Wanted: More Writing Prompts

The strange tale of a euphonium-playing animal-loving character named Tiffanie Brump captured the attention of Revolver‘s editors, who named me “Winner of WANTED 25.” Revolver called WANTED 25  “its most ambitious WANTED contest to date”.

My prize is three-month prompt-based SERIAL PROJECT on Revolver. I love writing prompts. They provide fresh inspiration, take my writer’s mind into new places I wouldn’t have thought of, and fresh, unexpected plots and characters always arise.

I think it’s going to be a fun assignment and have already received my first prompt. Watch for bi-weekly musings at Revolver, and while you’re waiting to see my  new serial, check out their other stories, poems, and projects. And watch for the next WANTED prompt. Always fun, whether you win or not!

How to Set the Inner Artist Free

IMG_0337For the past 11 days, I’ve been in San Francisco, staying in a neighborhood that has often inspired writers:  North Beach, the epicenter of the Beat Generation. This writing expedition is funded by the McKnight Artist Fellowship I won earlier this year.

So far, I’m nearly 170 pages and nearly 35,000 words into an entirely new novel based on a glimmer of an idea that came to mind before I left. Every word I’ve written in the novel has been written in the past 11 days, in a hotel room at the Hotel Boheme. It’s the story of a missing girl and a boy named Fish who is hiding from his past. There are bits of magical realism in the story, and that’s about all I will say about the book.

Just a few days before I left, a letter arrived from the McKnight Foundation which included this quote from President John F. Kennedy:

“…if art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him…”

JFK said this in a speech just before the National Endowment for the Arts was established. While McKnight is funded by an independent philanthropic organization, so my generous patron is not subject to the political push-and-pull of  NEA funding, I wondered what it really takes to set the artist free. Don’t get me wrong — the McKnight has changed my artistic life, and I’ve been using the affirmation (?) to push myself to a new level. Still, why do I hold myself back at times?

Today I visited the de Young galleries and took in the Richard Diebenkorn retrospective of his years at Berkley. I was inspired by the following list, which was found among the papers of the painter after his death in 1993. (Spelling and capitalization are as in the original.) I thought they are exactly how I’m trying to drive myself through this period of intensive writing. There were many other things Diebenkorn had to say about his process along the lines of the list.

There are areas in the new novel I’m writing where I’m feeling uncertain. I’m so glad that the McKnight Foundation is giving me faith in myself and my process. At the de Young, I felt I was with fellow artists, all trying to, in Diebenkorn’s words, “tolerate chaos” in the artistic process. In other words, don’t worry too much about making meaning out of everything, making sense. Just practice the art. Get it out there. The rest comes later.

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Notes to myself on beginning a painting

1. attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued—except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Dont “discover” a subject—of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored—but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Polyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

What Gets Your Creative Juices Flowing?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn audience member asked this yesterday at an Anoka County Library ” Mysterious Month of May” event. I think this audience member was a frustrated writer who might have been looking for suggestions about how to get her creative juices flowing.

Thankfully the other two panelists answered ahead of me, as I had no idea how to answer this question. I’d really never thought about ‘creative juices’ before, and initially what came to mind was a tropical fruit cocktail, spiked with tangy turns-of-phrases, a potion blocked writers drank to lubricate the writing process. The idea made me thirsty, but didn’t help me to formulate an answer.

So when it was my turn to say something, I stammered out something about writing prompts and deadlines. In other words, that it helped to have an ‘assignment’ and a ‘due date’, just like the good old days back in school, and my present-time day job, one that is filled to the brim with assignments and due dates. (I’m a proposal writer for a Fortune 25 company).

But now as I think about it, it usually takes nothing more than for me to start writing in order to get those juices flowing. Once I type a sentence, the creative pump is primed, and thoughts and ideas come to mind, and then to the computer screen.

I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block, meaning that I’ve never run out of topics to write about — a blank screen doesn’t shut me down. I just need to basically get going, type a sentence (even nonsense), commit to writing at least a paragraph. Or maybe I’ll pull up a piece I’m working on, or an old piece that never quite came together, and just commit to working out the knotted clumps of prose that are doing nothing for the story.

That’s how I get started.

I just start.

How I keep it going is another topic: helps to have a supportive spouse, kids who are in their teens, blocks of time to concentrate on the work. The McKnight Fellowship has given me a boost of stamina that I’ve long needed to help keep those juices flowing; and as a result, I’m looking at my writing in an entirely different light now. But even with all of those positive factors in my life, I still have to basically sit down and get started, just like I always have.

One of Those Life-Changing Phone Calls for Writers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI learned on Thursday that I won a 2013 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers, administered by the Loft Literary Center. Five $25,000 awards are presented annually to accomplished Minnesota writers and spoken word artists. I couldn’t be more thrilled – the general validation is wonderful (“accomplished writers”); but to be more specific,  my fellowship submission included the opening pages of my unpublished novel Albert Park: a Memoir in Lies. It’s a book I very much believe in and I’m very happy that it impressed the judge, who read all the submitted works, all of which were anonymized. So the decision was based only on my writing, my idea about this crazy pathological liar (unreliable narrator). I was not judged based on who I am or am not . The wonderful value of blind reading is great!

The Zorro lunchbox pictured at left figures into Albert’s ‘story’. As I was writing the book, I began to collect some of the objects that appear in the book. They have a special power in the process of making the story. I’ve never done this before -gathered little objects like this- though I’d heard other writers do this. Frankly I thought this sounded kind of demented. But somehow Albert demanded it. He’s kind of demented. I hope one day that the book sees publication so others can hear Albert’s story.

I’m looking forward to my fellowship year.

There Once Was A….

….limerick winner named Susan! My limerick won a contest at lulu, the publisher of the anthology Let Them Eat Crepes  (the book Melissa and I edited and published in late 2010).

Check out the lulu blog to read my winning entry, which earned me a Barnes & Noble Nook and a $100 credit for the lulu website.

In case you aren’t familiar with the limerick, it’s a poem that follows a strict form:

  • AABBA rhyme scheme
  • five lines
  • a galloping meter (typically)
  • humorous, and sometimes obscene subject matter (lulu asked us to keep our poems family-friendly)
Despite the very clear contest requirements, there were many submissions that didn’t even come close to specifications. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am a girl who follows directions, so I found it surprising. It’s not surprising that my day job involves following directions to the T.
We were allowed to enter more than once, and I became obsessed, even though my first entry was declared the winner.
I am glad there was a limited time that entries could be submitted. My obsession resulted in a collection of five limerick entries, the last of which made a nod to my obsession.
I learned a lot by self-publishing a book on lulu. And everything I learned has helped me with my traditionally published mystery, Washed Up (available everywhere).  Not sure yet which is harder, writing a book, or promoting it. Only time will tell…..