This is a 5-star review
Réveille Coffee Company
North Beach, San Francisco
What are you writing? Your website bio? A blog post? A proposal? The second chapter of your novel? A literature review?
Stop. Take a break, and sharpen your skills with some good old-fashioned sex writing.
No matter what you're writing, you need 4 vital skills you can master by writing smut. And they add up to 4 very good reasons to stop and write a sex scene right now.
- Action: Even if you're writing a dissertation you need to practice writing strong, active sentences, sentences that propel your reader forward. Writing a hot story forces you to find the active core of every sentence. Nobody wants to read about passive sex. That's boring sex. We want our sex scenes full of movement, our characters kissing, gasping, pawing, sweating, hollering, and hungering.
... Continue reading
I first learned about Eileen Goudge and her prolific career as a novelist when she presented the keynote address at the La Jolla Writers Conference in 2010. What I liked most about her then was her commitment to writing. With at least 20 titles on her author list, hers is the story of a real working writer.
And with this week’s publication of Bones and Roses, the first in her new Cypress Bay mystery series, she joins a growing trend of successful, traditionally published writers choosing to self-publish. Sure to please her women’s fiction fans and new readers alike, Bones and Roses tells the story of Leticia “Tish” Ballard. Almost four years sober after flambéing her real estate career in an alcohol-fueled blowout, Tish discovers a human skeleton that rocks her world and plunges her headlong into solving a decades-old crime.
In our interview below, Eileen and I discussed reinventing the self, self-publishing, selfies, and the sexy, vulnerable self.
Kristy: What inspired the Cypress Bay series?
Eileen: I got the idea while walking on the beach in my hometown of Santa Cruz, CA. When I first moved to Santa Cruz with my infant son in the 1970s, I was a welfare mom. I went on to marry Mr. Wrong, and things went downhill from there.
Tish Ballard, the amateur sleuth in my series, is my alter-ego in a way. She experiences some lows, and at one point does a crash-and-burn, then pulls herself up by her shoestrings and reinvents herself.
You could say I did the same. My journey to becoming a writer was similar: ill-considered and bumpy at times.
Kristy: But then you had some success.
Eileen: Yes, I've been in this business for over 25 years and traditionally published for most of it. My first novel, Garden of Lies was a New York Times bestseller. But the changes in the publishing industry have not been kind to many authors, me included. So I decided to take control of my fate.
Kristy: By self-publishing.
Eileen: Exactly. It's been a huge undertaking! Lots to know and do! I feel like I'm getting a master's degree in social media.
Kristy: Your blog is great. I loved the Selfie story.
Eileen: Selfies? OMG, the WORST. I think they should come with a warning label: Do Not Attempt Past the Age of 40! You want to hear my instant face-lift trick? Lie on your back and take a selfie. Wrinkles won't show.
But it's exciting to be on the cutting edge of publishing in the digital age. I just wish I had the energy I had when I was in my 20s. In the beginning I lost sleep over it. I think I also have gray hairs I didn't starting out. But it's been rewarding and empowering, too--knowing I'm in control, for better or for worse.
Kristy: Tell me about the difference between self and traditional publishing, from your experience.
Eileen: Being traditionally published is like being an adult child living at home. Everything is done for you. Back when I was first published, social media didn't exist, so I did book tours instead. Two weeks and you're done. With self-publishing it's an ongoing process.
Kristy: And what have you learned from the process?
Eileen: The best piece of advice I can give to anyone embarking on the same path is to find the joy in it. If you think of it as a chore and roll your eyes at the mention of Twitter, you're setting yourself up for failure. Through Twitter, I’ve built an online support group of fellow authors that got together last winter for a weekend at the beach in Santa Cruz. We had a blast. We call ourselves The Beach Babes.
[caption id="attachment_5757" align="alignright" width="358"] The Beach Babes: Francine LaSala, Samantha Stroh Bailey, Julie Valerie, Jen Tucker, Meredith Schorr
Kristy: And speaking of process, can you tell me more about yours and how it’s changed over the years?
Eileen: The biggest change in my writing process has come from being an empty nester and having a really understanding husband. I go away for weeks at a time to write, if not to the beach then to a remote country retreat by a lake in Wisconsin where a dear friend owns a house he lets me use. I get more done in a month than in 3 months here in New York City.
What hasn't changed is that I'm usually up and at my desk by 5am. I get my best writing done by candlelight in the pre-dawn hours. I just sit down and the words come to me, just like when I used to play Ouija with my sisters when I was growing up. There's a kind of magic to it. The hard work comes in the rewriting.
Kristy: Candlelight! That’s sexy and so old-fashioned. Do you also write by hand?
Eileen: I think I forgot how to write by hand! It's all word processing all the time these days. Though when I started out, I wrote on a manual typewriter, if you can believe it. Cut and paste was literally that. I would type out the longer inserts, then cut them out with scissors and Scotch tape them to the corresponding text in my manuscript. When I was first starting out, I wrote for the teen series Sweet Valley High. Half those books were written longhand while riding the subway.
Kristy: I think the only thing more sexy and cool than writing by candlelight might be writing on the subway. Any more sexy advice for us?
Eileen: With both sex and writing, it's about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and not holding back. Whenever I'm asked where I find the time to write, I think it's the wrong question. The real question is: Where do I find the time for everything else? Writing is the main focus, always.
Cleis Press just published Bound for Trouble, an erotic BDSM collection for women that includes my short story "Sex Party Magic."
I'm tickled pink because Cleis Press has published some of the most influential books I've ever read, sex-positive classics like Susie Bright's essay collections. They're a local Bay Area press and the largest independent queer publishing company in the United States. The other authors in this book include erotica-writing heroes Alison Tyler, Sommer Marsden, Gray Miller, Tamsin Flowers, Kiki DeLovely, Annabeth Leong, Giselle Renarde, and Rachel Kramer Bussel.
Get the book on Amazon or direct from the Cleis Press website. You know you want it.
And if you really want it, you'll want to take a gander at Bound for Trouble's Pinterest page, curated by editor Alison Tyler. It's packed with hot items from across the Internet from naughty author photos to sizzling reviews.
And if you really really want it, you should probably enter the tattoo photo contest or at least feast your eyes on the entries so far. Editor Alison Tyler will send you a promotional Bound for Trouble temporary tattoo. You put it wherever you like, snap a selfie, and submit.
Hayes Valley, San Francisco
Best known for his groundbreaking experimental jazz, John Gruntfest has been making art in the Bay Area since the 1960s. In collaboration with Richard Gilman-Opalsky and Minor Compositions, he's just published Future Che, a revolutionary sci-fi epic poem about surviving the wreckage of capitalism.
Kristy: Tell me your name and about Future Che.
John: I’m John Gruntfest, otherwise known as Gruntfest, Void Leaper, Wave Man, White Oak Man, Mr Ayahuasca, and Future Che. There are way too many entities coming through, so it gets crowded upstairs.
Kristy: I love the foreword that Richard wrote and the quote in it from Rachel Swan about you being a ghost and haunting the Bay Area.
John: I have pretty much been ignored in this area although I have been creating events on both small and large scales. The music is noncommercial and non-popular, which is difficult for most folks to comprehend. Although people really love the live events whenever they happen, which is sporadic. I think also that the intensity of the energy around the music and art can really scare people. In the old days when I would recite on top of the music some kind of rant, it really disturbed folks. I was often admonished by people asking me not to say anything. It was both the politics and the intensity of expression. So I have been haunting this scene for the last forty years or so and have had some impact but not a lot of recognition.
Kristy: Tell me about Future Che and its genesis. You said you wrote it at work.
John: I wrote it on the computer at one of my veterinary clinics while I was working. I only found the hard copy and have no record of it in my computer files.
Kristy: So you had to retype it? And did you find yourself editing as you went along? Because if I picked something up that I wrote twenty years ago, I would have made some changes. You were happy with it?
John: There are very few edits. When I finally retyped it I gave it to my partner, Megan Bierman, and my good friends, Greg Goodman and Jan Labate, and they read it and were very excited. They said it was a masterpiece. So I guess I am lucky to have a couple of masterpieces in my life, Future Che and July 4, 1979, which was recorded on that date at Joe Sabella’s Metropolitan Art Center in San Francisco. Joe and I had been playing very hard for hours at a time. We approached music as a very physical event.
Kristy: What about this character you created, Future Che, and the genesis of the art, poetry, and music project? And why is something you wrote 20 years ago relevant now?
John: Future Che is another one of those entities that appears in my life. She or he is a political commentator and a survivor of the ravages of capitalism who has learned to survive and fight on a different plane of reality. As Future Che says “telepathy is revolutionary.” The project came about because I had done the cover for Richard Gilman-Opalsky’s Spectacular Capitalism, which Stevphen Shukaitis published out of Minor Compositions. Then Stevphen asked me to suggest a book that included poetry, art, and music, so I sent him the painting Nao, Future Che, the poem, and July 4, 1979, the cd, and he went for it and decided to put it out. It was very exciting to me because the poem comes out 20 years later and the cd 35 years later.
Kristy: Yes, but why is it relevant now, and why should I read it today?
John: You and I have talked about this both of us being children of the '60s. Yes we have organic food, holistic medicine, and gay marriage, but we failed to change the system of capital that is so destructive. I am a red diaper baby. My parents and grandparents were communists. And what do we see in the world but the failure of revolutionary movements and the corruption by capital’s power and propaganda to subvert the very things we thought would lead to systemic change? As Future Che says, “You can have your fun and games but don’t disrupt the empire.” So what Future Che proposes in its science fiction poetic way is that there is a way of working in resistance that exists on other planes. We have to function in this futuristic other dimensionality way because we have not succeeded in making the necessary changes to save ourselves and the many different beings impacted by the destructive behavior of capital. The poem is also in touch with current anarchist and autonomist thought about creating spaces where folks can create zones of freedom from the current spectacle of capital. Capitalism is so pervasive, especially in the San Francisco high tech world. Everyone thinks it is so great and cannot possibly crash like the last dot-com bust. Future Che conflates the I and the we in the same way , so we never know exactly the gender of this entity.
Kristy: And the music?
John: July 4, 1979 is a tour de force of the drum and saxophone duet. It prefigures punk and experimental rock in its very avant garde form. It does for July 4 what Jimmy Hendrix did for the Star Spangled Banner.
Kristy: How do you survive as an artist making art that is not focused on making money? How do you find artistic satisfaction and creative inspiration over these forty years of playing to small audiences and not gaining much recognition or money?
John: I always told Richard that I just refused to give up. I hate capital, and I hate the idea of making a product that has some function in capital. You will never hear my music in Safeway. You will never see Future Che reviewed in the New Yorker. I came off the road in 1982 after touring for 2 years with Indoor Life, Snakefinger, and Tuxedo Moon. At that time, New Wave was happening in San Francisco. It was rock, but it had an avant garde edge to it. On the road I saw how corrupt the music business was. So I came off the road and decided to go to work and separate my art from any form of commercial concern. I had read the biography of Charles Ives, who worked during the day and composed at night. He was one of the greats of modern, 20th Century American music. You could say he was my mentor both in music and in business. So I went to work and built a successful veterinary business and kept playing, writing, and making art. I had also tried to get myself out there with my record company, Independent Records, one of the first independent labels in this area. I was trying to sell myself and my records, and I said to myself, “I did not drop out of a hustling scene to just drop into an alternative hustling scene.”
Kristy: But what keeps you going?
John: Fun. It’s been a lot of fun. I do not know if what I have done is good, great, bad, indifferent but it has been a lot of fun. As Johnny Rotten said, “Fun! Doesn’t anyone remember fun?”
Kristy: So you worked and then retired and now travel and create in different countries?
John: Retiring was great because now I could practice and paint and was not broke. Thirty years passed, and nothing changed except I was not poor any more. Megan and I travel. We paint and practice together and just enjoy life. And now, this great little book. Stevphen and his crew did such a great job. Like you said, the book is small and light, and you could carry it in your purse with you.
Kristy: I have been carrying it with me since you gave it to me. It reminds me of a writing workshop I attended, “How Many Readers Are Enough?” The panelists asked, “Do I need to be Dan Brown selling bestsellers? As an artist, what do I want?” And what they agreed on was that they don’t need a million readers. They don’t need to get rich as writers. They do want a dedicated following, a few people who get it. They want someone at some point to say, “Yes, let’s make a chap book. Let’s do something with this.” And it sounds like you have figured that out as well.
John: Yeah, I can probably name all ten people. Actually, the folks who come are my family and friends, and that is just fine. Occasionally, there will be a festival or larger event like the 2009 Raven Free Orchestra, but mostly it is just an intimate affair.
Kristy: I think of you in three disciplines: playing, writing, and painting. Do you feel as if you are expressing yourself in different languages?
John: To me it’s a way of manifesting certain visions or spiritual states of consciousness that happen. If the music, poetry, or painting is happening in a certain way, it is almost effortless. I prefer inspiration to hard work, but they are both components of the same thing. I am a well-trained musician. I was trained as a big band player and a classical player. I took up painting to have an area in which I had no training so I could get free again. But as with all things, discipline sets in, and I start to learn and develop some limited skill with the paint. Writing, on the other hand, remains spontaneous. It just pops out when there is something to say. Discipline is a beautiful part of life and can be very freeing.
Kristy: I see that there are both drawings and notes in your book. Could you give me an example?
John: Here is a quote from The Little Red and Black Book of Future Che: “The mutation has already happened.”
This is a 5-Star Book Review
For Sale By Owner
stories by Kelcey Parker
Kore Press, 2011
It's time to put on your rainbow knickers and a wig and go dance in the streets. Bask in the shiny glory of a parade! Shiver with anticipation at the thought of bumping into old lovers. Glory in the wisdom of activist elders! Allow yourself to be whipped into submission by the sight of a seven-foot leather queen.
It's Pride Season, for Harvey Milk's sake. Get to it.
Pride has always been my time to celebrate the rise of a downtrodden counterculture, my brave, beautiful community and all the naughty, courageous, world-changing things that we do. It inspires a sense of freedom and joy, and it inspires me creatively too.
Inspiration can be a slippery thing, so a writer needs to hang on during a worldwide party season dripping with it. Here's my multimedia guide to finding inspiration in Pride 2014:
Go to a Pride event near you: Since this is a party that rages all over the planet, in many locations, and on many summertime dates, you might want to download The Pride Finder App. For 99-cents, see a list of Pride events sorted by date or by distance and view a live, zoomable, scrollable worldwide map of all Gay Pride events.
See a big gay play: There's nothing like live theater to get me creatively hot, so I kicked off my June Pride season at The Berkeley Rep this year by inhaling the heroic gay playwright Tony Kushner's latest project, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. Clocking in at 2.75 hours, the performance is even longer than the show's name, but I loved every minute of Kushner's quick-witted, thoroughly queer, bantering dialogue. No matter what kind of writer you are, Kushner understands your pain: "I find writing very difficult. It's hard and it hurts sometimes, and it's scary because of the fear of failure and the very unpleasant feeling that you may have reached the limit of your abilities."
Read a queer author: But we are so many! Where to begin? Try Lambda Literary's recently announced winners or cuddle up with a few Sexy Grammar favorites like 80-year old trans author Norma Posy, fiction and code-writer AJ Amaro, poet -activist Minal Hajratwala, or love and pop-music blogger Dave X Robb.
Learn your history: Take a spin through the incredibly well-curated GLBT History Museum in San Francisco's Castro District or download an Out In The Bay podcast, where hosts Marilyn Pittman and Eric Jansen interview the heroes of gay culture with reverence, humor, and yes, pride. For the most rainbow-tastic recording of all, scroll all the way to the bottom of their favorites page to hear Pittman's talk with Gilbert Baker, the self-described Betsey Ross of our movement, and the breathtaking story of The Rainbow Flag.
Find your voice: Inspired to speak out, slam down, or reach out and touch people just by opening your mouth? Toastmasters International surely offers a meeting in your neighborhood, but I'm officially inviting you to mine this week. At our annual Pride Meeting at 6pm, Thursday 6/26, on the 3rd floor of SF's LGBT Community Center, my fellow Rainbow Toastmasters and I will teach you something about public speaking, make you laugh your head off, and fill your heart with community pride and love.
Step 1: Acknowledge the person (& site) who involved you in the blog tour.
Step 2: Answer these 4 questions about your writing process.
Step 3: Tag another writer or 2 to answer the questions the week after you. Give a one-sentence bio of each, and link to their websites.
WHO TAGGED ME? Best known for her book, Leaving India, Minal Hajratwala is a poet, a creative living advice columnist, and I'm proud to say, my teacher and friend. Her answers to the #MyWritingProcess questions are right here. At the end of Minal's post, she has compiled the most scrumptious collection of great lines from other #MyWritingProcess posts. Don't miss it.
I'M TAGGING: Next week, you'll be able to read #MyWritingProcess posts from #1) Dave X Robb, honorary Sexy Grammarian and self-described gay massage therapist, writer, and copyeditor with hot pics to share and #2) Michelle Kennedy, whose hilarious essays on love, food, and all things deeply human have appeared in Huffington Post and Maria Shriver's Blog.
And let me reiterate: if you’re a blogger or writer and want to post your own answers, please do! Just follow the instructions above, use the #MyWritingProcess Twitter tag, and link to your blog post from your Facebook page. Also ping me on Twitter, Facebook, or in a comment below so I can help you spread the joy.
Here are the questions and my answers:
1) WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON? I’ve got two major projects going right now, a novel, Showing Pink, which is the sequel to my first novel, Turning Out. Turning Out is mostly done and in submission mode, and I’m just reading the first draft of Showing Pink now to get a sense of what I have written, what needs writing, what questions I need to answer, and what I need to fix. It’s my best first draft of a novel ever, but it’s still a hot mess.
The other project—working title is The Sexy Grammar Online Experience—is a blog-based version of the writing workshop I have taught for years with 10 writers at a time around my dining table. It’s my foray into trans-media writing because I want to address a range of learning styles with video, audio, PDFs, and Prezis.
2) HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS’ WORK IN THE SAME GENRE? That’s easy to answer regarding the workshop because I’ve already made such an effort to differentiate myself as a teacher in the writing coaching market. I feel confident that nobody teaches writing quite the way I do. Sure, I bring sex into learning grammar, but that’s just the cherry on top. What’s really special about me is my passion for process, indulging in it as a pleasure, which is certainly a sexual metaphor but also in line with the idea of art for art’s sake. That’s important to me and my style.
Regarding my novels, I feel more unsure. I am just at the beginning of my self discovery as a fiction writer. I hope my erotica will be somehow more bold, unapologetic, and worthy of masturbation than all other erotica. Ha!
3) WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO? Writing about writing has happened organically because of a drive to make a living creatively. I needed to get out of sex work, so I started editing romance novels. I saw a need for more than editing for most of my clients, so I became a coach. Social media happened, so I started blogging and calling myself The Sexy G.
My fiction, on the other hand, is a hot fire inside me. I can’t put it out, so I try to shake it out, make it stop consuming me from the inside. All these stories and characters whisper and shout inside my head, and writing frees my brain from the chaos of all those voices. I write because writing helps me untangle and make sense of the voices. I think I write fiction just to stay sane. And cool.
4) HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK? I believe in separating the composition from the revision and editing. I like steps. I like to write messy, nonsensical first drafts by hand and then go back and pick out a few choice phrases or words or ideas and then build around that. Sometimes first drafts flow out of me intact and don’t need much editing at all, and other times I only get a few usable words. But I always get a lot of pleasure writing that first draft. It is never like pulling teeth, as some writers describe it. It is more like rolling around in the mud.
Now it's your turn! Need inspiration? Click around in the #MyWritingProcess feed on Twitter. It is jam-packed with writing wisdom and confession. And here are #MyWritingProcess posts from friends of Sexy Grammar Jo Scott-Coe, Regina Kammer, and Stephanie Barbé Hammer.
“My primary emotion was one of profound relief,” she says of the life change. Next, she found herself on the lecture circuit, giving presentations on the transgender experience to college classes, hospital employees, and law enforcement professionals. People would approach Norma after her presentations, some with tears in their eyes, and tell her she should write her story. She did so in a memoir, and then moved on to write a novel, Side Pocket, which is one of the finest novels I've ever had the joy of reviewing.
Kristy Lin Billuni: Tell us first about your memoir.
Norma Posy: I sat down and wrote a 14-page poem. In complete ignorance about publishing, I sprinkled my poem around to various magazines and book publishers. I got some very encouraging letters back. The New Yorker pointed out the obvious: 14 pages is way too long for a magazine and way too short for a book. Then, a lesbian press from North Carolina laid a challenge on me. "Expand to at least 20,000 words, and we'll talk."
The result was Norma's Voice. The manuscript took first prize at the 2006 San Diego Book Awards. Wearing a red "power suit," I stood on their stage and bawled my eyes out like Miss America.
KLB: That's a great story. And now you have just published Side Pocket.
NP: Yes, smitten by the writing bug, I joined a writers group. I took a little piece out of Norma's Voice and turned it into a full-length fictional novel of about 74,000 words. Side Pocket is the story of a lesbian couple whose relationship is stressed by the murder of a transsexual friend. The novel is a contemporary story. I guess you would call it an adventure story. It explores gender fluidity and homophobia as Maggie and Moe track down the killer. The book is set in the pool hall culture, "Side Pocket" being the name of their pool hall. My writers group tells me that parts of the story are hilarious and entertaining, unexpected in a murder/thriller/mystery/adventure story. The book is now available on Amazon, both in paperback, and for the Kindle.
KLB: I agree with your writers group! It is funny and poignant, and it's a great adventure. Can you tell me a little about your process when you write? Do you begin with pen and paper or at a computer screen?
NP: I just finished reading How To Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat. She talks about the various ways people actually produce their manuscripts. Looking back on my creative process, I can see that I fit into her "story book" category. I had to make a decision: Is Side Pocket to be a murder mystery featuring a lesbian couple, or it is to be a lesbian story with their relationship stressed by the murder of a friend? I rearranged the manuscript flow too many times and finally sat down and built myself a flow chart. Whenever I discussed the flow chart with my writers group for a few weeks, we reorganized it over and over. Then I made a decision. Side Pocket is not a mystery. The reader knows early on "whodunnit." Side Pocket is a contemporary adventure. I had some difficulty handling character back stories. The flow chart helped a lot. I do all my actual writing on a computer. Sometimes the words just flow, I know not from where. Sometimes it is a struggle, but I write anyway. It can be fixed later. Research is important for authenticity. No, you can’t have a birthday party at the visiting room of a jail for a friend behind bars. I had to rip that out of the manuscript. Which brings up a point: an author must not fall in love with her words. You have to be willing to go at your lovely creation with a pickaxe.
KLB: Sounds like community is a big part of your process. Can you tell me more about how your group supports you? How often do you meet? What is your system?
NP: A writers group should not critique what you write, but how you write. Not all writers groups are created equal. My first try at this did not fare well. They critiqued what I was writing. I am sure it disturbed them. Then I found my current group. Some of them have been published. Some are retired professionals, newspaper editors, english teachers, and the like. Members are protean. Poetry, Steampunk, occult, history, whodunnits, and personal memoirs all are presented in session for critique. Wednesday morning at my group is the high point of my week. One elderly woman is getting her childhood in London during the WWII blitz down on paper. I'm glad she is doing that, for it should not be forgotten.
KLB: There’s something so profound about interaction for writers. We crave heavy engagement. As you know, I use sexual metaphor and innuendo when I teach writing. I think writing is a lot like sex in a lot of ways. What do you think? How are writing and sex alike?
NP: I'm no psycho-analyst, but I do sense an emotional pleasure during the creative process that is akin to sexual relief. It’s something to do with endorphins I suppose, but others may know more about that than I do. All I know is creative pleasure. There is sex in Side Pocket, of course. I believe I handled it with sensitivity. Side Pocket is not pornographic. There is one scene, however, of an attempted rape during an abduction of one of the women. The scene is bloody, but somehow I managed to get Moe (the abducted woman) out of trouble while bringing my writers group into a state of absolute helpless laughter.
KLB: I can't wait to re-read that scene!
In the first 5 months, I aimed to polish an outline and 2 or 3 chapters for each project. Instead, for each novel, I now have:
- an outline
- a synopsis
- organized manuscript content
- 1 key chapter in very rough shape
But I have also realized that my writing group will not finish reading novel #1 until mid August at the earliest.
So with June upon me, though I won't have the 2-3 submission-ready chapters per project I'd planned, I do have extra time to work on perfecting one chapter plus a synopsis and outline for each. By September, when my group has finished novel #1, I will have two great submissions ready for each project. So they will have the experience of jumping into the writing with a complete and polished chapter and then discussing where I plan to go with the project when I submit the synopsis and outline.
In the meantime, I haven't heard so much as a peep from the editor who holds novel #1 and its fate in her hands. But that's okay. I have some pretty exciting trans-media self-publishing ideas for it if she decides to pass.
Besides, at the rate I'm working, she only has to hold it a few more months for me to be able to say, "And the sequel's ready too," when she calls to say yes.
Palm Springs, CA
This is a 4-star review
Capital One Cafe
Financial District, San Francisco
I met the poet Stephanie Barbé Hammer at the AWP Conference last February, where she presented at the "teaching from the stolen purse” panel. A professor for many years at UC Riverside, she now teaches independently at community colleges and writers’ associations. Last week, I caught up with her to discuss teaching writing, her prose poetry chapbook, Sex With Buildings, and her just-published collection, How Formal?
Kristy Lin Billuni: Let’s start with your new book.
Stephanie Barbé Hammer: How Formal? really takes on the form question and ranges from very formal poetry like sestinas, haiku, and yes, the sonnet, through free verse, to the prose poem and then beyond in a truly wild section that features my own "translations," adaptations and riffs on such goodies as Psalm 123 and Sylvia Plath's “Daddy.” Some of the poems from Sex With Buildings are in this volume along with a bunch of new ones, which mention real estate, masturbation, and The Talmud. And there are fantastic block prints scattered throughout by my publisher.
KLB: I cannot wait to read your sonnets. I have a thing for sonnets.
SBH: Me too. They are very hard to write, I think, in part because of the host of guy sonnets writers who kind of lurk in my brain. So, that's why I wrote one about feminism. That seemed like the perfect corrective!
KLB: The world really needed some feminist sonnets—and more poems about masturbation and real estate. It sounds like there's something very collage-ish about this project.
SBH: For sure. I am a huge fan of Dada and Surrealism. I always loved that work, and then I studied with the amazing Aimee Bender, who has lived in France and who is very connected to that aesthetic, so I would say that the feeling of play and creative chaos is very much a part of what I do--and the mashup. I've got a haiku thing about Dada in the book.
KLB: Will you tell us about your practice as a teacher?
SBH: I'm fascinated and inspired by the kinds of realizations that can happen for people in non-traditional settings and the ways in which intense interactivity can make real time feel different from Internet time. As a teacher, I try to create environments that in some ways resemble the Happenings of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I try to enable spontaneous learning and realization rather than delivering a lecture.
With an advanced group of writers, I start in a group and have each person introduce another person, after conducting a little interview. That way, everyone speaks but not about themselves, and each person now knows one other person right away. The community building is crucial, so after the interview reports, I ask those teams to think about how they would like to design the class we are all currently in. And then we do just that, meshing and debating the different models that emerge. It sounds insane, but it really works. And the plan that emerges is much more interesting than my bringing in a syllabus and announcing, “This is what is happening.” Students are also much more involved because they've chosen the path and now have invested in what's happening.
KLB: How do your students benefit from that effort you make to get them knowing each other right away?
SBH: It's been a game-changer in that it gets them out of their writing box and forces a tiny bit—but only a tiny bit—of discomfort. That small bit of surprise/discomfort is a crucial space to write from--that place where you're not terrified (because then you're just paralyzed), but you're off kilter enough that you aren't writing that thing that you always write. You're in that odd place of discovery, which is disconcerting, slightly scary, but also cool. Encountering other people in unexpected ways that are still safe in a class, where everyone is supposed to be separate and competitive and "smart,” changes the experience. This is part of why I think all writers should take acting, or performative dance, or voice, or all three.
KLB: So, let's talk about Sex with Buildings just a little. I adore your prose poetry. I found it approachable, funny, and endlessly readable. Most people don't even know prose poetry exists. What do you love about writing in that genre?
SBH: I'm a real contrarian writer. I like taking on fancy concepts, like the poem in prose, which comes from French modernist Mallarme and Baudelaire and all those classy French boys, and sticking into them Barbie dolls and stuff about my mother and death. I like breaking up the genre, messing with high-level forms, and just saying, “Hang on a second, poetry isn't just Milton. It's ours too!” Poetry also belongs to writers and readers who identify as women and writers and readers who are poor, queer, not perfectly "abled," not white, and so on. I want to open up poetry as a field, and I'm thrilled if I can do that. The prose poem is a great way in because it looks like a newspaper article, right? So there's no scansion and no worries if I’ve understood if this is a sonnet or a sestina or a whatever it is I slept through in class while the teacher was talking. So right away, the prose poem, just from the way it looks lets us in.
KLB: I think that's what I mean by approachable: poetry that invites the reader in, as you say. Too many people have this idea about poetry that it's too hard to understand, too smart for them. I think the really smart poets write what's real for them, and that is always accessible poetry. Your poems read aloud beautifully too.
SBH: I read everything out loud before it's finished. Poetry started as a purely oral form, and it's meant to be heard.
KLB: That’s good advice. My high school poetry teacher always said a poem isn’t a poem until it’s been read aloud. Any other advice for someone who wants to write prose poetry?
SBH: Yeah. Get up in the morning or whenever you get up. Don't have coffee yet. Sit at the computer. Open up a doc. Make the ruler only go about half way across the page. Write ten lines. Then step away from it. Later, after coffee, see what you got. That's from Marvin Bell. Another one: write ten sentences about one object. Have someone else choose it. That's a good start too.
KLB: I am very attached to my daily pre-caffeine writing. It's different, freer maybe.
SBH: Well, it keeps the censor at bay. Again, a little discomfort, a little off kilter . . . helps.
KLB: I'm very interested in your writing process. Will you tell me what it looks like when you write?
SBH: It looks like me in my pajamas and a perfectly horrible bathrobe, sitting outside talking to myself, and then getting coffee, and then sitting down and maybe journaling a little and/or writing my adopted brother Robert (a gay poet/actor/professor who basically got me through grad school), and then avoiding for another twenty minutes, and then opening up a doc and either starting to write something new or revising something I'm working on already. Sometimes to get myself going, I work on the impossible assignment I've given myself, which is rebooting all of the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales. So far I've written three or four, and there are like 300. So I have a long way to go. But the impossible assignment really makes me happy and frees me up to write. That also got me through graduate school
KLB: You mentioned opening a document on a computer. Do you always write in digital form? Ever take pen to paper?
SBH: I go back and forth. Right now I'm just coming off of an intense few weeks using a Leuchtturm notebook and a pencil. That was great. But then it just drove me crazy, and now I'm back into the computer. I think it's great to change it up. Whatever keeps you going.
KLB: Besides your perfectly horrible bathrobe, which I think sounds totally hot, what do you think is sexy about writing?
SBH: I think there’s a world of things to say about sex and words and writing. First, as Helene Cixous has pointed out, it’s a lot like masturbation. Particularly for those of us who identify as women, there's something clandestine, possibly shameful but surely titillating and fulfilling about writing. I think that you are always, first and foremost, writing to please yourself. It's about you; it has to be. And then your private pleasure goes out into the world, and that private joy is being shared, and that's pleasure too. The French have that great word, jouissance, which is at once orgasmic and joyful. That's pretty sexy, in my opinion. There are so many things to say about this: the way writing is a kind of strip tease for both writer and the reader, that both are involved with a kind of shared, private revelation. I think that's why books, in whatever form, will stay with us: because there is this kind of private dancer quality to them and to our experience of them--both as readers and writers--that we will always desire and treasure.
San Francisco's Small Business Week mixes festive gatherings with practical opportunities to learn and connect to our vibrant community. I'm a big fan of the entrepreneurial culture in this town, and business owners who want to write their own social media or business proposals make up about a third of the writers I serve in Private Sessions.
Don't let this year's jam-packed schedule of events overwhelm you. As a longtime veteran of the scene, I've planned this fool-proof agenda with registration and map links for you, so you can focus on networking with San Francisco's most fabulous and well-connected leaders. I recommend clicking through to pre-register for all of these events.
The Kickoff Event at Twitter Headquarters: I'm getting up early for this one for another chance to catch the view from Twitter's gorgeous roof deck and to see what the folks from the National Small Business Week have to offer.
Where: Twitter, 1355 Market St, between 9th and 10th
When: Monday, May 12, 7:30am to noon
Hot Tip: The event is sold out but has a waiting list. Rumors of a high-profile keynote abound.
Flavors of San Francisco: What could be better than a tasting event in a town renowned for our foodie scene? I always have a great time and too much to eat at this gastronomical spectacle.
Where: Square SF, 1455 Market St, between 10th and 11th
When: Monday, May 12, 6pm to 8pm
Hot Tip: Travel light! You will need one hand for your glass of local wine and one for a plate of nibbly things as it is, so greeting and business-card passing requires acrobatic networking skills.
Who's Your Jenny? How To Identify Your Target Market: Join my favorite marketing guru, Ken Stram, and me while we break down the most challenging yet vital lesson of small business marketing. A clear and focused target market lets you compete with the big guys. We're going to show you how.
Where: San Francisco Small Business Administration, 455 Market St #600, between 1st and Fremont.
When: Tuesday, May 13, 10:30am to 12:30pm
Hot Tip: I've never had a better presentation partner than Ken. You'll get handouts, interactive exercises, and a message that most marketing workshops gloss over.
SF Board of Supervisors Awards Ceremony: Mayor Ed Lee, The SF Small Business Commission, and The San Francisco Supervisors honor the best of San Francisco's entrepreneurs. Call me a cheese ball, but I love an awards ceremony and an excuse to visit our stunning City Hall.
Where: SF City Hall, Room 250, 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl
When: Tuesday, May 13, 3pm to 4:15pm
Hot Tip: If you've never been to City Hall, take some time to look around. It's a beauty.
GGBA's Mega Make Contact: You haven't partied until you've partied with San Francisco's gay business association, the GGBA. These folks throw a "Make Contact" bash every month, but they go all out in May for Small Business Week. Wine flows and conversation bubbles at this, the most raucous and joyful of the week's events.
Where: SF LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St, at Octavia
When: Tuesday, May 13, 5:30pm to 7:30pm
Hot Tip: You don't have to be gay, but you do have to be friendly. Come on down to meet the entrepreneurs who really run this town.
The Small Business Conference: San Francisco's most inspiring and successful leaders generously share their knowledge here. I have learned about goal-setting from the editor of 7x7 magazine and about community-building from a social media goddess. I have cut my live-tweeting teeth and met longtime friends who have changed my life and my company. If you hunger to learn business from your community, this event will feed you.
Where: Holiday Inn Golden Gateway, 1500 VanNess, between California and Pine
When: Wednesday, May 14, 8:30am to 6:15pm
The Opening Ceremony, 8:30am to 10am: I just love an opening ceremony, and I've found great inspiration in the keynotes at this one in the past. Expect pomp, circumstance, and politics.
Marketing & PR: Plans, Strategies, and Inspiration with Ken Stram and David Perry, 2:45pm to 4:15pm: Ken's the best in the business, and this is his signature presentation. Although I should be jealous of him for stealing my favorite presentation partner, I think David Perry's awfully smart too. Get excited to market your business and get practical tips to move it forward.
TED-style Talks, 10:15am-11:30am and 1pm-2:30pm: Topics range from why you shouldn't take cash to how to embrace your competition. This aspect of the conference is new this year, so I'm excited.
ProLocal Mixer: ProLocal connects businesses, communities, and customers, and I'm a fan of their enthusiastic and friendly operations guy, Kieron Sinette. They're hosting several mixers throughout the month, but this one celebrates a neighborhood that's really growing, Dogpatch, as well as my own SoMa community.
Where: Shyp, 755 Brannan, between 6th and 7th
When: Wednesday, May 14, 5:30pm to 7:30pm
Hot Tip: Check out ProLocal's site for another mixer near you!
EDA Mixer: The SF Economic Development Association and the Small Business Network throw an awesome wrap party at the end of the week. I'm looking forward to this party and plan to unwind from the week with a top-shelf cocktail in a relaxed atmosphere.
Where: Rye, 688 Geary Street at Leavenworth
When: Thursday, May 15, 5:30 to 7:30
Hot Tip: Bring cash. It's usually a no-host bar at this event.
"Pigeons! Pigeons!" two women in my writing group shout with gleeful voices.
"But you like this one. I have a sequel to it."
"Pigeons!" one insists.
"But there's the one about the cult. Don't you want to read that?"
"Pigeons!" the other says emphatically.
"Alright, I'll bring you the pigeons," I say, laughing, pleased, flattered.
After all, the pigeon story is the one I've just been talking about, the one that's been driving me the most crazy, and the one that makes me feel like a total freak. This is the kind of support I crave as a writer, and it's the kind of support that flows naturally from my writing group friends.
We keep it intimate, four writers striving to consistently offer each other sincere and enthusiastic support for our work. Huddled in a diner booth, we share our writing, sometimes discussing polished work, sometimes raw and vulnerable stuff. We all dream of publishing, of expanding our readership, but for now we are each other's readers, each other's most devoted fans.
I am so grateful to them. They make me a better writer and a better collaborator. Before I joined this group, I had been writing in solitary confinement. While writing does require plenty of buckled-down, focused alone time, I realize now, after 3 years with these women, how much my writing benefits from social opportunity.
Here’s what I get:
- regular peer-pressured deadlines
... Continue reading
The Sexy Grammarian: You are a teacher, a writer, and a game developer?
Jordan Pailthorpe: For a long time I felt torn between pursuing a career as a writer and a career as a game designer. Only recently have I begun the long process of tangling those two things together!
SG: As a writer, you have a blog.
JP: Yes, I wanted to write through cultural norms and attempt, like any good writer, to expose the underlying rhetoric. I think that idea has carried over into all my writing, though the blog has now morphed into a place of limbo where any work I want to put out has a place to live.
SG: I think you do that really well on your blog--invite interaction.
JP: I use the blog as a way to work through my own ideas. Maybe those pieces turn into larger projects, maybe they don't. I wanted to get away from the fear of keeping everything to myself and only show it to others when it is "ready for publishing." I'm trying to find a balance between this "put it out" model and the old model of write, wait, publish, put it out.
SG: Which brings us to the game developer?
JP: My experience with game development might have influenced my ideas toward publishing. Actually I got into game development through events called game jams.
SG: Tell us about game jams.
JP: A game jam is a grassroots DIY type event where you set aside a certain amount of time and create a game. Some jams have themes, such as the Molyjam, which uses quotes from a famous game designer as inspiration, but they don't need to. The idea is to get people who don't consider themselves game designers to make a game, inspire confidence, make something, even if that something isn't great or ends up broken. I've gotten the chance to participate in game jams as well as moderate a few.
SG: Sounds like another crossroads of teacher, writer, and game maker.
JP: Yes, and writing is the same as making games, just with a different medium. Those who are unfamiliar with games only tend to see the pop cultural representations. These of course are the big AAA titles: your Grand Theft Autos, your Zeldas, your Call of Dutys.
Though I love a lot of AAA titles, the games that I feel are closer to literary writing, like short fiction or poems or novels even, are games like Gone Home or Depression Quest, smaller indie games that are changing our expectations of what video games can be. Instead of thinking about games as being limited to a few different forms of action verbs, typically revolving around violence,these new types of games are focused more on meaning or emotion. These games are not always hinged on "fun" but instead on ideas, conveying emotion, empathy, or criticism. Therefore, the games we make in game jams are small experiments, personal games, more along the lines of a poem or a short story. The experience of the author drives the experience of the game.
SG: In your last couple blog posts, you wrote about some of the interactive motivation for playing games. How does this play out in the first year writing course you teach?
JP: When asked why do they play games, or better yet, what is a game, most first year college students in my class didn't know how to answer. All games teach things. It just depends on the designer and the game as to what they want to teach. Games teach by doing. That is why games are so powerful! After a few months, they would say that games are like any other kind of writing: a way to situate someone in an experience other than their own.
SG: That reminds me of one of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver quotes about fiction: “It cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point of view. It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place and time, power and vulnerability, all the elements that influence social interaction.” And games do that in a way that accesses maybe another kind of learning?
JP: Isn't that the larger purpose of art in general? To empathize with experiences outside our own, or to provide others with the ability to see things from our perspective, whether its personal, or political? Games make rhetorical arguments just by their nature. I think it is the same goal, but just a different way of getting there.
Ian Bogost, and his theory of procedural rhetoric, is really pedagogically influential to my approach in teaching this class and how I understand the rhetoric of video games. I want my students to understand, as he puts it, that games make arguments through procedure. Games are systems, and by manipulating and messing with that system, a particular rhetorical argument can be made or understood (depending on if you are the designer or player.)
Students were scared when I told them at the beginning of the semester that their final project would be to make a game around a civic/social issue that they research. Many instantly felt they couldn't do that. It was my job over the course of the semester to show them they could. Many times the barrier to game design is the technical understanding of how to make a digital game. Anna Anthropy is a game designer who put out a seminal text (seminal to me and my students at least) called "Rise of the Videogame Zinesters" In it, she calls for a new class of people to make games; writers, artists, punks, etc. She outlines how you can make games, digital games specifically, with little to no knowledge of programming or digital art.
For example, there is a program called Twine that is incredibly accessible to those who are not familiar with programming. In about 30 minutes, you can create your own text adventure game. This is the framework I brought to my class: that you don't NEED any technical knowledge to make a game.
SG: I'm also interested in the way that code is just another language to write in, and that coding is creative, and that a fiction writer and a coder can work collaboratively. Obviously, Twine made it possible for your students to make games in the course, but can you address the collaborative piece?
JP: Yes, code is just another language, one that lets you interface with a computer. That language can be creative and poetic. There are code as poetry movements that write code in a way that is understood to not just convey information, but convey a feeling, like good "normal" poetry.
I'm trying to straddle this line between digital game design and poetry in my own work at the moment. I just started a translation project where I take my poems, find the center of meaning, and then create a small game that conveys that same meaning, but through the form of procedural rhetoric. I'm thinking of this project as a digital chapbook of game poems. I'm hoping it will address the question of collaboration between forms. I haven't decided if I want to work with other people on these game poems or make them myself, but most likely I will do both. If it is successful, I am hoping to then make game poems for other poets and hope that this will open up poetry to a broader audience while also showing poets and writers the power of games. I think this goes along with my philosophies of publishing as well. I want these forms to be accessible and interesting and current.
I am leaning more on the idea that a user playing the game will "feel" what the poem is attempting to get the reader to "feel" It is a pretty ambitious thing because I don't want to create an objective "reading" of the poem. So I imagine the game poems to be more playful than didactic.
Last November, I won NaNoWriMo for the 6th time. Most writers who finish NaNoWriMo find themselves asking, Now what? in the months that follow.
I have managed to complete revisions to one NaNoWriMo novel and am shopping it out now, but I have 4* awaiting my attention. So this year’s creative plan explores the question, Now what? for the other projects.
In My 2014 Creative Work Plan, I mapped out 3 steps:
1. Open the manuscript.
2. Submit the manuscript for feedback.
3. Push the manuscript out to the world.
For the first few months of 2014, I have been opening the manuscripts and looking at raw content for the first time since I wrote it during the reckless month that is NaNoWriMo.
I am opening the manuscripts to see what’s inside these 3 novels and 1 children's book. Each written swiftly during its respective November of 2009, 2010*, 2012, and 2013, they have all been waiting for me like wrapped gifts.
The steps to opening the manuscript have varied for each project and have included tasks such as:
- Transcribing handwritten material to digital format.
- Reading the whole manuscript through.
- Cutting Material.
- Grouping content and topics into stories, scenes, sequences, and chapters.
- Identifying stories, scenes, sequences, and chapters.
- Labeling stories, scenes, sequences, and chapters.
- Choosing key chapters to submit for feedback.
- Synopsis writing.
- Plot and outline building.
This month, I opened the children’s story about pigeons, focused on scanning for quality, and slashed the 50,000-word manuscript in half simply by asking myself, Do I like this? I did not ask, Is it any good? or Do I have a way to use it? Instead, I highlighted what I loved and then copied and pasted all the highlighted sections into a new document. That material, I separated into five children’s story ideas, and then I picked the best two. Now I’m looking closely at those and planning to have a first draft of one of them by the end of the month.
I dedicated March to opening Chariot Fire, and I ended up with a synopsis and outline of the whole novel plus a 10-page chapter that’s almost in good enough shape to show my writing group.
I spent the first days of February unfurling giant scrolls of paper and reading them aloud into my tablet. It types as well as I do, better in some cases, so I enjoyed the work of moving my NaNoWriMo 2014 project, The Grass In California, from paper to a digital format.
Once I got through all those scrolls, I cleaned up the transcript and labeled the sections and stories. I formatted the table of contents and cut it up so that I could arrange that instead of the whole manuscript.
Arrangement moved quickly since I knew the chronology of the story already. Then I experimented with grouping because I know that I really only want to tell a handful of stories in each of three sections of this novel. I grouped smaller ideas and folded them into the bigger and more cinematic scenes. Then I sat at the computer again to rearrange the manuscript and chose key chapters for my writing group to read later this year.
In May, I will open one more novel, Showing Pink, the sequel to Turning Out, my only complete NaNoWriMo novel. I aim to finish the month with an outline, synopsis, and one good chapter for my writing group.
*Bad math? Skipped a year, you say? You’re right: 6 wins minus 1 completed project would add up to 5 more manuscripts for me to tackle. In 2011, I wrote the 50k words required for the win, but I didn’t intend that project for publication.
In the Debunking the Myths of New Publishing Models presentation, panelists Seth Harwood, Deborah Reed, Lee Goldberg, Tyler Dilts, and Johnny Shaw empowered writers with tales of self-publishing success. "As soon as I took things into my own control, that's when things really took off," said novelist Deborah Reed. "Artistic expression and creative control were more important for me than making money," Johnnie Shaw said of his decision to self publish his novels. They all spoke both of taking publishing into their own hands and of collaborating with copy editors, artists, developmental editors, and marketing people. "They say it's who you know. The people I needed to know were my colleagues, other writers, people I met at conferences like this. Those were my first readers," said novelist Tyler Dilts.
They balanced this inspiring message by serving it on a sturdy platter of practicality. Money may not have been the most important thing, but all the panelists agreed that the royalties offered by Amazon are more generous than the ones you get from a traditional publisher.
Panelists of New Media Beyond The Book are taking Lee Goldberg's advice to shake off old beliefs and setting fire with it. First, IanHatcher and Samantha Gorman showed us the promo video for their novella, Pry, an iPad-based reading experience that incorporates interactive touch and film. Read it, and then pinch open the protagonist's eyes to see what he sees.
Alexandra Chasin moderated this panel and challenged us to question, "What is a book and what isn't a book?"Amaranth Borsuk and Kate Durbin showed us how they have turned everything you think you know about publishing poetry on its ear with their interactive site Abra.
The whole conference is crawling with writers of assorted ambitions and backgrounds. Some of us are bloggers, professors, poets, and famous bestsellers, and all of us are looking for these big keys: expanded publishing opportunities, collaboration, and a small but devoted cult following of readers. So Twitter emerged as one of my favorite aspects of #AWP14. Organizers did a great job curating a Twitter wall, and I met a bunch of new friends over the 4-day event.