Tag Archives: discussion

Writing Inspiration Through Peer Interaction

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Talking to other writers and artists about their projects can help bring up new ideas and approaches to your own pieces of work-in-progress. About a month ago, I joined a writer’s group here in the city; what I’ve found is that reading the work of my peers helps remind me of the books, plays, films and other artworks which have inspired and influenced me over time.

This week, I thought I’d share some of the pieces that have come up for me in the course of interacting with other artists this week.

Our Town. A classic American play that I’ve managed never to see; a play that I brought to writer’s group drew a comparison in a particular scene to the mood of this piece. So I’ll be on the lookout for a copy of the script, or productions in NYC, to see what I can learn from this piece my scenes evoked in my audience.

Intentionality in the use of language and symbolism. This topic came up a couple of times in writer’s group, both in relation to my play and another piece. Someone pointed out an extremely powerful image in a play I’ve been revisiting, and asked about how that image recurs later in the piece, how the theme is expressed and what it ultimately teaches the audience. 

There are also the kinds of inspiration that come up in wider reading and discussion.

  • This article about a pork slaughterhouse and packing plant in North Carolina has been on my mind, both because of its descriptions of how our food supply is produced and the contrast between that and my experiences with organic farming and meat production, and because it paints a stark picture of racial segregation in the US workforce. The article was written in 2000, but came to light again with the announcement that Smithfield’s, the company whose plant was portrayed in the article, is the subject of interest from a major Chinese pork company. 
  • The Save the Cat beat sheet, which apparently everyone but me knew about. I’m going to get addicted to this tool very quickly. Here’s a version for novels. Um, awesome.
  • One of my fellow writer’s group members is working on a memoir about her time in another country; reading it reminded me of the mood in Super Sad Super True Love Story in the same way a previous week’s piece from another member put me in the mind of “Parentheses” from Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.
  • Finally, by now everyone knows I love China Meiville; I was excited when one of the writers in the group brought a draft where his tumbling use of language drew me into a world that gave me the same feels as trying to pick through one of Meiville’s rich, topsy-turvy novels.

Other inspiration I’ve drawn from writers in the last week: a friend who’s written an 80K YA novel draft in the last year, another whose writing is taking off just as she’s being presented with a phenomenal career opportunity, and how discussing recommendations with her (I’m one of her references) has reminded me of some of the best reasons for being a writer: the communication, the ability to get to know oneself better. A young woman who’s the daughter of a friend of my dad – she’s about the same age as I was and to listen to her breathlessly recount her current project was like looking into a window on the past.

I gave feedback on/edited a short story for a Twitter friend who writes in English as a second language and was reminded of the spare, intentional language of a Japanese friend from graduate school. I don’t have enough French to try writing something coherent in another language, but maybe I should try. (And that notion is a reminder of the article I saw tweeted that claimed Google translate is colonizing language; I need to go back and look for that one.)

A discussion on the politics of gender pronouns led to the discovery that Google nGram can search words used as parts of speech (“female” used as a noun instead of an adjective, for example). Fascinating stuff.

And of course, no discussion of influences this week would be complete without mentioning Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks/revelations. Drawing comparisons to activist-leakers like Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and Anonymous, Snowden’s claims regarding the NSA and their wiretapping and data collection techniques have me feeling once more that truth is far stranger than fiction. Electalytics will one day benefit from all of the craziness that’s swarming through our informational technology and culture, but I also lose a little confidence every time something like this happens. Can I even imagine the extent to which the system is manipulated by these behind-the-scenes players, and do I have the skill to weave this into the story I know Electalytics could be?

Only time will tell.

Talking to your peers about their work lets you understand what else is going on out there, what people are interested, and what kind of information is currently in the zeitgeist. It’s not always easy to find a patchwork of like-minded people with whom to have these discussions, but once you do, horizons seem to expand nonstop.

Let’s Talk About Guns

Thank you to ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

photo credit: ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is there to say about guns?

I don’t own one. I never have. My grandfather owns what I think of as a rifle (although given what I’ve learned about how I think about different types of guns, that may not be a specific enough term*) and the running joke is that when he has stories about crows, deer and other animals getting into his garden, you can always bet the story will end with, “And then I shot it.”

It didn’t make sense to me that one of the reasons people defended the use of “assault weapons” was because they were necessary for hunting. So I did what any self-respecting geek does.

I asked about it on Twitter. The tweet has, of this writing, had 111 retweets and 59 favorites. It also sparked a storm of replies, the answering of which has sent me over my rate limit three times in the last 18 hours.

 

 

A lot of replies were from angry NRA members and tackled one of my favorite topics – the specificity of language, and how we make it impossible for ourselves to communicate. As it turns out, the phrase “assault weapons” is read as an umbrella term by those who know their stuff – and it covers both legal semi-automatics (which can be modified into full automatics, although this is illegal) and illegal, expensive fully automatic rifles.

And a lot of people do use legal, semi-automatic guns for hunting. First surprise of the night. But hardly the last.

While some people replied to the tweet and discussion with blatant trolling, others stopped to get involved in the chat. I’ve been trying to keep track of those people, and have made a public list called “Discussing Guns” on twitter; I’ll update that list as I go.

After the first day or so of discussion, there are some points we seem to have found consensus on, from both sides of the debate. They are:

1. The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to the US as the right to free speech, or the separation of church and state. Some gun owners had fast reactions to the conversation that came out as, “Don’t take away my gun.” My interest in the discussion was in no way related to the idea of taking away any guns that are already in the hands of responsible gun owners.

2. More gun control is not the same as better gun control. There was widespread consensus that what we need are more effective laws, not more regulation.

3.  Participants had vastly different opinions on what steps can be taken to achieve better gun control in America. This is an area where we need to have further civil discussion/brainstorming, and where innovative responses may be required. Thus far the conversation has included ideas from policewomen, volunteer fire fighters, ex-military and other NRA members, as well as hearing those who do not own or participate in a culture that includes guns as part of their everyday life. Suggestions have included SROs and arming teachers, better mental health checks, the idea of “ammo cards” and more. I raised a question about what kinds of penalties are currently in place for people who own guns but don’t secure them properly, since there are cases where guns are stolen from licensed users. It was pointed out that there are already background and mental health checks in place, although a statistic was brought up regarding gun sales for cash at shows. Statistics were presented on gun deaths vs. other kinds of deaths, although they were from 1997.

One serious issue I’ve noticed in this region of the debate is that for many people who don’t use guns, having children in close proximity to guns makes the children less safe, whereas those who are familiar with “gun culture” feel that there is more safety with guns around than not. This is an area where compromise might be challenging. Many on one side feel it is there right not to be in the presence of guns. I personally agree with that point of view. I can’t scream “fire!” in a crowded building despite having free speech – where does the limit of one person’s freedom end, and another person’s freedom begin? I don’t know how we can dig into this area of the discussion, and we may not be that far along yet, but it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at by both sides if progress is going to be made.

4. Mental Health Care is coming up over and over again. Everyone seems to agree that more care needs to be available for those with mental illness, as part of a responsible culture that includes gun ownership and use. So far there has been no notable resistence to the idea of developing a system in tandem with increased access to mental health care, although there is not consensus on what form that might take. Some have raised the question of how mental health care services could be improved while also being paid for. Definitely an area worth further discussion, and as both NRA members and mental health activists have an interest in providing better care to our country’s mentally ill, it might be worth it for them to have a narrow discussion around that issue.

This has been a long discussion that shows little sign of slowing down, and the way in which people are participating is, for me (and hopefully others) clearing up a lot of the questions I had about why there aren’t easy solutions to what seemed, until yesterday, to be an obvious no-brainer. I’m grateful for the participation of those who’ve joined in so far and looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes.

Finally, since this is a summary of an extended and multi-faceted discussion, I encourage you to come over to twitter and check things out if you want to take part or have a fuller understanding of the live discussion. If you’ve been taking part and feel like I’ve missed a nuance, please point it out in the comments or let me know on Twitter and I’ll make an edit.

And finally, because we all need a smile right now, check out this BuzzFeed article: Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year.

 

 *EDIT: 12/17/2012) Are there solutions we overlooked in our initial conversation? Do you have new ideas about how to explore some of the areas of consensus found above? Please join the discussion via the comments, below; I ask that everyone take part civilly and in the interest of a useful exchange of ideas.

*EDIT 12:58 EST – Just spoke to @Texasartchick, a police officer and firearms instructor who has offered to provide a more specific definition about types of guns mentioned in this article at her earliest opportunity. Check back/subscribe for comments. Thank you! And BuzzFeed is on a role with this new post.

The Vagina Blogs: NYC #Vaginagate #Solidarity Event

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to every single one of the (as of initial writing) nearly 1K people who have visited, read, or reposted/tumbled “Vagina Vagina Vagina.”

Things are happening. This Monday, playwright Eve Ensler will be reading her groundbreaking play, THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES on the steps of the capitol in Michigan. Multiple state senators are involved. This story is receiving attention from the MI Democratic Party, which is involved in setting up the event, as well as the Huffington Post.

I Want To Show Support, But I’m Not In Michigan. What Can I Do?

Live in New York City? Tomorrow night, some friends (both old and new) and I are going to meet up in Union Square. We’re going to peacefully show show solidarity with women around the country. Don’t live in NYC? You can do this in your city or town, too. How?

The Vagina Blogs.

Write a blog, tumblr, comment, or other piece, preferably (but not required to be) 400-500 words long. Tag it as #VaginaBlogs, wherever you post it, and link back to this post so we can register a trackback link. Don’t have a vagina, but have a problem with this conversation not being over yet? WE WELCOME YOUR SUPPORT. Join us.

A Vagina Blog can be about your vagina. It can be about how you and your vagina feel about the continued national assault on our right to stop being asked whether No Means No. How do you feel about the national conversation? How do the women in your life feel about having to constantly repeat that No Means No? How do you feel about how, nationally, time and energy are consistently being wasted by people who really should have better things to worry about legislating? It can be funny, it can be personal, it can be serious. There are as many different kinds of #VaginaBlogs as there are women who have #vaginas and men who support our right to have ownership over them.

We will be in Union Square reading out people’s blogs, tweets and more for as long as can be sustained. Join us, either here or in your own city, by using the hashtag #VaginaBlogs and contributing your thoughts.


SIMPLE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS: 

1. Write 400-500 words (it can be more or less, these are just suggestions) about Vaginagate and the national conversation on women’s reproductive rights.

2. Include the hashtag #VaginaBlogs.

3. Post it on your blog, tumblr, twitter or facebook. (If you don’t a safe place to post your entry, submit it in the comments below.)

4. Submit a link where we can find your post in the comments below.

 THAT’S ALL IT TAKES.

Also, consider emailing your blog to the Michigan House Speaker: JamesBolger@house.mi.gov. You can find information on your own national representatives via http://www.opencongress.org/.

We’ll start reading in Union Square as soon as we gather.

Join us.

And if you don’t like reading or talking in public, come anyway. You don’t have to read, and your presence makes a difference.

Check back for updates, because we’re going to try to livestream our readings. If you’re in another city and you want to do something similar, please leave a comment with your location and a spot that works.

We’ll read until we can’t read anymore, whether we run out of material or the park closes or we’re all tired and some of us have to go back home to sleep before going to our jobs in the morning. We’ll read peacefully and we’ll read with love.

And maybe we’ll keep reading on Tuesday.

What actions are happening in your city? Link to this post in order to get a trackback link and spread the word. Check back here for updates. And as one commenter on Vagina Vagina Vagina put it: VAGINA HUGS! 

UPDATE: 12:51pm: Just got off the phone with Eve Ensler’s team. While there won’t be a livestream of the event in MI, they are filming it and will post excerpts online after the fact. We are also changing the hash tag to #VaginaBlogs to respect Ms. Ensler’s copyright. I’ve changed everything but the URL to this post, because that had already been distributed. Please act respectfully.

During the phone call, Ensler’s team drew my attention to her piece OVER IT, written last year.

This line in particular stood out to me: I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don’t have a sense of humor, and women don’t have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are reallyfucking funny. We just don’t think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot.”

If writing a Vagina Blog isn’t your thing, take inspiration from OVER IT. What are you over? What are you fed up with? Tag your entry #VaginaBlog and link back to it here. 

UPDATE 6/19/2012: 
Our gathering in Union Square was amazing; will update further soon. Till then, thank you to everyone who contributed, whether it was by showing up or posting in the comments below. We definitely plan to keep #VaginaBlogs alive, and may do further public readings, so please continue to reference, track back, comment, etc. back to this post. Hoping to be able to post some video in the next few days, provided Qik Vid worked.

 

Conflicting Emotobooks?

Somebody get me an emotobook, stat. I need to figure these things out.

There’s been a steady background buzz/chatter, via the usual social network suspects, regarding emotobooks for about a week now. I looked into them about a minute ago.

Near as I can tell, an emotobook is a book created for consumption on digital platforms, with a text injected with pieces of abstract visual art. That art is meant to evoke a certain mood or feeling being experienced by the characters, thereby bringing a new level of emotional involvement to its readers.

Color me socked in the stomach. Is this a new evolution of the book, a new bridge in the gap between unillustrated texts and graphic novels? Is the writing/illustration a collaborative effort? What is the quality of the writing and is it possible for writers to create a piece that doesn’t wind up leaning on the ability of painting/artwork to provoke emotions? What does this mean for the commercial future of painting as an art form? Is using abstract art to evoke emotion in the service of the written word a new thing, or is this just an updating of the classical idea of illustration? Knowing how some authors have had negative reactions to having their works illustrated, what is the level of interaction between author and artist, here, and what will it become if emotobooks take hold as more than as passing fad? If an editor feels a writer needs “help” pulling an emotional reaction from their audience, will the decision be to make the writing more resilient and communicative, or to throw in a graphic that “nudges” the reader in the right direction?

Anticipating the answer to that last question makes me a little nervous, particularly in light of my feelings on the quality of writing in some recent bestsellers. At the same time…it’s an exciting idea, if executed well, and potentially opens reading up to much larger audiences. While my gut frets, “What about the ghettoization of unillustrated fiction?!” my mind replies, “Don’t be an idiot, art is not a zero-sum game.” So for now, I’m going to tell my gut to shut its big mouth, and see where emotobooks take us.

On the reader’s side, I’ve only heard good things about the experience of reading in this form, and I’m glad of that. Mostly, people are talking about the emotobooks making it possible for them to connect with what they’re reading to a degree they hadn’t quite understood before. A new way to open up the classics? I’m in.

Think about it: haven’t you ever had the experience of watching a movie, and that making it easier to get through a classic work of literature? I wouldn’t have been able to make my way through Jane Austen (who I grew to adore) if I hadn’t had the six-part BBC miniseries to help me learn how to read them to hand. But some writers don’t lend themselves (in my experience) to quite the same kind of graphic dissection. I’ve got about a hundred pounds’ worth of books by Russian writers, and as many times as I try, I can’t get into them.

Maybe I’m reading crap translations. But maybe having some emotionally evocative visual art inserted into “Crime and Punishment” would help me – and other readers – follow along.

Upcoming Public Appearances & Signings

Public appearances are tricky for a writer. We’re naturally introverted folks, we like keeping ourselves to ourselves. Nonetheless, I’ve learned over the years that the ability to get in front of an audience and have a discussion about your work is an invaluable experience, both  in terms of public speaking ability and the role it plays in everyday life, and because it offers a chance for more personalized exposure than just an @reply on Twitter.

As an independent writer/artist, too, public appearances are practically a requirement. They help access new audiences and – equally important – get writers out of our garrets and into the real world.

All of which is my long way of announcing that the Cornelia Street Cafe, in New York City’s West Village, will be hosting a reading, discussion and signing for Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change on May 17th at 6pm.

Not only is this exciting for me because of – well, the obvious reasons, I suppose – but also because as a venue, the Cornelia Street Cafe has a long and illustrious history of supporting new writing.

We’ll have four of the five HOT MESS authors on hand, each giving a short reading from their work. After a short discussion with the audience about ways in which climate change is affecting us today, we’ll move onto a book signing.

Doors open at 5:45pm and reservations are encouraged – all the info is on the Cornelia Street Cafe website. If you’re available, please try to come – and make sure to say hi afterwards!

Self-Governed Masses – Trend of the Future?

Earlier on Reddit, I came across an article that talked about how Iceland was “crowdsourcing” a revision of its constitution. As I understand it, each clause of the constitution will be presented for revision, then a “final draft” will be offered for public referendum.  Pretty incredible stuff; it got me thinking about government in general: the reasons for it, the ways in which it works, and how its citizenry relates to it. How does a government begin? How does it endure?*
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