Archive | November, 2010

Thoughts On Blogging From the Rents

Thank you to everyone who participated in my survey last week. It turns out that about 2/3 of you think a post should be between 100 and 500 words. Not too long, not too short. The other third voted for good long posts of over 500 words and I have to give a special thanks to JJ Keith (of the JJust Kidding blog) for her thoughts on the matter. It does seem that now and then you just need to delve in a little deeper to capture the nuance of certain ideas.

Which leads me to babies. What? Babies?

Yes. If you’ve been following along you know I’m due to give birth any day now, and since I’ve done this once before, I know things get a little hectic when you bring home the little screaming, pooping bundle of joy. I’m afraid of loosing track of the days and not keeping up the blog.

So starting fairly soon this blog will be host to a number of guest bloggers. I’ve reached out to some writer friends (who happen to be parents) and asked them to write a short post about being a writer/parent. I’ve left the definition of “short” open to interpretation, and am excited to hear what these folks have to say on the topic of juggling the bundle with this creative profession we call writing.

So stay tuned, I’ve got some pretty great writers on board so far – it should be an interesting discussion.

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A Poem For Thanksgiving

With the craziness of Thanksgiving upon us, we may not always have time to write, but we can always be soaking up beauty for future reference. Here, a poem from the 14th century, Persian poet Hafiz which always makes me smile:

The Happy Virus

I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious –
So kiss me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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In Search of the Perfect Post

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve been blogging away for over a year without giving much thought as to how long my posts are. I tend to lean toward the shorter, snappier post, but I was wondering if perhaps I should be spending a little more time to writer longer, more involved pieces?

If you would be so kind, I would love to know your thoughts on the matter. This quiz is set up to run until the night of Nov. 24th. If you’re reading this before then, lay it on me.


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The Social Media Dilemma

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my professional and personal lives overlap, especially in relation to my online activity. As a writer, who blogs about my own writing, there are bound to be personal details that come up (for instance, I’m due to give birth pretty soon – you can bet that will influence my posts to some degree), but for the most part I try to keep it professional.

For me, that means not writing about my family or friends (except insofar as they influence my life as a writer). The question is, how should I use sites like Twitter and Facebook to promote my writing, without telling the world every detail of my personal life? Twitter is pretty easy – I really only use that for work/writing related ideas, but Facebook is another story.

The solution I’ve come up with is to create an additional Facebook page for my “business” of writing. The new “April Dávila – Writer” page is very low on privacy – everything on it is intended for the public. Right after I created it, I increased the privacy settings on my personal “April Dávila” page so that only friends can see the embarrassing photos of me drunk in Vegas. This isn’t to say I won’t share photos on my new “professional” page, but this way I have a little more control over who sees what.

The hard part is that now I don’t want to use my personal page to promote things like my blog, or articles that are published, but only a handful of my friends have signed up for my professional page where I intend to post about my writing. How to I get my old friends to sign up for the new page? Does it even matter? Every time I think I have all this online self-promotion business worked out I realize I’m just a babe in the woods.

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Environmental Heritage as Inspiration

I was talking with my mom the other day about inspiration. She’s an artist (working in clay these days – check out her blog: Burning Clay) and she told me she took a long drive back to her home town recently to soak up some of her heritage for inspiration. She grew up on a farm in Elk Grove outside Sacramento, raised by her grandparents and a gaggle of abusive uncles. Seriously, they used to beat her up and tease her all day every day. The only peace she found was when she hopped on her horse and went out on her own, and that peace was what she went back to visit. To her, the heritage that matters is the place, not the people.

She told me she found the very path she used to ride, and that it looked exactly the same. While she talked I could almost smell the long wet grasses and dusty lots in the distance. We talked further about how it seems that place, as much as the people in a given place, is what really shapes us as individuals. And as artists, what more do we really have to offer but our individual shapes? 

Would I be the same writer if I grew up somewhere other than a small town in Northern California? How will growing up in LA mold the minds of my children? I shudder to think. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer” right now, and I’m pretty sure the story would be pretty different if the author grew up in India. We are part of our landscapes, but more than that, they are a part of us. 

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My POD Book Arrived This Morning

My new Print On Demand (POD) book just arrived in the mail. To be clear, this isn’t what I consider a “real” book. It’s not a novel, or even an organized work of non-fiction. It’s a collection of blog posts that I cut and pasted into an application that allowed me to print my blog as a book.

Why, you might ask? I created this little beauty to offer as a thank you to folks who donated to a new project I’m working on (called the Digging Deep Campaign – Unearthing Fact and Fiction About What We Eat). I don’t expect to make any money on it, other than the donations my partner and I have already received toward the project, but damn if it isn’t fun to see my name on the cover of a book.

It’s shiny, it’s in color, it looks just like a real book and it’s been tickling my vanity all morning. Even though I have emotionally set it aside as “not a real book” it has me very excited for the day that my work will actually be published. When I’m ready to take my novel or my narrative non-fiction book out to the world I intend to use a traditional publisher, so I know the road will be a lot longer, but just seeing this little “for fun” book has inspired me to hang in there. There’s something very satisfying about seeing one’s name in print.

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Literary Journals

I just finished reading the Winter/Spring edition of Gulf Coast. To be honest, I didn’t read every word. I’m not huge on poetry, which it publishes a lot of, but the fiction and non-fiction were stunning.

There’s something so immediate about literary journals. Reading them always makes me feel like I’m more a part of the greater writing community of the world, especially when I see a name I recognize. For instance, when I opened this edition and saw that Benjamin Percy had a piece of fiction I flipped right to it. I had just finished writing a blog post about his theories on rhyming action in stories and was curious to see how he used this tool of fiction (he used crows as harbingers of death – effective, even if a touch on the cliché side).

The trick with literary journals is how to know which ones to read. Having worked on the USC literary journal (The Southern California Review) I’m partial to the stories we publish. Other than the SCR and Gulf Coast, I subscribe to One Story and the Santa Clara Review (because they were the first print journal to publish one of my short stories). Does anyone else out there have a journal recommendation? What do you read to keep up on who’s doing what in the literary world? Why does it matter? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Fear The Frog

About a year ago I wrote a post about avoiding cliché in my writing. This month’s issue of Poets & Writers brings us an article titled “Consider the Orange,” written by Benjamin Percy, which has the topic bouncing in my head again.

In the piece Percy talks about rhyming action – how certain physical things, when repeatedly correlated with an emotion in a story, come to symbolize that emotion. The example he uses is that of oranges in the Godfather movie trilogy. Oranges are seen when key characters die, to the point that subconsciously we begin to feel afraid when we see an orange.

The most interesting thing to me is Percy’s discussion of how this is done well, and not so well. A lesser writer, for example, might use stormy weather or a religious symbol to add a sense of foreboding. Uh-huh. How cliché is that? To use something like a bright piece of fruit is more or less genius.

So now I’m thinking – what could I use in my story as rhyming action? I have a smaller, but very important character who struggles with mental illness. Maybe I could have a small frog jumping around in the scenes in which he loses his cool. Okay, maybe a frog is a little distracting/strange (especially for a story set in the desert), but the overall idea of rhyming action is definitely one I’m toying with. If I did it well enough, my readers would get tense at the introduction of a frog to a scene, and not even know why…

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The Bias Against Print-On-Demand

Here it is – the Month Without Monsanto blog in book form. Well, here’s a mock up of the cover at least. In case you’re new, I created this book to give as a thank you to folks who donated to my new Digging Deep food awareness campaign (our new website will be launching soon).

It’s my first foray into Print On Demand and I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to explore the world of POD with this kind of low pressure project.

Like many writers, I have a certain bias against self publishing. As a fiction writer (mostly) I feel like the hurdles of finding an agent and then a publisher act as a kind of vetting process. When I pick up a book at the book store, I know that at least a handful of people thought this story was good enough to put money and man power behind. With a self published book you really only have the author’s word that their story is good and that, to me, has always seemed like asking a new parent if their baby is cute.

Then there are the small presses. I don’t consider these publishers the same as POD. Take for instance Eye Muse Books. A friend of mine started this company to publish a line of truly awesome travel books. Though she is technically self publishing, she is selling her books through traditional venues (book stores) which has the effect of bringing that vetting process to life.

It sounds like I’m saying that someone (besides you or your mom) has to think your book is worth money for it to be a good read. That’s not true, but when there are so many books I want to read in this world, a book that has the endorsement of someone else (be it publisher or book store proprietor) is more likely to get my attention.

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Did I Say 100 Days Of Writing?

Today is the first of November and the internet is a buzz with talk of the annual NaNoWriMo challenge. If you haven’t heard, it’s a website that challenges writers to to spill out 50,000 words in one month. The basic rules are that it has to be a first draft and you have to just write, write, write.

I’ve always wanted to try it, but seeing as I’m closing in on the completed second draft of my first novel, I didn’t want to get distracted by a new story. So instead of NaNoWriMo, I opted to do the 100 days of writing challenge, presented by the Writing Spirit website. I committed to writing for at least one hour, on my novel, every day.

I lasted exactly 12 days.

It’s embarrassing to say I didn’t meet my goal. I have many good reasons (excuses), but the fact is I blew it.

Perhaps these kinds of challenges just work better when they are done with a group. Maybe that’s the secret to NaNoWriMo – in signing up you have a whole community of folks to endure with.

I will try this challenge again, as soon as my ego recovers from the failure of it all, but next time I will recruit at least three friends to do it with. Maybe we could meet every week to check in, or commit to page counts or something. Has anyone out there had more luck with this kind of challenge? If so, what’s your secret?

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