The Wreckage of Reason II blog tour continues. The post Three Questions to Three Women Writers or Russians was retweeted this morning to 62,000 people via the #MondayBlogs. I guess that’s good. I haven’t started tweeting (despite my company name). I haven’t been convinced of the value of it for me at this time.
And during another stop on the tour, Alexandra Chasin reflects on Andrea Dworkin’s contributions to and advocacy of unconventional writing by women (and the conventions as constraints on thinking). I didn’t know, or had forgotten about, Dworkin’s stand on punctuation. The amazing thing is, I’ve been thinking about Dworkin a lot lately, considering re-reading her and others regarding the porn industry. (Why? Let’s just say I have a 14-year old son with internet access.) It always amazes me how just when I need something, it is so often brought to me by another woman writer.
Melanie is a graduate of the Notre Dame MFA program. She runs Grab the Lapels and collaborates with authors to create unique posts for virtual book tours.
“Metal Eye Drifter” is about rock n roll, at one level at least, and if you know me, you know I love this topic. In my job as Senior Editor at the creative non-fiction literary magazine Under the Gum Tree, I take a special interest in the department we call “Soundtrack,” and I love to work with the writers in this category to get to the bottom of the stories they want to tell. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to interview Melanie Page about her writing.
The way things go in May, of course, what with the culminating projects in academia and parenting responsibilities climaxing, etc., I never got around to meeting Melanie face to face over Google Chat or Skype as we planned on doing. But nevertheless, I found her answers to my questions posed via email to be fun to read. I hope you will too. I am very grateful for her taking time out of her busy schedule to have this “conversation” with me.
Robin Martin: “Metal Eye Drifter” is written in the second person point of view. You’ve written and published pieces in first person and third person as well, and seem to move easily among these points of view. What kind of conscious thought goes into deciding what point of view to write a particular story in? What do you think you gain in “Metal Eye Drifter” by inviting the reader in with this pronoun “you”? What is your favorite point of view to write in? What is your favorite point of view to read?
Melanie Page: A few years ago, I read a piece by Cris Mazza called “Too Much of Moi?” in The Writer’s Chronicle (Vol. 42. No. 2). She had polled numerous small presses, like Jaded Ibis and Chiasmus and found that nearly everyone is writing in first-person today. The article made it seem like first-person is selfish, and unless you have to write in first-person, you shouldn’t. It sort of confirmed my sense that young writers (yes, my generation) are using “I” because they really are writing about themselves, and since I’m on Facebook, I can frequently confirm my suspicions through networking. Of course writers include personal experiences in stories, but stepping into third-person can give a new writer the chance to explore what someone else might have done in a situation that the author really lived. There’s more room to imagine. Second-person POV gives the reader the sense that the character is a stand in for everyone. The only novel I can think of written entirely in second-person is Girl Imagined by Chance by Lance Olsen, and I’m surprised I don’t see it more often. If I’m discussing ideas that are important to me (even if they’re small ideas), I don’t see how I can feel alone—someone else must feel this way, too, and I want him/her to share the ride with me.
RM: “Metal Eye Drifter” seems to be written in conversation with Ted Nugent, whose quote opens the piece. Why Ted Nugent? He’s said some very reprehensible things (about women, about immigrants, etc.). Are you a political person, a political writer? Is this political/facetious writing part of what makes a work distinct from mainstream writing?
“Metal Eye Drifter” has absolutely nothing to do with Uncle Ted’s recent idiotic remarks, nor do I consider myself a political writer. In fact, I was disappointed that Ted Nugent wore a t-shirt that said, “DITCH THE BITCH, TED FOR GOV” when I saw him at a concert in Michigan. Somehow, though, I got over the stupid shirt and was just terribly excited. My love of the hard core rock personas began long ago, way before I even thought about politics. Metal was something you could get excited about because it was so powerful, and it would bring you and your friends together. Never before have I listened to Bob Dylan and thought, “Yeah! I rule!” Being around people who think they’re awesome (and it’s confirmed in the media) is contagious, especially if you feel weak inside. If you notice, my explanation of “Metal Eye Drifter” in the anthology is almost apologetic!
RM: In your brief notes that follow the piece in WORII, you mention your desire/drive to lose all things “wild/misogynistic.” I was taken with the way these two words were attached to one another, as if these two terms are somehow inseparable? What do you think makes wildness connect with misogyny in American culture? Without the album covers where a woman is trussed like a turkey on a platter, etc., do you think Rock-n-Roll would be as powerful? What is it with those images?
While Ted Nugent is notorious for womanizing (“Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” anyone?), a lot of metal bands aren’t. My favorite is Metallica, a group that doesn’t use women to promote their image. In fact, their fan base is mostly young men (and now middle-age dudes). When Dave Mustaine was in the group (circa ’81-’83), he confirmed that they didn’t want to write “chicky music” (music to attract women), but to “rule the world.” I suppose I think of wild meaning “irresponsible,” which without a doubt applied (they’re sober now) to Metallica. Rocking at the same time, though, are Van Halen and Motley Crue, groups that are really, seriously looking to get laid. Women are a huge part of the image of those bands; women want to be with them and men want to be them. I tend to have blinders on at times. Don’t care, lalala! Pretending misogyny doesn’t exist isn’t helpful, so it’s completely selfish and I realize that. In fact, I thought about throwing Motley Crue’s biography in the dumpster after reading some of it. As an adult, I can’t stand the high-level of awful treatment that band dishes out to women (who willingly accept it). As an adult, I also think I’m supposed to be responsible (hence wild/mysoginistic lumped together).
RM: The narrator in “Metal Eye Drifter” makes some fantastic and hilarious observations! On heavy metal: “the whole point of which is ruling the planet, fucking, and drinking yourself retarded.” On children: “little meat sacks.” On breeding out of cool: “She isn’t cool anymore. Booster seats, seat belts. Then again, neither are you. Cereal bowls that suction cup to the table.” (This last one is a beautiful juxtaposition of feelings and concrete images.) Here we are, we used to wear leather pants and slither through crowds of sex starved adolescents, and now we’re fucking middle aged or near to it. Or, worse, we missed our opportunity to wear leather pants and slither…etc., and now we are too old to do it and the cigarettes have left lines around our mouths, and leather in our décolletage. Oh…sorry, forgive my tangent; I’m reading too much into it perhaps? Will you talk some more about this narrator in “Metal Eye Drifter?” He is male, he is disillusioned, he is suicidal, he is not his father but he is suddenly just like his father somehow—inside an old man, looking out…
Thanks for seeing the humor in it, and I’m glad it struck a nerve with you, too! I wanted this story to make people say things like, “And remember this! And when we did this!” I don’t think you have to be in your 40s or 50s to feel like the narrator feels. When I was in high school, I had a Metallica shirt for every day of the week. Now I’m almost 30, and I feel sad, like I knew who I was then and don’t now. Things change around me and prompt changes in me. My husband and I don’t have kids, but many of those who rocked with me do, and I wonder, “What the hell happened to you people? You used to be cool!” Really, you could read this piece as being about a youth I miss that contained sporadic adventures like leaving on a road trip at 2am, and about watching others “sell out,” in a sense. The narrator in “Metal Eye Drifter” feels so unlike himself that he’s ready to let it all go. Instead, he gets to live in memories.
RM: Can you let me in on your writing process? How often/how religiously do you write? Do you use any formal exercises to come up with metaphor and images? With this last question, I’m thinking in particular of the opening line in your piece “The Crissy” that appeared in Paper Darts Issue 5: “Crissy’s hair is more beautiful than baby smiles.” How did that line come to you (do you remember)?
The imagination fairy occasionally feels kind enough to give me weird thoughts like comparing hair to baby smiles. Those honestly come out of nowhere I can locate, and frequently come out of my mouth without permission. It can make for an embarrassing life, though many people call it “cute.” As for my writing process? Imagine you have a crayon about an inch in length. It doesn’t have a wrapper on it. The crayon is your imagination. You use the crayon to color on a single piece of paper. The paper is your story. Since you are a passionate colorer, you press really, really hard! As you knew would happen, the crayon runs out fairly fast. When the crayon is gone, it’s all done. Sometimes the final result is, “Yay! Look at my story!” and sometimes the result is “Fuck, I ran out of crayon!” Crayons are difficult to locate.
RM: Why do you think “Metal Eye Drifter” is included in an anthology of experimental writing?
Possibly because it’s about a man and is nasty toward women, which people think means something when it comes from a woman. Possibly because the narrator gets to hang out in an eyeball.
Thanks so much for giving me this interview, Melanie! I look forward to rockin’ out with you in person one day.
The editor, Nava Renek, and four contributors (Aimee Parkinson, Alexandra Chasin, Cynthia Reeves, Brooke Wonders) produced a panel at Seattle’s AWP conference, in which they discussed what makes prose experimental, which I really enjoyed because I don’t think my work is clearly experimental. By that, I mean I feel my work is still very accessible. Perhaps I like the term innovative writing better. Innovative writing has a smaller audience in mind, no pre-determined formula, and exists outside of easily defined narrative conventions.
Aimee Parkinson said, “innovative female authors constantly push boundaries of written expression, finding new ways to express diverse experiences and the diversity of their visions in an ever-transforming world.”
Alexandra Chasin notes that as women, we’re shackled by the knowledge that we are in danger, and our mobility is inhibited by this knowledge. Chasin advises a young woman to unshackle her mind and just “write like a fucking human being.” This, in and of itself is post-structuralism, she says, “the end of the Master narrative.”
Oh there’s more, so much more good stuff. Just click on any of these links and rock your world. I’m honored to be in the company of these brilliant women.
I get The Kenyon Review on my Kindle and think it’s a really cool lit mag. This is a group of folks I’m hoping to connect with at AWP in Boston because they’re doing some innovative and inspiring things, like sending Weekend Reads so I can re-read stories they’ve sent me before or read ’em for the first time if I never got to ’em. They have beautiful covers and photographs, not unlike Under the Gum Tree, but they have fiction and poetry too. And they have stories read out loud, a lot of them, on KR Online. And the magazine has seventy four years of storied existence. Ha.
For you readers out there, you should grab an issue and read it. For you writers out there, you should grab a copy, read it, then consider submitting a story to this contest.
As part of my ongoing professional development, every day I check in with a handful of writers in the blogosphere-mostly via RSS feed, a few notices via e-mail.
I am so impressed by the high value of the information being shared on these writer blogs I read regularly, that just about every day I am tempted to commit one of the cardinal sins of blogging— the re-blog (as opposed to the re-Tweet). Frequently, I do forward the link on to clients when there is a topic that matches their needs. I struggle to believe it is worth my time and energy to write my own take on a subject for my blog when someone else has written about it so well, particularly when my blogging goals are really so small (I’m not trying to grow or go viral, I just want clients and potential clients, in short—you, to know I am alive and connected).
So, for this post, I’ve decided to share the names of a few of these writers who do such a good job and greet me in my Mail each morning. Some are well known, others not so much. In no particular order:
Anne R. Allen with Ruth Harris: This particular post about the work-shopping advice to eliminate “to-be” verbs from your writing is right on, and helpful for most writers who haven’t had the advantage of a post-graduate degree in grammar. Look at how complete her explanation of the verb tenses is! Most of her posts are extremely well written and provide very useful information.
Jody Hedlund: This writer gave her readers a fun opportunity to vote for the book cover option we liked the most, which I really enjoyed. But this blog entry, in which she discusses putting the “social” back in social media, was really concise and put into words what I had been feeling. There is too much promotion and not enough connection in most social media. The other thing she does really well is link to other articles worth reading.
Nathan Bransford: Now this guy is famous for his impact on and skill with social media to sell books, and I rely on him to keep me in the know about what is hot and what is gauche in this area. This particular entry about why you shouldn’t post your Tweets to Facebook makes so much sense to me, and goes hand in hand with Hedlund’s blog above without saying the same thing.
Kristen Lamb: This blog about the things that are killing self-published authors (#1: publishing before we’re ready. AMEN SISTER!) is representative of her posts. She’s completely an overachiever; I think she’s trying to catch up with Bransford.
Alan Rinzler: Shifting gears a bit, Rinzler isn’t a writer, he’s an editor. I am essentially a disciple of this man, who has spent a lifetime in traditional publishing editing books that everyone has read and has now jumped into self-publishing advocacy and support. I’ve studied his model for editing and taken his opinions to heart. Here’s a piece he wrote about developmental editing, and I love to check in with him to see that my practices are aligned with his, which I perceive to be the best-practices of the industry. He has a lot of good information for writers considering hiring an editor; true, he’s hoping you’ll hire him—so why am I sending you over there? I’m just. That. Confident. No, seriously, because he’s a real pro.
Things worth knowing and sharing, written well.
I encourage all writers to connect with these and other bloggers; to learn from them and, when appropriate, interact with them.
What blogs do you follow and why would you recommend them to me?
When is exposition your best choice for revealing information? What are other options and how do you choose? This is a subject relevant to both fiction and nonfiction writers seeking to make their work come alive for readers. Explore ways to make your writing pop with our panelists in a discussion and Q&A.
Panelists will also discuss ways to make the most of your research by repurposing it for other projects and markets.
Saturday, March 17th, 2012 11:00 AM-1:00 PM, Tokyo Buffet, 7217 Greenback Ln, Citrus Heights, CA.
Here’s some advice to aspiring authors: Scour the events in your area for writing club meetings and take advantage of what they have to offer. Even if you know most of what there is to be said on the topic, you might pick up something from an angle you’d never thought about before.
I don’t know about you, but my downtime looks an awful lot like my uptime. I am very happy to be one of those people who loves her work. I spend a lot of time reading for pleasure, which means reading the stuff I have been wanting to read and in no way suggests that I don’t get pleasure from reading what I am paid to read. Of course there are those things that physically pain me to read, and other things that I can give or take as far as my job goes, but that’s not what this post is about. It is about reading. For pleasure. For vacation even.
I bought 2011 American Short Fiction, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival in my mailbox. I bought Anne R. Allen’s latest release for my Kindle (okay, maybe this is research, as was Amanda Hocking’s book Hollowland). I just know I’m forgetting something, and leaving out what I’m reading with my kid.
What are you reading? Are you on Goodreads? Friend me there, if you are!
At this past weekend’s Self Publishing Boot Camp, I was privileged to speak on the topic of editing for self-publishers. I had only 30 minutes to speak on the topic, and I wanted to cover the nuts and bolts of what an editor can do and how to find an editor who will work best with you and your work (and your budget). I think I succeeded, but there’s always more to be said. I will focus in this post on the professional evaluation and critique.
As you know, I am a writer and an editor, and in that capacity have taken projects from the idea stage to local celebrity, have helped make good manuscripts better, and bad manuscripts a little less embarrassing for the author. Editing is not just about catching those embarrassing spelling and sentence structure errors.
I framed Saturday’s presentation with my history of working with Brad DeHaven, author of Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Into his Son’s Oxy Addiction. (Originally titled Beyond the Picket Fence). Brad is a financial planner who brought me a 65 page manuscript, a memoir, that was a chronological telling of his life until that point. He was 50. Everyone kept telling him he should write his story, so he did. He hired me as a professional reader and I provided an evaluation and critique of his manuscript.
Ideally, you have been receiving critique from readers all along. Ideally, this critique has been free or in exchange for critique on their work, such as in a writing group or a workshop class.
If you were to complete a manuscript to the rave reviews of your beta readers (none of whom you were having sex with or otherwise emotionally attached to) and if you were planning to send it to an agent and go the traditional publishing route, your manuscript just might be ready. The agent, in this case, might be your first professional reader.
You couldn’t expect to receive a personalized letter about why they reject your manuscript, however. You could trust that it was almost there if they request the first fifty and then the rest of the manuscript before refusing to take it on.
When I worked with Andrea Hurst, the agents there often took on manuscripts that they loved but that still needed editing. The agents took on authors with whom they would work to refine and shape the story until it was ready to pitch to publishing houses. This was a tremendous benefit for the author. The agent knows the audience to which she’ll be trying to sell your manuscript. That knowledge makes an agent a particularly valuable editor.
The downside of this is for the agents– who might work on a manuscript for six months or more (as I did on two occasions) on spec, hoping that the financial reimbursement will come when the book sells with a large advance. Something that ultimately lies with the CFO of large house X.
Now, I understand, agents are feeling the pinch and doing this less and less because they end up working hard without a paycheck. So even if you were planning to pursue traditional publishing and obtain an agent, it would behoove you to have a professional read/evaluation before querying.
One of the things you give up by electing to go the self publishing route is even the possibility of built in professional readers who will “fix up” your book along the way: the agent, and the editor at the publishing house (who are also doing this less and less according to popular wisdom). When working towards being a self-published author, you need to hire an editor.
If you self publish a book without an external, objective, professional read, you open yourself to harsh public criticism of your writing via reviews of your book.
The appropriate editor can evaluate and critique your manuscript, revealing shortcomings you didn’t know existed as far as character, plot, narrative voice, point of view, exposition rather than scene. So you can fix them before you either send it to an agent or publish them to your later dismay.
In my next post, I’m going to talk about common issues that necessitate a substantial edit. For now, I want to leave you with this:
In a prior post I mentioned some blogs I enjoy . Here is another blog I follow. Today Jody talks about why you need an editor. I enjoy receiving the RSS feed from Jody Hedlund. Check it out, because you might enjoy her insight on the writing process too.
The current issue of Word Riot is out and raises the bar once again for on-line literary magazines. Thanks to Jackie Corley and the editors for doing such a fine job finding gems. One of my favorites from the issue:
What do I like about these pieces? Each contains 1. precision 2. singularity 3. depth of character 4. noegenesis 5. lines like this:
“Truth was we couldn’t even show up to class six weeks straight with the proper produce.”
“Stephen is alone now and he will continue to be alone as he waits for Helen and he will be alone when he gives up on waiting and he will be alone when he goes to sleep and tomorrow morning he will be alone and alone is how he will go to work and come home and scour the bathroom floor with disinfectant and book his train tickets for the weekend and catch the train for his weekend trip and return from his weekend trip and ultimately die in a flash flood as he is driving home from work, after the passage of twenty-eight years more. Stephen is, and will remain, alone.”