By Roberta Brown
Writing is a very solitary pursuit, one that at times requires engagement with another writer to check progress, vision and sometimes one’s sanity!
DWW has your back with a Mentor Program that is open to all members. Perhaps you are looking for a mentor or are open to mentoring another member. You may just want to connect on a regular basis with a fellow writer. Our Mentor Program meets all those needs.
The mentor relationship can be whatever you make it and can last as long as you want. Some members meet monthly to check progress on writing goals (this can be in person or by phone). Others have a long-distance mentor, with the majority of contact done by phone and email. Still others get together every few months for coffee, conversation and encouragement. A few mentors even critique one another’s work. You call the shots!
As chair of the Mentor Program, I see myself as a matchmaker. You contact me by phone or email, and we’ll discuss what you are looking for in a mentor, what you are willing do to as a mentor, and/or what you are looking for in just getting together on a semi-regular basis with a fellow writer. I then wave my magic pen and strive for a good match.
I can vouch for this program as my mentor, Iris Underwood, helped coach, cajole and encourage me to achieve Established Writer status!
Interested? Contact me at 248-854-2375 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Sarah Shoemaker
I’m sitting in my monthly book discussion group, and we are talking about Jane Eyre (every year we discuss one classic novel). The talk surrounds me, sometimes quite heated: what are we to make of Mr. Rochester? We all agree that Jane is independent, with a strong moral compass—so what is there about this man who is sometimes demanding and sometimes playful, who seems angry so much of the time (and who, though Jane doesn’t know it, keeps his mad wife hidden in a third floor apartment) that attracts the strong-willed Jane? Some say, “Sometimes people make terrible mistakes in love.” Others say, “Not Jane, she’s too smart, too independent, too morally driven to do that. There must be something she sees in him—she doesn’t even think he’s handsome.” (Though in the film versions he usually is.)
In all this, I am convinced of one thing—well, two, actually. One is that Charlotte Bronte knew what she was doing, and that we are meant to sympathize with Jane and Mr. Rochester. Does she not bring them together happily in the end? Is this not a clear indication of where Bronte’s sympathies lie? And the other thing is that someone ought to write Edward Rochester’s story; someone ought to help us understand him and why he acts and does what he does. The book discussion ends and I leave for home, but by the time I am halfway there I have challenged myself: I am going to write that book.
Easy to say! The first thing I do is buy a paperback of Jane Eyre, so that I will feel free to underline, write in the margins, dog-ear pages, and generally make a mess of this book. And as I read it—and re-read it—I pay special attention to the Mr. Rochester parts. I make flagrant use of colored post-its to flag noteworthy passages: pink for Jane and blue for Mr. Rochester (how traditional!), white for other characters, green for descriptions of places.
And then I read—and read—other novels by Charlotte Bronte and her contemporaries, and biographies of them as well. I read for language, for rhythms, for how people in early nineteenth-century England (and Jamaica and France) talked and how they lived.
After all this, I start to write Edward Fairfax Rochester’s life. And that is when I really come to understand that it is not going to be a piece of cake. Writing the story of a character who already exists on paper and in people’s minds is like writing the biography of an actual person.
Everything has to fit what the reader already knows—or thinks. If the reader is mistaken, the text has to gently show the reader how he/she has misunderstood. Even the slightest detail cannot be overlooked. At one point I am writing along, about to send Rochester to Jamaica, and in rereading the portion of Jane Eyre where Rochester tells about going there, I read a short phrase that had never caught my eye before: “When I left college . . .” Oh my gosh! He went to college? Why did I not notice that one little word: college. And everything stops while I research what college was like two hundred years ago. Or, more notably, everyone knows that Mr. Rochester kept his mad wife hidden in the attic. But was it really an attic, or was it simply a room (or a suite?) on the third floor, the same floor where the servants’ rooms were, but walled off from them so as to keep it secret? And, toward the end, when everyone who has read Jane Eyre already knows what happens, what’s to keep them reading? Unless of course there are things that Jane does not know . . .
Sarah Shoemaker (better known to long-time DWW members as Sarah Wolf) has been a member of DWW for 30 years. Twenty years ago she moved from Livonia “up north” to the Leelanau Peninsula, where she recently re-discovered the joys and anguish of writing a novel. Mr. Rochester will be published May 9, 2017, by Grand Central Publishing (used to be Warner Books). Sarah has just been invited to be one of 5 authors to talk about her new book at the national convention of the American Library Association this summer in Chicago!
My friend Bob, who writes delightful comedy, once asked me why I write dark fantasy. I explained it was because I didn’t want to gloss over the fact that in real life bad things happen. But, I said, my books are also full of hope and always lead to a light at the end of the tunnel. I write what I do because, for many, life is not always a bowl of cherries.
It sure wasn’t for a woman I got to know when I was a pastoral minister at our church: Mary Rose. Hers was one of the first funerals I attended at the beginning of this year. I mention it because this dark event yielded up a real insight.
Our church pastor, and my former boss, stood up to give the homily and I wondered what he was going to say. Mary had been hammered by almost unbelievable losses in her life.
Three of her children were cut down as young adults – one after another, in spite of everything the doctors could do – by a rare form of cancer. Incredibly, another daughter was killed in a car accident on the way to her brother’s funeral. Then Mary’s husband succumbed to cancer. Things looked up a bit when Mary’s remaining son and his wife had two little boys. One, again incredibly, fell to his death while the family was visiting his grandparents in India. Another died as an infant from a fatal heart disease. Mary herself was killed as a result of a broadside accident while being driven home from visiting her remaining little family in North Carolina.
So Fr. Mike got up and addressed the son, daughter-in-law, and their now three children who were among the many others who attended Mary’s funeral. He reminded us that throughout all the years of grieving Mary held on to her faith and courage. “It is what it is,” she used to say, “and we move on.” She helped other bereaved families, did laundry for the homeless people sheltered in our church, and worked hard as a volunteer for our Christian Service Commission Then Fr. Mike put forth a remarkable thought. “Our losses,” he said, “can define who we become.”
That took some unpacking for me. But it reminded me of when we were in Italy and I saw Michelangelo’s enormously moving statue of the David. I don’t think I’ve ever been struck so hard by any other work of art. Yet, I learned, the David started out as a fairly nondescript block of marble, with a crack in it even. The sculptor worked away at it, determined, he said, to release the form inside. As more and more of the block got chipped off, David started to emerge. I’m sure if that block of marble were sentient, it would complain it didn’t want to be hammered, that it hurt to lose so much of itself. But slowly it became transformed, into one of the world’s most awesome sculptures. The chunks that it lost in some way defined what it became.
Such an insight, like life itself, can be both heart-breaking and beautiful. The dark can bloom into something full of light – like Mary of Magdala found out, like J.R.R Tolkien wrote about, like a lot of people discover even in the midst of grief.
Or like in my book Blood Seed, when Sheft discovers “It is what it is,” and makes the hard decision to move on. He, along with his brother in Dark Twin, and his beloved Mariat in the upcoming Time Candle, work their way through the same feelings of loss that many of us do. But we do it in the hope so well declared by Julian of Norwich in her Enfolded in Love: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Vernie Dale is an established author with Detroit Working Writers, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Alliance of Independent Authors. Her first fiction book, Night Cruiser, was published in December 2014, followed by Blood Seed and Dark Twin in 2016. She is a former librarian and has a background in pastoral ministry. If you’d like to join her email list – this blog is an example of what she sends out – sign up at her website http://veronicadale.com “I won’t spam you,” she promises, and reminds everyone they can unsubscribe at any time.
By Diane DeCillis
The editors of Poetry Foundation wrote that “In the last 100 years, perhaps no other artistic medium has provided more fodder for poetry than the cinema. Movies have become central to the poetic imagination, whether the poet celebrates the movies or reacts against celluloid saturation.”
There are various aspects of a film that can inspire the making of a poem, from identification with a character to concrete images that resonate. Poet Frank Bidart, discussing his poem that actually ends with a sentence by the actor Heath Ledger, says, “Crucial to getting a character to speak in a poem is hearing in your head as you write the way the character talks. Because a poem is made up of words, speech is how the soul is embodied. (Ledger asserts, of course, that even in a movie this is true.) What’s crucial is that how the words are set down on the page not muffle the voice. When I first began writing, writing the voice down in the ways conventional in contemporary practice seemed to muffle or kill the voice I still heard in my head. If I lost that voice, I knew I had lost everything. I’m grateful to Ledger for saying more succinctly than I have ever been able to what I had felt since I began writing.”
Poem Ending with a Sentence by Heath Ledger
Each grinding flattened American vowel smashed to
centerlessness, his glee that whatever long ago mutilated his
mouth, he has mastered to mutilate
you: the Joker’s voice, so unlike
the bruised, withheld, wounded voice of Ennis Del Mar.
Once I have the voice
of the line
is a hook
is the soul.
Choose a movie for inspiration the way you’d consider a piece of art for ekphrasis. What is it about the film that speaks to you? A good film, much like a fine poem, begins with shaping the of raw material. Perspective and emotional weight are further refined through editing. When it comes to revision in poetry, the objective is similar. How do we shape our words into something that succinctly tells the story, delivering maximum punch with a minimum of words?
I’ve written a number of poems inspired by movies. One refers to a love scene in Punch Drunk Love. The scene exquisitely captures the protagonist’s existential sense of feeling alone, odd, an outsider, and how he, in that moment, feels safe enough to risk revealing his deep inner-self. It’s a small moment of discovery that’s powerfully brought to life via the woman who “gets” him, and speaks his language. Like the experience of a good poem, it connects him to her, to the greater world, and to us. Here’s a poem of mine recently posted on the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters website:
Punch Drunk Love
—after the movie
A loner, prone to fits of rage, he lies on top,
his nose an inch away from hers, says,
“I want to smash your face, it’s so pretty
I want to smash it with a sledge hammer.”
There’s a long pause. Her eyes searching
as if to reach inside him. And I’m afraid
of what she’ll find, until I realize she heard it as
Your face is unbearably pretty. I’m scared of
the way it makes me feel. I watch his
reaction when she says, “I want to scoop out
your eyes and eat them.” How he hears
I love the way I see myself in you, I want that
inside me. They kiss like ice cubes melting
in Scotch, and I remember what it means
to be invisible, wandering the city,
an outsider even my mother never knew.
I walk down Grand River Avenue
along the Redford cemetery, a ghost
who cannot hide the scent that stray dogs
chase, the mix of fear and tough from
tramping in wilderness too big to mark.
In the movie they’re drawn to
each other like plastic kissing dolls–
as if each had been looking for
the other without knowing–and
I see myself–heart with the teeth
of a dog that never means to bite.
Want to learn more? Join me for an advanced poetry workshop I’ll be teaching for Springfed Arts this fall, where we’ll explore the relationships between imagery, imagination, and poetry through a variety of forms. One session will highlight film as a writing start. We’ll examine how the words on a page come to life through imagery, and further, how physical, emotional and intellectual imagination are highlighted through voice, and honed by revision. To register, visit springfed.org.
By Cynthia Harrison
The short answer to “How can I support myself writing fiction?” is learn to write non-fiction. There are other ways fiction writers make a living these days. Ways that will pay your bills and support your writing even if you’re (let’s say) a twenty-something single mom with no college education.
I know this because that was me when I decided I wanted a career as a fiction writer. I didn’t want fiction writing to be my hobby. I didn’t want to do it part time. I wanted to write my stories every day, like a real writer. But I had two little boys to support, so I had to be practical. Practicality isn’t a strength, but my top priority was to make a good life for my little boys. A close second was to be a Real Writer. Looking back on the past couple of decades, I see that I accomplished both of those things.
When I was first realized I wanted to be a fiction writer, I found an article by fiction editor Rust Hills called How Writers Live Today. I took every word of that how-to article to heart, even though I now see the advice, even for the time, as glib. Hills advised getting an MFA in creative writing and becoming a Writer-in-Residence. He explained that WiR hardly have to teach any classes and thus have plenty of time to write, plus the pay is good. He didn’t say is that thousands more people get MFAs than there are WiR positions.
Even though there were no colleges anywhere close to where I lived that offered MFAs at the time, I decided to quit my job and go to college anyway. I figured I could teach high school English. I’d have summers off to write and I’d be on the same schedule as my kids. We’d live off Pell Grants and student loans if we had to, but I was determined to live the writing life. In order not to be glib, soon after enrolling in college I met and married a guy who supported me in being a parent, a writer, and a future educator. I don’t know how my story would look without him because I’m still married to him.
I got that degree and I taught high school for seven years, albeit teaching at-risk alternative high school, which was really stressful, I won’t gloss it. But I still wrote a novella or a couple of short stories every summer and went back to school at night and got an M.A. so I could teach at the college level. I got that degree and those college teaching jobs, too. I was able to write more and work less teaching college, and eventually, after at least a decade of hard work, I published my first book. It was non-fiction. I’d written it by compiling lecture notes and writing exercises from a creative writing class I’d been teaching for a few years. I got the idea from Julia Cameron, a famous writer, who did the same thing with her breakout book The Artist’s Way.
Like many a fiction writer before her, Cameron found both teaching and writing non-fiction useful tools to break into the fiction writing market. As you see, I’ve slyly circled back to that first piece of advice: learn to write non-fiction. Why? Because more people read non-fiction. It will get you noticed. Maybe by a fiction publisher. This happened to me. Within a few years of publishing my first book, I was offered a contract to write novels for the Wild Rose Press. My fifth novel with TWRP is currently being edited for Winter 2016 release.
So that’s how it’s done. Teaching is not fast, not easy, it’s not even very lucrative, but it is a way that worked for me, but then I happen to like a challenge.
The real advice here is that most fiction writers without trust funds or partners who support them must find a job that pays a living wage and is compatible with their natural inclinations, values, and priorities. It can be any job, as long you see a way to fit your real career—writing fiction—into it.
And that’s the next piece of advice: do write fiction. Even if your job is to write non-fiction all day, write fiction at night or on weekends or on vacation. If you really want to be a fiction writer, you have to get those words on the page. It doesn’t matter if your first three (let’s say) novels never sell. Call them practice books. Write another one. Then another. Because here’s a piece of truth: in fiction writing, persistence matters more than talent. Also, you’ll never sell a blank page. So put some words on it.