Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Will the real Emily Saso please stand up?

My mom emailed me today:




So of course I dropped everything and googled my own name, and here's what popped up:
Harpur Palate would like to congratulate Emily Saso, winner of the Undergraduate Flash Fiction Contest.
Her winning short story is posted up there. It's pretty good, which is a relief because, well, my name is on it. And her bio is there as well:
Emily Saso is currently an undergraduate at Binghamton University majoring in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing, and minoring in Cinema. Emily is originally from New York City, where she lives with her two mothers and her dog.
When I read this the first time, I felt like I was in the shallow end of a deep dream, the kind that midnight cheese brings on, and my brain flooded with questions: Did I arrange myself a double life in NYC/Binghamton and forgot about it? Is NYC Emily Saso the evil one, or am I? WTF is flash fiction anyways? And Why the hell is my mother googling me? 

But then my desperate ego took over, and those questions no longer mattered. Because YIPPPEEE! Emily Saso wrote a story and it won a prize! I don't care that it wasn't me -- Emily Jane Saso of Toronto, Canada, and two heterosexual parents. My name is on a winner, goddammit, and no one can deny me that.

I need to know more about this other Emily Saso, of course, but this URL is all I can find. So I'm putting this call out to the universe: Emily Saso, thee of New York City and two mothers, please get in touch with me if you read this. You're a writer, and I'm a writer, which makes this cheese-dream situation too weird an opportunity to pass up.


Friday, June 13, 2014

i don't deserve capitalization

oh horror of horrors.

i just opened a word document from 2006 -- way back when I first started toying with the idea of writing some sort of novel -- and i found this phrase:

"... like lightning unbound." 

i was planning on using that! in a book! with my name on it!

gah!

no offence to Lynn Connolly, of course:

i'm sure it's a fine novel.

Monday, May 26, 2014

An uncomfortable shopping experience

The sun kicked the polar vortex’s ass this weekend — a win I celebrated by rolling my jeans up an extra inch:

 What I've looked like every summer since I turned 13.
(Actress Shailene Woodley playing me.)

Aside from taking in the sunshine, I went to the Toronto Indie Arts Market at the Gladstone Hotel. It was nice to see all kinds of creative folks peddling their wares, but it was also stressful. The weather was too perfect, I think, because shoppers were few and far between. I felt so guilty passing by all the tables of stuff that I would never normally buy. Handmade cards for no particular holiday. Nihilist comics. Poetry books with boobs on the cover. Illustrations that were fantastic but too small to hang on my walls. And did you know that people still made zines? A LOT of people?

To be clear: these artists/writers weren't desperate. They were clearly talented, had glorious tattoos and they didn't seem too bothered by the thin crowds. But I know what it feels like to want an audience for your art. It’s a need, and it's primal and sweaty. And having my own need reflected back at me, no matter how many tattoos it was hidden behind? Well, it made me kind of uncomfortable.

My friend agreed with me, although for her own reasons, and as we took a breather in a room filled with Biggie Smalls photos, we agreed to get the hell outta there and go for smoothies.

The fair wasn't a total bust, though, because I met author Erin Bedford. I first stumbled across Erin while doing one of my standard Google searches — something probably like “giving up novel writing” or  “loser wannabe writer quit” — and this blog post came up:

HOW I BROKE UP WITH MY BOOK

Erin wrote and self-published a novel called Fathom Lines that I enjoyed as much as anything else I’ve read this year, so I was excited to meet her in person and pick up a few copies. Here she is at the book fair (Note the fries and beer taps behind her. Isn't she just so your kind of person?):


If you like Alice Munro, I highly recommend Fathom Lines. Erin's use of language is downright jealousy-inducing and she's created beautifully realized and relatable characters. If I was a publisher or agent, I'd be kicking myself that I missed out on the chance to work with Erin at the beginning of her career. She deserves as many readers as she can get. You can buy her novel here. (And you can buy a heck of a smoothie here.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sorry? Excel is a whatnow?


I came across a blog through my agent’s blog that's full of all sorts of goodies for writers. One of my favourite posts is about the process and — for lack of a better word — technique of revision. Check it out here.

The blogger, author Laurie Halse Anderson, and I have a very similar approach to revising, save for one area: the actual "roadmap" itself. While she prefers using large sheets of paper to outline her roadmap, I find an Excel spreadsheet to be most effective. Aside from being an organizational lifesaver, a digital spreadsheet is portable. Woo hoo! I just email it to my iPhone and I can refer to my roadmap wherever I go. (It came in very handy this morning when I was trapped on the subway for half an hour. The power was off and transit supervisors were searching the tracks for a dead body, but I was revising on the go, so who cares?)

I don’t think I’ve used Excel as it’s meant to be used more than a dozen times. I remember my husband casually mentioning that it's just a big calculator a while back, and I was all “Get the fu%$ out!” And now that I've discovered Excel art (see Mega Man above), it's safe to say that I'm going to be moving farther and father away from the software's raison d'ĂȘtre.

I don't do anything fancy on my spreadsheet roadmap. I just break my book down into scenes, making note of the most important events. I also use colour coding, which helps me with stuff like this:

1. Pacing my story
My book has a bit of a magical realism bent to it, but I don't want to overdo it and annoy my readers. To ensure that doesn't happen, I colour those moments orange. This way, I can easily see if there’s too much "magic" in any particular section.

2. Organizing locations
I like to keep my characters on the move. For example, my main character’s apartment is assigned the colour blue. Too much blue clotted together on the spreadsheet? Scenes will need to be shuffled to keep things interesting.

3. Periphery characters
I want to spread these guys around and colour coding helps me do that. For example, I’ve assigned Steve red and Margaret yellow. That way I have an instant visual map. Too much red in one area? Again, that’s a sign that scenes need to be shuffled. You get the drift. Now here's some more Excel art for you, you clever drift-getter you!


Source
Source
Source


Monday, April 7, 2014

I still want my $100 back, Phil.


I went to a postural cleanse workshop* on the weekend and the guy running the show, Phil, kept talking about mantras. At first I was all like, "I paid you $100 to tell me how to stand up straight, Phil! Can you shut up about mantras already?" When I calmed down I realized there was probably something to all this mantra stuff since Phil has a spine as straight as a rod and could stand in the same position, without fidgeting, for a week if he were so inclined.

Later that night, as I slouched in front of The New York Times, I came upon a book review by Scott Sandage. And get this! I found my mantra! It has jack to do with my dreams of standing tall like a ballet dancer but everything to do with finding a modicum of pride in the ego-burning existence that is a writer's life:
"'Managing the gap between vision and work, which often looks to others like being swallowed by failure, is a lifelong process.' Failure is ever present in the unending drift towards mastery."
- from a review of The Rise (Sarah Lewis)  
All together now: "Failure is ever present in the unending drift towards mastery." Ahummmmm.

It's probably too long to be an actual mantra, but because I'm more crusty than new-agey, it's as close as I'm going to get. So thanks Phil -- you sort of helped me find my sort-of mantra. But I still want my $100 back.

-----------------------------------

*Some of my crusty takeaways from the workshop include:
1) Don't sit, like ever.
2) Be a nerd and buy a standing-desk.
3) If you have to sit, even though you should never ever ever sit, move your ass every 20 minutes. Also, don't even think about crossing your legs.
4) Move to Taipei for a year and find an old man who will teach you old-school qigong. (Only one move, though.)
5) Get an earthing mat and be prepared to alienate yourself from your electrician father-in-law.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Writerly stuff I like right now (that you may like, too)

WATCH: Authors Anonymous
My writer friend and I rented this movie from iTunes last night and, when we weren't nodding our heads and sighing at how true it rang, we were roaring with laughter. It's not exactly Oscar-worthy stuff, okay, so keep your expectations in check. But if you're an aspiring fiction author -- especially if you've ever been part of a writers' group -- you will enjoy this movie, I promise. (I know; I can't believe it either!)


READ: "Found In Translation"
While I normally abhor any reference to a film made by Sofia Wake-Me-Up-When-It's-Ovah Coppola, this article by Michael Cunningham is an exception. Here's a sample:

"Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire."

EAT: Chia Pudding
If you're like most writers I know, emotional eating -- especially sugar -- is an issue. Whether you use ice cream to soothe yourself post rejection or reward yourself with Swedish Berries for a completed chapter, too much bad food is happening to good writers. I've recently come across this recipe that has helped me kick my sweet tooth not just to the curb, but down a flight of stairs and through a pane of Venetian glass. I opt out of the sweeteners and add two tablespoons of low-fat coconut milk and some cinnamon for flavour. Writerly bonus!: Its strangely gooey consistency makes it tough to spill, so it's an ideal snack to munch on by your laptop.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Write the words

You know those enormous pieces of paper that primary school teachers and motivational speakers use? Around 25 x 30.5 inches, usually resting on an easel that is perpetually on the verge of being tipped over by an 8-year-old math nerd or a super fan who rushes the stage? I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to respect and obey whatever is written on those large sheets. As though if something is that big, it must be important.

My friend Yvanna, who’s a teacher, sent me a little gem the other day and it was written on one of those all-knowing sheets. She found it in a fellow teacher’s classroom, snapped a photo and sent it my way. I found its wisdom to be so simple and inspiring that I thought you’d like it too.


Then I thought it would be a useful exercise to think like a 1st-grader and apply these tips to my second novel, which is currently in progress.

1) Name
I hate the name of my story. Hate! Hate! I called it “It’s Safer Underground” because I was a stupid-head. But I don’t wanna be a stupid-head and so I will change it.

2) Think
Thinking is the funnest part of writing! I get so excited when I think up new ideas that I almost pee!

3) Picture
I am writing a big-kid book, which means no pictures. But I can still draw the scene inside of my head! And if I take my time, and am real careful, the picture will turn out as handsome as Justin Bieber. xoxoxoxo

4) Write the words
It’s so hard to write the words. It’s the most hardest part. But I have to write them or there will be no story. Duh!

5. Share your story with the teacher
I don’t like sharing, but I will do it. Mostly because I want other people to share back with me.

What about you? Ever get an inspiring writing tip from a surprising place?