  swiping clean the bits of placenta and birth gunk. It needs to be fed strong verbs and burped the excess. It needs an agent, publisher, and an audience, for goodness sake, yet my conscious is sneaking off to jot notes about my second book--the memoir of being in a polygamous marriage with my husband and his depression. I may have to divide my attentions a little bit. And (side note) this is, I believe, the only acceptable version of twins I could manage. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Notes from Barcelona: Jake Lamar

Jake Lamar.
First word that comes to mind is happy. The man is genuinely happy. A pleasant, positive, smiling fellow--putting to rest all the rumors that real writers are depressed recluses. Picture the opposite of Edgar Allen Poe.

Palau de Musica. My friend Kathy and I ran into Jake and his wife attending a Flaminco Opera show here. 
"How did you get started as a writer?" we asked after cajoling with him for almost two weeks. And he told us about working for TIME, writing a memoir, and moving to Paris on a grant and never leaving. Some prodding wrenched out the following:

He's Bronx born, Harvard educated, and Jake's debut book, a memoir about his absent father called Bourgeois Blues, earned him the Lyndhurst Foundation Prize, awarded to, oh, you know, people like Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy! What. The. What. Just when I thought this program couldn't get any better.

Where I wrote at Ateneu Barcelones.
The view from the cable car as we were hoisted up Montjuic.
Jake taught us about dialogue, fitting since his current WIP is a play. Here are my notes on improving dialogue.
  • Be aware of the weird music of how people speak. 
  • Every character is composite. 
  • Date everything you write. Revisions too. 
  • Write a story off of a voicemail. (Guess who is now self-conscious of her voicemails? This girl.)
  • The details are never as important as the overall feel. 
  • Kill the darlings, as they say. 
  • Writing exercise: begin a story with the line, "I love you, but..." (my sentence read, "I love you, but I draw the line at home enemas.")
  • From Jake's memoir and something his dad once said: "I'm an escapee from a garbage can."
l'Sagrada Familia
Here are bits of dialogue I heard or recalled after his lesson:

  • "Want to see my nose flute?"
  • "You don't want to be sued by the Village People."
  • "Teens have the proclivity to...and the hormones to..."
  • A Spanish man strums an air guitar, says, "tacka tacka tacka". 
  • "Language is archaeology." 
  • "I am telling my son how to build the Guggenheim, but I am not telling anyone's son." --Cesar Martinell
  • "The only Sting that comes to mind is 'do-do do, da-da da da dad'." --Aleksander Hemon
  • "Once upon a time" is the promise of something extraordinary.
  • Pauses are ok, but story needs fuel. 
  • "I was sitting next to you last night at dinner and you had a...loaf of meat?" Fred asked.
    • "It was more of a log." 
    • "But you liked it."
  • "For newspapers [in Spain], der is an agreement not to speak about suicides." --Ramon Olle
  • "Unfortunately dey pendulum is swinging from Christ to none." --Ramon Olle
  • "But how will I know what everything is?"

The ceiling. How does this building even exist? It's an enigma. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Notes from Barcelona: Gwyneth Lewis

Parq Guell
At the residency weeks in Barcelona, our days were divided up by classes, workshops, and tutorials. (I'll get back to that in a sec.) During the mentorship months this fall and spring, I will have the pleasure of working with Gwyneth Lewis, a Welsh poet and memoirist with a delicious British accent and no-nonsense approach to teaching. She is the author of Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book on Depression.

This is the knocker on the door to our classroom building in Barcelona. To seek entrance to l'escola, you must take the apple from Eve. Gwyneth says the pinkies raised slightly are an indication of vanity. She says the knocker is a little joke, a smirk. You must fall before you can learn. 
— at Escola d'Escriptura (Ateneu Barcelonès).

The mentorship will be completed online via hard-core writing deadlines, webinars, and professional line-edits (etc.). The design is convenient because I can keep teaching and writing for DH in Utah while Gwyneth completes a visiting poet stint at Princeton.

Dragons were all over the city, but I like this picture as a simile for having your work critiqued by other writers. Sometimes it's like shoving your head into a dragon's mouth and thanking the beast when you bleed. That said, my Cedar Crest cohort was amazing, respectful, helpful, and encouraging. Teachers too. I love this program. 

...Back to Barcelona (sidebar: the natives pronounce it Barthelona).

These are notes from Gwyneth's class  as well as some helpful comments on my WIP, A KISS WITHOUT A MUSTACHE, in both the workshop and tutorial.

  • "Trump up the action. Don't cloud it with rhetoric." 
  • How much does the writer know? The narrator has access to childhood memories.
  • Make it more active. 
  • "What is the framework? What shape is your work going to be?" 
  • The reader should know the stakes from the beginning. 
  • Plan out the trajectory of your characters.
  • "Try flip-flopping the first paragraph. Put the last sentence on top." 
  • Remember to have a reflective narrator.
  • "Don't defuse the punch."
  • "Don't let the humor get in the way of the story." 
  • Consider setting first. Think about the "wide shot". 
  • In chapter titles, don't give away the plot. 
  • For intense scenes, "write it like a bombshell. Don't let me know that you're leading up to something." 
  • Emotion leads to thought, which leads to plot or analysis.
  • Don't be mysterious for mysterious's sake.
  • In non-fiction, consider "is this interesting to me because it's my family or will the anonymous reader find it interesting too?" 
  • "Make sure you get the choreography clear for the reader."
  • "Keep it life-and-death simple." 
  • "Very effective, but prune words."
  • "Pacing--The intro to [this chapter] is uncharacteristically slow, so we're alerted to [what's] coming. For maximum impact, be more casual on the approach--so that the reader, like you at the time, has no idea what's coming. That will make it more lifelike."
  • "Assume you have a secular audience and explain some of the Mormon terminology." 

Port de Diablos. Little kids with fireworks on pitchforks. Just something you might see on the streets of Barcelona. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Notes from Barcelona: Aleksander Hemon

I always knew that if I went back to school it would be to get a degree in creative writing. That's how I ended up in the Cedar Crest College Pan-European MFA program. That's how I ended up in Barcelona.

l'Sagrada Familia, a Gaudi masterpiece
The port adjacent to the beach. I may have spent a good amount of time pre-writing/laying out there. 
When I wasn't bingeing on gelato and calamari, I was immersed into the culture (religion, architecture, pop-culture, art, language, and literature) of Catalonia.

Gelato every night isn't too often, right?
An American girl in Spain. 
On weekdays I attended classes at Ateneu Barcelones where lessons ranged from writing in the vernacular to flash fiction. My professors, who I had already anticipated would be great, BLEW MY MIND. (When I explain it to my family and friends, I literally do the explosion gesture off my temples.) In the spirit of sharing the love, I'll be posting my favorite morsels over the next few posts.

We're kicking off with Aleksander Hemon, author of The Book of My Lives and The Lazarus Project. He also writes for The New Yorker and showed up to class in shorts and a grey tee with two pigeons printed on front. More than once he dropped the cap of his dry-erase marker, and more than once he nicked his shirt with the ink tip. Erasing it smudged the spot. I wish I could've captured every last word from his mouth and bottled it to chug like some sort of writing Mt. Dew. But since he's a native of Sarajevo, I had a two-second delay interpreting his accent. This'll have to do.

  • Consider having an organizing principle or composite structure to your piece. Make it a shape.
  • As writers, we can only represent one part of humanity. Much of literature does just that.  
  • Literature gives a window into humanity that no other vehicle can. 
  • Can you add metonymy? A part to represent the whole? 
  • Literature helps us understand something about the human mind and appreciate the artifice or "cathedral". 
  • We build "cathedrals" so that we can draw people to the emotion. 
  • "Language is biological." 
  • "We are composite people."
  • "Discontinuity is the default way to process the world. It's an acquired skill to put it together."
  • Imposing order on the chaos is what literature does.
  • We create to compensate for the things we can't forget. 
  • In life, in non-fiction, forgetting is an editing principle. You only remember the important things. The remaining montage is the story. 
  • "We are not passive, especially as writers. We create culture."
  • For memoirs, lay down the memories you feel compelled to write. You'll gravitate to some scenes. Enter the space and spend time there. Motifs will rise from the words. Organize by delineating and select "furniture" to go with the space. 
  • "The only Sting song that comes to mind is 'do-do do do. da-da da dad." 
  • "Nostalgia has the veneer or sheen that life was better".
  • When writing, remember that "it's all [crap] until it isn't. Editing requires stamina. And we're entitled to our failures."

Hemon = He-awesome. (And on the whiteboard are the themes identified in one of our WIPs.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Top 7 nuggets of writing encouragement

Posted around my office to keep me focused and writing:

1. "Ask: Let me bring forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing." --The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

2. "There is no excuse for pedestrian dialogue." --Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe

3. "Conversation is Combat." --Clint Johnson

4. When we begin to create, "angel midwives congregate around us; they assist us as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius. Eternity, as Blake might have told us, has opened a portal into time. And we're it." --The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

5. Butt in chair, Hands on keyboard. 

6. Every character has a different script. 

7. "If not now, when?" --The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
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