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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

7 Questions

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dreaming in Narrative

Last night I dreamed I was working on a narrative project in some distant, intensely frozen snowy country. It involved getting smuggled to a school where I was talking with administrators, teachers, and these cute little elementary-age students, figuring out whether to put the felt slippers over the leather shoes, offering a basket of nuts that you cracked open and then had to open a second shell, wondering if my cell phone would work to reach the guy who would guide me out of the country once I got the story, assuming I didn't get arrested by the secret police . . . all very foreign and tense and, once I woke up, pretty jumbled.

My thoughts?
a) Any story you're working on can feel odd and foreign, even if there are no weird food or secret police involved.
b) Sometimes when you're doing the research, it's a big pile of stinkin' jumble and you're not sure how you're going to write your way out of it.
c) I'm feeling guilty that I didn't write more narrative stories this year, which is nearly over.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Documentary Filmmakers on House

House is one of the few shows I watch pretty often although the episode plots have been awfully similar (guess wildly at what's wrong; treat that; put the patient at death's door; do over). Also, Dr. House was way too willing last season to stick syringes into people. I hate needles. And has anyone besides me noticed that this season the liver is getting a starring role in every patient's problems?

Today's episode made me crazy for different reasons. This is the second episode when he has insisted that a person with Lyme disease always shows a bull's-eye rash. This is so not true.

The other reason it made me crazy--and here we get to the reason I'm ranting to you about it--is that the episode included documentary filmmakers who blatantly disregarded the truth that they saw while they were taping in favor of a feel-good product. The episode could be used as a "do not do this, children" example. The final documentary portrayed House as a charming, child-loving doctor who solved the problem to earn the patient's gratitude. In reality, House was his usual irascible self and another doctor on the team pinpointed the problem. I did have one mean thought: that the filmmakers were doing this for a spot on local TV news, where so much gets contorted into superlatives. I curbed my disgust by reminding myself that the show is about as accurate on documentarians as it is on Lyme disease.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Aim High

Which literary magazines should you submit your material to?

Good question. Glad you asked that. Oh, wait, I asked that. I've asked that several times, over the years, actually. I've heard others ask it too, so I know I'm not alone in seeking a drop or two of enlightenment on the subject.

From what I've heard--from other writers and editors of literary magazines--the answer goes like this:

1. Try to get published in journals that pay money. In the litmag world, these are scarce. Bestowing money on contributors is a mark that the publisher really cares. Here are three that were mentioned in the last issue of the Writer's Market e-newsletter:

  • The Antigonish Review publishes literary nonfiction, fiction and poetry. This quarterly magazine pays $50-150 for nonfiction, $100 for fiction, and $30 per full page for poetry. The editors recommend sending for guidelines and a sample copy.
  • The Georgia Review publishes literary nonfiction, fiction and poetry as well. This quarterly journal pays $40 per page for prose and $3 per line for poetry. They will not consider unsolicited manuscripts between May 1 and August 15. The editors say, "Our readers are educated, inquisitive people who read a lot of work in the areas we feature, so they expect only the best in our pages. All work submitted should show evidence that the writer is at least as well-educated and well-read as our readers."
  • The Saint Ann's Review publishes literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry. This semiannual magazine pays $50-100 for work in all three areas. The editors say, "We seek honed work that gives the reader a sense of its necessity."

2. Submit to literary journals that look professional. I paraphrase the response from an Iowa Review editor: Would you rather kiss someone who is ugly or great looking? I gathered from her response that it's better to have your work seen in good company--where the typos are rare and the ink isn't smeared or fuzzy, etc.

3. Most journals that come from a state university or college are reputable, e.g., Indiana Review, Colorado Review, Florida Review.

Some literary journals are carried in big bookstores (very random and minimal) and libraries. These days, most litmags have some kind of online presence that can clue you in on production and content. It is also a tax-deductible business expense to buy a copy of the journal--and I believe in contributing financially to small publications.

category: markets

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Remind Me: What's a Story?

A story involves action and answering the question Why. You can hear other people defining story at the Annenberg Channel, which is produced by Annenberg Media with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

(And if I had more time and energy, I'd try to figure out why this center for astrophysics is hooking up with a media foundation.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jerry's Story

On public radio's program Fresh Air a few days ago, I heard Jerry Seinfeld being interviewed before the release of his animated Bee Movie. He said the hardest part of making the movie was dealing with the story. In stand-up comedy, he said, you just get to tell the good parts. In a movie, you have to take a reader from bit to bit in a way that makes sense.

He also said that he had trouble with the ending. He had been operating under the notion that you get to the end, you have a big climax, everything's resolved, that's it. But Steven Spielberg set him straight. Spielberg told him the ending had to "be funnier"--because it had to be consistent with the rest of the story.

Moral of the story: Don't go switching tone on your reader abruptly. I'm not gonna say never do it--it's possible to take a reader to every emotion in the spectrum in a longer work--but the whole has to feel, well, whole, that everything in there is part of the same cloth, not bits and pieces sewn together with a little schtick.