Monday, May 26, 2014

Reads for Writers: Ann Patchett Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

        I adore essays. The best are literary affairs filled with truth and wisdom.

Want proof? Read any of Ann Patchett's in her latest collection—especially "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life," "The Sacrament of Divorce," "This Dog's Life," "The Wall," "Love Sustained," "The Bookstore Strikes Back," "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage," and "The Mercies."

While I love these essays and most of the other fourteen published with them, I hate the title of the book: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It just sounds smug—and the essay it's based on is not. In fact, Patchett left a very unhappy marriage, see "The Sacrament of Divorce," and swore she would never remarry, but her plans go engagingly awry a dozen years later.

If I hadn't read a rave review of this book by someone I trust, I never would have picked it up—and I would have missed this masterclass. However, I think the paperback (and the hardcover) should be reissued/renamed as My Getaway Car. That grabs interest without putting too many people off. Who hasn't wished for a getaway car at some point in his or her life?

In "The Getaway Car," Patchett shares how she became a published author. She always knew she was a writer, but it took a while to support herself with just her words.

A college class taught by Allan Gurganus, who assigned a story a week, is the basis for her career. "Ninety percent of what I know about fiction writing I learned that year. Write it out. Tell the truth. Stack up the pages. Learn to write by writing. Slowing down was for later, years later. We were to keep going at all costs…Had I wound up with a different sort of teacher, one who suggested we keep an ear cocked for the muse instead of hoisting the pick, I don't think I would have gotten very far." (page 28)

Patchett paid her dues. She worked as a waitress after completing the Iowa Writers' Workshop. "With so much time for thinking and so little time for writing, I learned how to work in my head…I was going to make up a novel…the novel was going to be my getaway car." (page 39) Patchett is the author of six novels to date.

"This Dog's Life" made me laugh as Patchett states, "I have believed that happiness and true adulthood would be mine at the moment of dog ownership…[She adopted a puppy named Rose, but people just said she must want a baby badly.]…Being a childless woman of childbearing age, I am a walking target for people's concerned analysis. No one looks at a single man with a Labrador retriever and says, 'Will you look at the way he throws the tennis ball to that dog? Now there's a guy who wants to have a son.'" (pages 75-76)

In her essay "The Wall," Patchett recounts her training and tests to get into the Los Angeles Police Academy. "Love Sustained" illuminates the caretaking side of love that takes grit and gumption. "The Bookstore Strikes Back" tells the tale of opening a successful local bookstore despite Amazon and the naysayers. And "The Mercies" highlights friendship and caring through decades.

All of these essays reveal the allure and strength of this art form whether Patchett is celebrating the truth about love, her grandmother, her husband, her dog, books, friends, or fate.

These essays are the story of a now happy writer's life.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gone Fishing!

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Hello All!

As an extremely detail-oriented person who loves to make lists and accomplish everything (and then some) on those lists on a daily basis, it's been extremely unlike me not to post to this blog for two weeks in a row.

One thing that has made it's way to my lists and doesn't want to seem to leave is a whopping good case of pneumonia.  I thought I was on the mend last week only to have a relapse and if I can be completely honest--I'm really not feeling much better even now.

With that said, I have missed posting to The Writer's Crate terribly so I'm stopping by to let you know that I hope and pray to be back next week.  I'm optimistic that I can get back and share all about my exciting visit to New York City where I spent a full day with one of my editors at Macmillan Publishers.  Though I went sick with pneumonia (not a very wise move on my part--I completely admit!) I still had an amazing day with one of the world's largest publishers!

Until then-----

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Writer's Survival Kits

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        I never leave home without my basic writer's survival kit—at least one book, a pen, and a notebook.

In my purse, I carry at all times pocket-sized versions of The Writer's Life: Insights from the Right to Write by Julia Cameron, 6" x 4", and Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, 4.5" x 3", along with pens and small notepad so I can write anywhere, anytime I have a few moments whether waiting for someone in a restaurant, before a movie, or at a dentist's office.

        Watching people in these places is a great way to capture details to use later describing characters. Overheard conversations can lead to plot twists or essays. However, if I'm not inspired by my location, I randomly open either of these pocket-sized books, read a page or two, grab my pen, and start scribbling down thoughts.

        In my car, I keep pens, a full-sized notebook, and two books—The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield and Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman—in case I don't bring my purse with me and find myself with time on my hands. This happens once or twice a week.

        If I know I am going to have time to write, I bring my lovely black damask-print tote bag always stocked with half a dozen pens, a full-sized notebook, and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield as it never fails to motivate me so I always want it nearby. I then add whatever book(s) I'm currently reading. These books are as essential as the pens and notebook because reading sparks my writing. I don't have time to wait for my muse. I meet her on the path left by the tip of my pen in my notebook.

Frankly, there is never enough time to write. These small pockets of time and my writing kits are what make my writing life possible on busy days.

        I wish more writing books were offered in pocket-sized versions. My top choice would be, not surprisingly, The War of Art. Other books would include: The Writer's Home Companion edited by Joan Bolker, Ed.D., For Writer's Only by Sophy Burnham, Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, and Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. I could go on, but these would make a great start.

        If they were pocket-sized, I would always have my favorite writing books with me—a portable cheering section supporting me as I write every chance I get!


Monday, May 12, 2014

Reads for Writers: The Dirty Life & Fifty Acres and a Poodle

From Kate's Writing Crate...

In honor of spring, I am highlighting two city authors who moved to farms. One never planned on changing from an out-till-dawn-having-fun writer in New York City to an up-before-dawn farmer in upstate New York. The other grew up loving Green Acres and simply dreamed of a farm of her own.

In The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love, author Kristin Kimball shares "the story of two love affairs that interrupted the trajectory of [her] life: one with farming—that dirty, concupiscent art—and the other with a complicated and exasperating farmer [she] found in State College, Pennsylvania."

For Kristin, it all began with an appointment to interview a farmer growing organic crops six hours from Manhattan for a possible article. Mark, the long-legged 14-hour-workday farmer, had no time to talk during daylight so he promised her an interview that evening. In the meantime, she could help one of his assistants hoe the broccoli.

Kristin's impressions of Mark were: "First, this is a man. All the men I knew were cerebral. This one lived in his body. Second, I can't believe I drove all this way to hoe broccoli for this dude."

The farm work didn't stop there. That evening, Kristin, a 13-year vegetarian, helped slaughter a pig. Her outlook and life changed. She was back at the farm at dawn for pancakes and a double helping of homemade sausage. Then she was off to rake around the tomato plants until almost too sore to move as Mark took the pig carcass to a butcher.

She spent the rest of the day following Mark from task to task until she finally begged him to sit down for an hour as she was leaving the next day. While sitting together on an oak log and answering her questions, Mark realized he had found his wife. It took Kristin a bit longer to fall in love, give up her city life, and become a farmer, too. They found a farm of their own and started from scratch.

The Dirty Life spares no details on the hard and filthy work of farming. It is a matter of life and death for crops and animals so people can eat well. As fast as farmers work, there are always more chores than time. The big upsides are seeing the farm come to life as crops are planted, livestock is born, buildings are repaired and put to use followed by the harvesting of gloriously tasty food they produce, sell, and enjoy eating fresh every day. Despite the dirt, blood, manure and exhaustion, Kristin Kimball cannot think of a more rewarding life. Her book is a superbly written tribute to farming, family, and community.

If the reality of farming is too much for you, Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas might be more your style. Pets play the leads on this farm.

The author owns a sick cat named Bob and a small mutt named Betty. After a friendship turns to an unplanned romance, she discovers her fiancé, Alex, always wanted, much to her dismay, a standard Poodle. As fate would have it, an eight-month-old Poodle named Marley comes into their lives.

Jeanne and Alex live in nearby houses in Pittsburgh, but they spend Sundays driving around farm shopping as Jeanne has a farm dream based loosely on Green Acres. One day they find the perfect farm complete with a studio so Jeanne has an inspiring place to write. They make an offer and, after an excruciating delay, they find themselves the owners of it.

Moving to a farm doesn't make owners farmers. There is a lot to learn. Luckily, neighbors are quick to lend a hand, but the mistakes made along the way are funny, embarrassing, or  even near-death experiences.

On the plus side, Alex takes to a tractor like the deer take to the multiflora rose bushes growing all over the place. He is happy farming on weekends after working in the city as a doctor during the week.

The fifty acres are soon filled with more than a Poodle—dogs: Wilma and Sparky; barn cats: Walter and Irving; horses: Cricket and Maggie; and mules: Sassafras (Sassy) and Skippy. Plans are made to add sheep and goats as well as a garden, a pond, and a greenhouse. Then two daughters join the family. Along the way, Jeanne writes deeply about writing, solitude, growing pains, and love which she also captures in two follow up books: The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family and Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures.

This is her dream of farming that came true.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Creating Great Content

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Pneumonia!  All I can say is--it stinks!  I haven't been this ill in ages, and after nearly two weeks of coughing and struggling to find the energy to simply sit up in bed, I think I'm finally starting to feel human again.

Though this has been an extremely rough stretch, there are two good things that have come out of it.

1.  I will never take my health for granted again!
2.  I discovered a wonderful new creative blog that has completely inspired me for when I'm feeling back to my old self, and today I'm going to share it with you.

Marie Forleo is a dynamic, vivacious, clever, and very entertaining entrepreneur, author, video blogger and much more.  Her professional bio is shared on her website and to give you a little sample, here you go:  

Professional Bio

Marie was recently interviewed by Oprah as a thought leader for the next generation. Her mission is to help you realize your greatest potential and use your unique talents to change the world. She reaches over 250,000 readers in 191 countries worldwide and leads dynamic training programs that teach individuals to succeed in business and life. She’s the creator of the award-winning show MarieTV and has been featured in Entrepreneur MagazineFast CompanyGlamour MagazineSelf and The New York Times among others. Marie has been interviewed by Tony Robbins as one of the world’s leading lifestyle and online marketing experts and mentored young business owners at Richard Branson’s Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. Her bestselling book, Make Every Man Want You: How To Be So Irresistible You’ll Barely Keep from Dating Yourself is published in 13 languages. Through her Change Your Life, Change The World® initiative, each for profit training program is tied to a non-profit partner who supports women, the environment and entrepreneurship.

I share this with you in today's post for the very simple reason that I find her not only inspiring, but full of very useful and clever information that we as writers can definitely benefit from and as readers we can feel energized and excited about life in general.

Her latest post How to Keep Coming Up With Ideas for Content is both hilarious and amazingly useful. 

I don't like the fact that I am recovering from pneumonia, but I can honestly say that I may have not discovered Marie Forleo if I hadn't been stuck in bed for so long, so I guess I'll let this be my silver lining, especially because I'm full of new inspiration to generate some fresh and fun new content for the many writing projects I'm so grateful for that await me.

Where do you find ideas for new content? 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Importance of a Writing Buddy

From Kate's Writing Crate… 
        As much as many of us like solitude, no writer is an island. Our family members, friends, co-workers, and even strangers we watch as we go through our days inspire us. Where would we be without conversations—overheard or otherwise—tales of childhood, romances, heartaches, and who-done-me-wrongs?

        Whether you are published or not, writing is hard work. Support is imperative. It can be difficult to find, especially among non-writers, so get yourself a writing buddy as soon as possible.

        I got lucky, really lucky, when Cheryl contacted me about writing for the magazines I edit. She made me laugh when she explained she hadn't been out of the house much in a decade except to go to the delivery room as she is a mother of eight children born within 11 years.

Talented, gregarious, funny, and supportive, Cheryl is, as I often tell her, an "It Girl."

She is the author of Pregnant Women Don't Eat Cabbage. She is Mighty Mommy, a professional blogger for MacMillan Publishing and now a part of the Huffington Post; author of the Mighty Mommy book slated for 2015; a columnist for three or four other publications; a book reviewer; a magazine staff writer; and working on her first novel all while raising her children and working a "regular" job. She has been interviewed about her book on a statewide morning show and given talks to large crowds as well. She is also the voluntary driving force and editor behind the local middle school's newspaper.

How she finds the time to write, I don't know, but she does—and she writes for this blog, too. I am so grateful she asked me to co-write it with her as it's been the best writing forum for me. After 87 posts, I'm a more disciplined, succinct, and better writer. I'm more confident in my work and even brave enough now to send articles to national magazines and work on a book of essays. And I owe it all to Cheryl.

I have no doubt that she will be a New York Times bestselling author as well as a regular on a national morning show. (One of them should snap her up now!) She shares, usually with humor, the best parenting advice having been a mother for over 20 years. Her eight children are happy, well-adjusted, and able to overcome challenges—which is what most parents want for their offspring, too.

Cheryl is also kind, caring, and the greatest of friends. Our Literary Adventures are full of fun. Plus we love to discuss and dissect books as readers and writers.

We are writing more because of the mutual support. I could not ask for a better writing buddy!

Make the time to find one of your own.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rainy Days

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

It's Thursday.  It's raining.  No--it's pouring!  Oh, and it's May Day!  Not exactly the way we hope to welcome one of my favorite months (ok, it's my birthday month--you've got to love your birthday month, right?)--the month where the buds on the trees start to explode with lush green and the temps finally start to wander from the 40's to a much more pleasant 50's and 60's.  

I don't mind rainy days because the offer up opportunities for enjoying the things I love to do indoors--clean and organize my home (yes, a sickness, I know), bake cookies or dabble in the kitchen with new recipes, and of course writing.  Normally, a day like this would have me jumping up and down, but I've had bronchitis for the past few days and don't feel like doing much of anything so I thought for today's post I'd honor this monsoon of a day with a blog post from a writer's blog that I frequent often-- I Am Fae Esperas.    Below is her post from June 29, 2013 called 5 Reasons Rainy Days are the Best to Write.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Writing is never an easy task, even for those who believe that they are born with the talent. Hey, I’ve been dreaming of becoming a writer since I was 5, and while I could say that I am already living the dream, to be frank it isn’t easy. Like many of my fellows, I am bound for sleepless nights, deadly deadlines, and boring topics. Not to mention the limited freedom and creativity bestowed on my hands.
Many writers could relate to this. Since this job couldn’t be done at the snap of the fingertips, we writers often look for the right moment to start the dirty work. Yes, we wait for the right timing, may it be after a breakup or just a few hours before the deadline, it depends. As for me though, after all these years of switching from pens to keyboards and back, I realized that if there’s one perfect setting to write, that would be on a rainy day.
Why so? Here are my reasons.

1. The rain is just too damn inspiring to look at.
Many love stories start with the girl looking out the window on a rainy afternoon while sipping a cup of coffee. And from there, we can expect that romance is about to blossom any minute soon-i.e. the girl will finally stumble upon her prince charming at the most unrealistic way possible.
The same goes with writing. The rain sets a certain atmosphere that’s just very much conducive for the brain to churn ideas, thus we feel the knack to write. Staring outside the window helps too-you watch the raindrops drag themselves down the glass pane and you fall in love with the way they do it. You too would feel the itch to create some drama, and while you can’t do it like the raindrops, you’d just let your hands do the works.
2. Cold weather, cool brain.
The hot weather during the past days is one of the reasons why I stumbled upon a writer’s slump. It wasn’t just hot per se, it was muggy. I feel sleepy because of the heat of the day, and while I try to write, I still end up surrendering to my body clock at night. So as a result, I had low productivity.
This morning’s weather was a major game changer for me, writing wise. Finally, it rained-it was cold but refreshing, a bit crisp but totally relaxing. My brain enjoyed most of the day and I found myself writing one project article during the peak of the supposed siesta hours. So yay!
3. The pitter-patter is just too noisy.
Even if you’re living in a concrete apartment, you’d still hear the rain from the outside, especially when it’s pouring really hard. And when it rains during the wake of the night, would you be able to sleep as soundly as usual? I don’t.
Well, it’s not just the pitter-patter that bothers me. It easily floods in my place so I’m often wary of the water coming inside the house. So yes, when it rains at night, I make it a point to stay up, and write with all my might before a power outage occurs.
4. Rainy days call for comfort food.
What do we feed on during the rainy days? A hot cup of chocolate, o bowl of porridge, or a serving of gooey mac-and-cheese. Well, when we get the comfort we need, the more inspired we become in terms of working-and in this case, writing. It’s mainly because we’d want to share the overflowing joy and comfort we felt with the dish we devoured.
5. With rain comes the brownout.
In my place, power outages, or brownouts, often take place during heavy rains. You can blame it on the utility providers, but aside from ranting, what else can we do?
So yeah, whenever it rains especially in my part of the world, I feel the itch to write. It’s because I’d want to make the most of the time while electricity is up and running, and send everything I have to submit before the lines get cut off. That way, I can relax once a brownout happens, and not freak out on missing deadlines and client-related drama.
Crazy as it sounds, but I could attest that rainy days are the definitely the best times to write. After all, when else can you enjoy a cozy romantic moment in front of the computer these days?

Do rainy days inspire your writing?