Bibliophelia

I love books.

Whats better than just a book? A book about books!

Yes I am that much of a book geek. When I go to Barnes & Noble you can most often find me installed on the floor in the Literary Essay section with precariously stacked piles of books around me as I try to narrow my selection down to one or two out of the dozens I wish to purchase. While everyone else is stampeding around the new releases, salivating over the newest James Patterson novel, I’m hassling the sales lady about the new book I saw on online about the history of western literature that they havent bothered to unpack and shelve yet cuz they know nobody gives a crap.

Except me of course.

A quick digression here: If you ever see a tv listing for a movie called Night of the Dead, avoid it like a zombie plague. It really sucks. My God, do I really pay for these channels??

Ok, anyways.

I also love books written by writers about writing, how they write, why they write, what inspires them to write, what they like to read and just about their lives in general. Stephen King’s On Writing is one such book that is one of my favorites. It’s the perfect combination of autobiography and writing craft. And its by Stephen King so you can’t go wrong. He had such an interesting life that reminds me of how pointless my life is in comparison and is probly why I blow chunks as a writer.

I think writers read books in a different way then non-writers. If you don’t write, you read a book and you either like it or you don’t like it, but you may not be able to pinpoint exactly why a book was good or why it sucked. When a writer reads a book, I think we tend to pick the book apart a little as we read. Not always in a bad way, just in a technical way. We may think, look at the use of dialogue, it gets the characters’ emotions across perfectly. Or, I would have written that differently, they used way too many adjectives (yes you can over describe something, and its very annoying if done repetitively). Or, wow that character is a really predictable stereotype. I don’t think that it takes away from my enjoyment of a book, but being able to recognize poor examples of writing helps me understand why I didn’t enjoy a book and helps me try to prevent making the same mistakes in my own writing.

Of course there are books that are very well written that I just don’t like. And books that are god-aweful that I do like *cough*twilight*cough* But we can’t all have impeccable taste in literature all the time. Sometimes we just like crap. Its like knowing you have a steak in the fridge but going out to McDonald’s instead. Or having Shakespeare on your coffee table and a Playboy under your mattress. Yeah yeah, you read it for the articles. We know.

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Exposing Your Prose In Public

I’ve noticed a big trend towards writing in public, specifically coffee shops, cafes and bookstores. Now that all of these places have wi-fi and everyone has a laptop or netbook or tablet, more and more people are taking their computers out to these places. When I go to Barnes & Noble or Starbucks or even Dunkin Donuts, they’re chock full of people tapping away on their keyboards, and I think its safe to guess that at least one or two of them are working on a book or dissertation or some other form of writing. Do these type of environments really help people write? Or do people just think it looks cool to be seen working on some great scholarly masterpiece. Personally, I find it distracting, the noise and people and music. I have the attention span of a six month old child, so its difficult for me to focus in that type of setting.

My creative writing group is held at B&N and I often wish we could gather somewhere quieter and more private. My writing group is one of the few occurrences where I find I am able to write these days, and its very frustrating for me when I can’t concentrate because some kid is playing their Nintendo DS at full volume or some idiot doesn’t understand they’re not in a sound proof phone booth when they’re SCREAMING INTO THEIR CELL PHONE for an hour. And what is it about a group of writers gathered around a table that draws these inconsiderate cretins like moths to a flame????

I think a lot of people like the idea of bein a writer more than they like actually writing. They like the idea of sitting in the corner of some quaint, cozy little cafe on a Saturday morning, wearing a turtleneck sweater, sipping a latte, as they scribble away in their Moleskine journal with a gold monogrammed fountain pen, smiling to themselves as they hear the people around them whisper behind their coffee cups, “oooooh look at that writer over there…”

Like they think they’re goddamn Hemingway in 1920’s Paris.

Ok, hold on I suddenly have the urge to look at Moleskine’s website. They really do make nice stuff…..

Ok I’m back. Where was I?

Oh yeah.

But that’s not what makes you a writer. Not cafes or lattes or leather-bound journals and fountain pens or sitting around letting people see you looking like a writer. Writers write, usually alone. When I do get into that writing groove (which is unfortunately rare these days), I don’t want any contact with the outside world. It kills me to have to stop writing so I can sleep or go to work or clean my house or go grocery shopping so my family doesn’t starve to death. Back when I was single and unemployed I would stay locked inside my apartment with the blinds drawn and do nothing but write for twenty hours a day. I looked like a pasty-skinned, red-eyed, tweaked out junkie. My parents would have to come by once a week to make sure I wasnt dead and being eaten by my cat.

But I guess for some people, that image and aura of mystique is needed to feel like a “real” writer or to feel inspired to write. Maybe they’re an exhibitionist and they need that audience in order to perform. But they just come across as really fake, because while I see them doing a lot of latte sipping and a lot of iPhone checking and a lot of looking around at what other people are doing, I see them doing very little actual writing.

A Trip To The Library! Yay!

Yesterday I went to the Springfield Public Library. Its my favorite place to go in the whole city, one of the few places in Springfield worth visiting.

The library is a beautiful building thats usually quiet except for hushed and mysterious whispers that echo off the high ceilings. I love the smell of a library, of all those old books. I like going to the upper level where nobody ever goes, amongst the book that nobody has any interest in reading anymore. The outdated books on psychology and the occult and biology, dusty old literary essays and cookbooks. You can hide yourself in a maze of bookshelves up there where nobody will disturb you. I usually bring a big tote bag with me, filled with things to do while I’m there, usually my iPad, a book, a notepad and pen, iPod, ear buds, sometimes my crocheting project, and the library has wi-fi, so I am quite content to spend several hours there in peace.

The library is 100 years old this year. It was opened to the public in 1912. I took some pictures when I was there yesterday.

Co-Dependant Writing

Years and years ago, I used to smoke. I know, pretty gross. I started when I was about 11 years old (it was the 80’s dammit) and I was maybe 26 or 27 when I stopped. I didn’t smoke steadily thru all those years, sometimes I would go a year or two without touching them and then relapse back again, mostly because I was around a lot of smokers all the time. But its been over ten years now since I quit.

I especially used to smoke a lot while writing. Even now when I write I sometimes still get the occasional urge to light up a cigarette. Not a craving for nicotine, that passed over a decade ago. And definitely not for the smell or taste, which I find completely repulsive now. But just for the ritual of it. It was an integral part of the writing process for me. When I was thinking of the next sentence or trying to find that perfect word or phrase, I would put down my pen or, once I got a computer, lean back from the keyboard and light up a cigarette and smoke until I was ready to continue writing.

I never feel like smoking at any other time other than when I’m writing tho. I would never actually take up smoking again, even if I thought it would help me write. I can’t stand cigarettes or cigarette smoke. The smell of it actually makes me nauseous now. I avoid smokers like the plague. Very few of my friends or family members smoke and nobody is allowed to smoke inside my house. If I am forced to spend time in a smokey environment I have to go home and take a shower afterwards to get the smell off. So there is no danger of me ever becoming a smoker again.

But I wish there was a way for me to recreate that ritual that’s less disgusting and wont give me cancer. I know some people substitute candy or something, but because I also have a compulsive eating problem, replacing the cigarettes with something like lollipops will only result in me eating the whole package of lollipops and not getting any writing done at all. I don’t want to replace one unhealthy writing ritual with another. Especially since I have the activity level and metabolic rate of a boulder.

I think I need something tho. As somebody with OCD, rituals and systematic processes to doing things are a very important part of getting anything done. And I think that may be part of the reason I am having so much trouble writing. I have no process anymore. I always had a process, whether it was a time of day, or the place I sat, or smoking a cigarette, or using the same pen and notebook, there was always something. The closest thing I have to a process right now is the creative writing group I go to twice a month. Which is really the only time I can guarantee that I will definitely get any writing done. But, lets face it, I’m not gonna get a book written writing for an hour twice a month, not unless I want to be writing it until im eighty.

At the moment I also have no writing space that’s just mine to write in. I have my office, but its in complete disarray right now. Last spring I packed all my belongings up so the room could be used temporarily as a bedroom by my daughter and her husband, and even before that it was more a guest room then an office. There was always a bed in there and since at least one of my children lived with my ex-husband at any given time, that room was used by them whenever they came to visit. And it looks like I might possibly have to re-pack it up in the near future to use as a bedroom again, which is why I havent bothered to finish unpacking it. So it’s still never really been my own space. In a house as small as mine, personal space is very hard for me to come by. And I need a space that is mine to do things my way. As an only child with two working parents and virtually no friends, I grew up alone with a lot of privacy and personal space in which I could do pretty much whatever I wanted in whatever way I wanted to do it with very little outside interference. I know it’s not realistic to expect that kind of space and freedom when I live with so many people.

But right now everything is chaos.

And I need something to enable me to write again. I just have to figure out what it is.

Once Upon A Time

I was twenty year old when I started writing with the idea that I would like to be a professional writer. And, uh, we all see how well that’s been working out for me. I mean, I always liked writing, as I mentioned in a previous post, and I had considered writing before. But I dunno, I guess I always figured I would still need to have a “real” job too. I have a “real” job now that I go to five days a week so I can pay the bills, because obviously I’m not making any money writing.

I was always very interested in medicine, criminology and forensics when I was growing up. It was once my plan to go into forensics either as a medical examiner or a psychiatrist. I still find those subjects very interesting and have many books and watch programs on tv about them all the time. You should see the looks you get from the cashiers at Barnes and Noble when you walk up with stacks of books about things like serial killers, human decomposition, cannibalism and autopsies on a regular basis. I’m surprised they havent called the FBI on me yet.

So anyways. Things happened and I ended up having to drop out of high school, and last I knew they didn’t just let you walk out of tenth grade and into Harvard Medical School so……yeah, that was the end of that plan.

After several years of being a mindless drone and forgetting I had any interests or personality I suddenly remembered, hey! I like writing! So I dug an old spiral bound notebook and a pen out of a drawer (I was too poor for one of them newfangled personal computers) and started writing.

(This is also about the time I developed a hopeless addiction to RSVP Fine Point Pens. I still keep them stashed all over my house, in my car, in my purse and I stockpile them in my desk. There is always one within arms reach no matter where I am in case I feel the need for one. I shudder when I think of how much money I’ve spent on those pens in the past twenty years. I probly could have bought a Mercedes by now if I put all that money in a jar instead of buying pens.)

Well it wasnt long before I had notebooks piling up in my apartment. I had no idea what to do with them. They were all rough scribbled drafts of short stories and pieces of book ideas. The short stories I edited into finals drafts and copied carefully onto loose leaf paper and kept in three-ring binders. Not that that made any difference. They still just sat around my apartment.

I had absolutely no idea how to get a story or book published, no clue about submission guidelines, or where to find them, query letters, agents, slush piles, unsolicited or solicited material, I was completely ignorant of the process. I didn’t know anybody who was in the writing industry who could help me and I had no access to a computer or the internet to look any of this information up, even if I knew what I was looking for.

So for years I just wrote and it sat on a shelf or in a drawer or under the bed or in a box. Then one day I found a book called The Idiots Guide to Getting Published and rather than giving me hope, it made me realize how nearly impossible it is to get published these days. That getting published was more about luck than talent. I was just about ready to set everything I wrote on fire and give up. But I didn’t (altho I’m sure there are plenty of people who have read my work and think I should) and all those old handwritten stories are now stuffed in an accordion file and crammed into the back of a drawer in my desk.

Now I write on a laptop or an iPad and print my stuff out and store it in a file cabinet like a real grown up. I figured out years ago how to use book and magazine publishers’ websites to find submissions guidelines and addresses and have been submitting my work, some short stories and a book, to different places over the past few years. I haven’t been successful yet but I’m still trying. I know a lot of it is the luck of the draw, to have the right editor or agent pull your submission out of the slush pile at the right time, but it also has a lot to do with talent, cuz if the right person does find your story and it sucks, they’ll just chuck it in the….actually no I take that back. There are a lot of really bad books out there *cough*teenparanormalromance*cough*.

Cool Things That Aren’t In Western Massachusetts

You would be surprised to know that Massachusetts was quite the literary hot spot in the nineteenth century. Well the eastern half of the state anyways. Where all the cool stuff is.

Concord, MA in particular was like the Las Vegas of the nineteenth century writing world. (What happened in Concord stayed in Concord)

Some of the biggest names in literature lived and wrote in Concord. Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne to name the most well-known.

(Yes, yes I know everybody associates Hawthorne with Salem and the House of Seven Gables, and indeed Hawthorne was born in Salem, but he did not live there his whole life and NO he did NOT live in the House of Seven Gables.)

I had the pleasure of visiting Concord on two occasions last year. Once in July because my youngest son wanted to spend his birthday at Minutemen National Park and once in October when I brought my kids there for a night-time reading of old New England ghost stories at the park.

Minuteman National Park is a pretty cool place. For those of you who know your American history, you will know that the Battle of Lexington and Concord was the first battle of the Revolutionary War and you can walk the path that was the main road at the time, that Paul Revere used for his famous midnight ride and that the British troops marched along, and where some of the houses and taverns still stand that the Minuteman army gathered in as they prepared to go to war. If you’re an American history buff, this place is a place you don’t want to miss.

So anyways, back to writers in Concord.

In between exploring the park I was able to visit some very cool places of interest for someone who is a big fan of nineteenth century classic literature, which I happen to be. I did take some pictures of the houses altho unfortunately they don’t allow you to photograph when you’re inside. I did manage to get one photo from inside tho. Our tour guide was very cool about conveniently looking away while we were in that one room. Haha.

I plan to take more trips back to Concord. There are still some more literary landmarks Id like to explore. But for now these are some of the places I’ve visited so far.

Orchard House

Orchard House. The real Orchard House. Not the one from the Little Women movie. This is the house Louisa May Alcott lived in. In her bedroom is the desk where she wrote Little Women. There is a trunk of costumes that the Alcott girls used to dress up in when putting on plays that Louisa wrote. In the trunk are the treasured pair of tall boots that were Louisa’s favorite costume accessory. On the walls and woodwork all over the house are the pencil sketches done by her sister May, who inspired the character of Amy March. One thing about these “little women” is that there was nothing little about them. They Alcott sisters were TALL. Like circus freak tall for women of their time.

The Old Manse

The Old Manse, build by Ralph Waldo Emerson’ grandfather in 1770 and used by subsequent generations of the Emerson family until the early 20th century. Emerson himself lived in it, of course, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new wife rented the property and lived there for several years. Henry David Thoreau planted a large heirloom vegetable garden there as a wedding gift for the Hawthornes.

Wayside House

Wayside House. A house where Louisa May Alcott lived as a girl and where Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family lived in later years. The house was known as Hillside when the Alcotts owned it. As you may know, Little Women was highly autobiographical, and many of the adventures that the March girls experience in Little Women happened in reality to the Alcott sisters while they lived here.  Nathaniel Hawthorne purchased it from the Alcott family and it is the only house he ever owned and where he wrote his last works. He renamed it Wayside and owned the house until he died. Author Margaret Sidney also lived at here and she and her husband and daughter are responsible for much of the restoration and preservation of Wayside House as well as Orchard House (which is right next door).

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Desk

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing desk, inside his study at the top of the three-story turret of Wayside House. Where he wrote. The desk where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote. The desk that I was able to touch that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote at. Sorry I still feel a bit faint when I think about it. So, anyways, as you can see, it is a podium style desk, because Hawthorne wrote while standing. He wrote masterpieces while standing. In an attic. With no lights. Or heat. Or air conditioning. With a a quill pen.

Which makes me an even bigger loser cuz I can barely concentrate on writing while laying nestled comfortably in bed on a tempur-pedic mattress propped up on a pile of pillows using a lap-top in a well-lit, perfectly temperature controlled room. Yeah. That’s why he’s Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I’m me.

The (Wolf)Bane Of My Existance

I hate Teen Paranormal Romance.

Hate it.

Hate.

It.

There is so much of this overly redundant genre that it now has its own section at Barnes & Noble.

I was first introduced to this phenomenon when one of my daughters became completely enthralled by Twilight. Now I don’t know for sure if this was the first series of books in this genre, but it seems to be the first to become a plague-like epidemic. They made a movie out of the first book which my daughter saw in the theater with her boyfriend. When it came out on DVD she rented it and we made a girls night of it with my other two daughters and ice cream. After which my other two daughter immediately became enthralled by it as well.

Well my first impression was that it was about a boy following a girl around obsessively just so he could tell her that they shouldn’t be around each other.

But of course the plot does move on from there eventually. But not very far.

I wont go into further details cuz I’m assuming that unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years or so, you know the general idea behind the Twilight series. So to make a long story short, I agreed that the story was romantic (if a bit far-fetched, even for a vampire story) and I was coerced into reading the books. And it just so happened that it started to rain like it was monsoon season as soon as I started and didn’t stop for a moment the entire week I spent reading them. Which is funny cuz the story takes place in Washington state and its raining almost constantly thru the whole series.

So I did enjoy the Twilight books. Altho Bella strikes me as a somewhat weak and pathetic role model for the target audience of teenage girls.

But anyways, now it seems like every single book that has come out since is based on the same formula. The market is over saturated with these carbon copy clichés.

Human and non-human fall in love. Or two non-humans from feuding groups or of different species. Either way, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles they are determined to make their love work…but wait…whats this…a misunderstanding…all is seemingly lost…one of them must surely die now as a result, but lo and behold, at the last possible moment, the day is saved and everyone lives happily ever after.

*gag*

It’s really annoying, because every month when I go thru the list of books that Library Thing has available for their Early Reviewers program, it seems like half of them are these damn teen paranormal romances. I even got tricked into reviewing one once because the write-up on it was misleading. It sounded more like a horror novel. And since I put it on the list of books I was interested in reviewing, I had to read it and review it or else I risked not being chosen to review another book. And I like doing reviews. It means I get a free book that’s not even on the market yet. Im in the process of reading my fifth book to review for Library Thing. That’s five free books. You can’t go wrong with free books.

So anyways. Enough already. The genre has been beaten into the ground. There is absolutely nothing new to be done with it. I know it seems like a cash cow that can be milked into perpetuity, but all good things do eventually come to an end.

So all you writers of teen fiction, its time to come up with……………

wait for it……………………………

A NEW IDEA.

*gasp*

Shocking, I know, but true.

My Lack Of Motivation To Write…

…Is quite possibly to blame on where I live. Have you been to Western Massachusetts? I’m not talking about the mountainous majesty of the Berkshires or the scholarly art scene of the collegiate community or the gentle rural farmlands of the northern section of the Connecticut River valley. No I’m talking about the urban cess pool that is Springfield. An area defined by polluted water and a rancid stench-factory of a sewer treatment plant, drug infested neighborhoods full of boarded up or burned down houses covered with graffiti, homeless people pushing shopping carts full of soda cans, a commercial district completely devoid of small businesses in favor of chains and franchises. A blight upon the earth made all the more scenic by an F3 tornado that ripped thru here back in June and completely destroyed the entire south end of the city.

I'll give you a hint: This used to be a house.

Tornado? But I thought you said you live in Massachusetts? Yes, we do get tornadoes here. More frequently then you would think. Altho rarely as bad as the one we had recently. And that’s not all! In 2011 we also had a hurricane/tropical storm which caused massive flooding, an earth quake, a giant hail storm and a Halloween nor’easter that dropped 3 feet of snow overnight and brought down about half of whatever trees weren’t already knocked down by the tornado and left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity (including me) for up to a week. Yep, Western Mass was the place to be in 2011.

Happy Halloween!

Where was I? Oh yeah, I live in a shit hole. I am a strong believer that environment affects one’s ability to create art, whether it be writing, painting, music, dancing or whatever artistic outlet your brain uses. I do admit I am fortunate enough that my neighborhood looks almost (but really not quite) suburban, with tree lined streets and single family houses, mostly due to the fact that we are surrounded by a small woodsy nature conservation area that has spared us from being bulldozed into condo oblivion. But if you go a quarter-mile in any direction its nothing but trash littered strip malls and gas stations and fast food restaurants. The only remotely scenic area in the city is the Quadrangle, where the art, history and science museums, the central library and the Dr. Seuss memorial are located:

Pretty Christmas lights! Ignore the ugly high-rise apartment building in the background.

In my workin-class/lower middle-class neighborhood, I wouldn’t exactly call the scenery a beauty to behold. This is the view I have from my home office:

Garage or termite mound? Sixteen year old Toyota or violation of the Clean Air Act? You be the judge.

That’s even assuming I could use my office which I can’t because this is what it looks like right now:

No that's not a rummage sale, that's about half of my personal library and boxes full of knickknacks that I'm too lazy to finish putting on my shelves.

I know I could write so much better if I could look out my window and see this every day, like I did on my vacation to Cape Cod back in September:

North Truro, Ma. Where you can't smell a sewer treatment plant.

So I figured…

…I would share with you everything that makes me such an awesome writer. Besides the fact that I’m awesome. And a writer. Or would be if I could actually get around to writing. Not that I havent ever done any writing. I have. Lots of it. I actually wrote a book. Really. You can ask all the publishers that rejected it if you don’t believe me. It’s now sitting in my file cabinet giving a previously empty and useless hanging file folder a reason to live.

As for my credentials, well here they are:

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.

.

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Yeah, there’s really nothing. No MFA, no editor of the school newspaper, no third grade creative writing contest first place trophy. I have a GED and 9 community college credits. Altho 3 of those credits are from an English Composition class in which I had a 4.0 GPA. And my professor said I was one of the best students he ever had. Not bad considering I didn’t even know how to write an essay when I walked into his classroom. (How did I manage to get a GED without knowing how to write an essay considering that writing an essay is like one-third of the test? I have absolutely no idea.) I also attempted going to tech/trade school for drafting, but all I got out of that experience was a giant student loan that I still havent finished paying off yet.

I don’t remember quite when I started writing stories down on paper for fun. I always remember having a vivid imagination and making up stories. I was an only child with two working parents and no social skill whatsoever so my imagination was my life. I also read a lot of books which helped fuel my fantasy world. I think it was somewhere between the age of 10 and 12 that I discovered Stephen King. Finding him was like finding God! His books took my breath away. He was the first writer I fell in love with and that made me contemplate what it was to be a writer.

The very first Stephen King book I read was Cujo. It made me want to get a Saint Bernard for a pet. Haha. I was a weird kid.

What was such a young child doing reading King you ask? Well it was the early 80s and like most kids in the 80s I was a free spirit with little adult supervision and the librarians never seemed to question my choices. My parents never really seems to believe much in censoring what I read. Even before discovering King I was reading adult novels on a regular basis which is probly why I tested at a college reading level by the time I reached sixth grade.

So I guess I have to thank Stephen King for igniting that spark in me to write, altho it would be many years later before I finally allowed myself to believe I might be able to write and start seriously writing. As a woman and a mother I also find great inspiration in Anne Rice and J. K. Rowling and as a great lover of classic literature by women writers I find inspiration in Jane Austen, the Brontes and Virgina Woolf.