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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Yesterday, on the unseasonably warm April day in Philadelphia, I cleaned out my closets. Or, really, I cleaned the clothing racks that hold my wardrobe, since I don’t actually *have* closets (the downside of living in what used to be a warehouse). This is a relatively annual ritual, something I do around this time every year. Spring-cleaning, as they say. Out with the old and unworn (or worn too much), in with the new and fresh. As my past roommates can attest, I used to be terrible at this activity, clinging on to clothes well past their due date, ones that I hadn’t worn in months and wouldn’t wear for months, if ever again, just for the possibility that maybe (just maybe) there would be the off-chance that I’d wear it again. Someday. In the future. Assuming I’d still be the same size, that is. (Read: not happening.) In any case, I like to think in recent years I’ve gotten better. For instance, today I managed to rid myself of plenty of old clothes, being diligent and restrictive to what would constitute my new spring and summer wardrobe. It left me feeling freer, lighter, infinitely less cluttered. My bedroom itself looks like it just took a large breath, as if the life it once had was finally flowing through it again.

Of course, I’m not writing this to discuss my wardrobe. (A collective sigh of relief from the audience.) I’m writing because as I was de-cluttering and breathing new life into my apartment, I got to thinking about the current novel-length writing project that I’ve been working on since January and, it can be said, still have a ways to go on. It’s the one piece of writing that has consumed my thoughts for months. Sixty thousand words in, I’ve hit the proverbial wall. Though I’d say it’s a small one, small because I haven’t crashed into it headlong yet, small because it’s more of a turbulent bounce than a scrap-the-whole-project obstacle. It’s more of a mini hurdle. I won’t bore you with the specifics, as I assume if you’re reading this it means you’re taking a break from your own writing, or thinking about your own writing, or anxiously awaiting the time you can get back to your writing, etc. Suffice it to say, my issue has to do with chronology and timing and all that fun stuff that could, frustratingly enough, make or break the entire thing.

But as I was on my “out with the old” tirade, I had a thought. Perhaps what I’d needed all along with my wardrobe was a bit of perspective. A stronger voice to say, “No, Alisha, you won’t wear that green dress you’ve clung to since college. You know why? Because it no longer works for you. And it probably still has remnants of a 2009 keg party, for that matter.” A voice to argue down the notion to hold out hope for the day in which the green dress will finally “work” again. Because it won’t. It will just hang there, dying a slow death, unworn and fading, until I finally do give it away, frustrated that I hadn’t months before when I should have. 

Which brings me back to my story. I’ve written before about realizing when things no longer work and accepting the challenge of changing your story (small or drastically so). What I discovered today was that my piece needed was a bit of spring-cleaning. A slightly more awakened perspective. A change in my thought process. And with this new, revitalized sense of being, I answered my own question about what I should change in my story. It is, in the long run, a simple change, and one that will be easy to fix (thankfully), but is, as I realize it now, incredibly necessary.

So this is what I leave you with: like the clutter that we hang on to in our lives and in our apartments, such is the clutter that we keep with us in our writing. We may not realize it until the decision is made to rid of it, but afterwards we wonder why on earth we kept it for so long to begin with.

I propose a challenge. Take your story. Whatever isn’t working, whatever it is you’re fighting so hard to make right, instead of being witness to the words you’ve written slowly dying on the page, breathe a little life into your story by taking a chance. By this I mean, look at it differently and change what’s not working. With any luck, you’ll open up the doors to something completely new and exciting, something you wouldn’t have even considered a few weeks ago. As for the old stuff, unlike clothes (unless you have big closets, in which case I’m envious), you can always save it and come back to it some other time, though I think you’ll find you were right by cleaning it out in the first place.

As always, you can follow me @alishakathryn.

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Records and bicycles

have made a comeback,

so why shouldn’t

typewriters?

By Dennis Finocchiaro

 

Imagine Bukowski hunched over a manuscript-in-progress with his bottle of wine, likely with a window view of a seedy bar across the street for inspiration. He watches the faces of patrons going in steadily and coming out less-so and types away on his typewriter.

Think of Kerouac clicking away at the keys, thinking carefully about every word and comma, working out the full sentences in his head before capturing them on paper so as to avoid typos, mistakes and having to redo a whole page.  The noise of his friends in the other room, fighting over nothing or perhaps just drinking heavily, waiting for him to go out on a short road trip.

Times sure have changed. I’ve probably gone back seven or eight times to change typos, diction or other small items in this article, but back then things were different. The sights, sounds and environment of writers were drastically different than they are today. Typing on a computer is nothing compared to the feel of a typewriter. Yes, I admit it, I am a lover of typewriters.

The cold of the keys keeps your fingers awake and alive, the clacking of the typebars smacking the ribbon, immortalizing a word that cannot be taken back (see image below for a description of typewriter parts). The sound of the platen moving to the left a character at a time until that lovable, familiar ding of the bell. There was something so definite and lasting about working on such a machine. There is no backspace, there is no delete, there is only forever.

I, for one, can’t imagine what it was like to type school essays on an old Brother Charger. The invention of whiteout must have been a godsend for those people. Think about it, one little mistake and it was either white out the spot and let it dry or rip the paper off the platen (causing a rapid clicking sound) and start over.

But these days, especially lately, the world has seen a mild resurgence of the old fashioned typewriter. A little CBS news piece substantiated that last week with a five-minute report on typewriters and their growing popularity. I, myself have been using two particular typewriters for a while now, mostly in my work on Capturing a Moment, a collection of flash fiction I type directly on vintage photographs. For a book signing I brought my trusty Brother Charger 11 and let people play with it, and they loved it. Kids asked what it was, and parents or grandparents gladly demonstrated how the old machine worked. And every one of them smiled when they heard the familiar snap of the letters appearing on the paper.

Philadelphia even recently had a type-in, much like a sit-in, except nobody was demonstrating against something; they came together with a similar love of the old machines and a large number of people sat and typed. Michael McGettigan, founder of the Philadelphia type-in, said, “Your thought goes directly onto the page without a lot of intermediaries, and it produces an artifact in a time when so much of life has become so virtual…” That explains, to a certain extent, why typewriters have started a comeback.

McGettigan also points out that typewriters help with focus. “It will not let you play a video game or go look for bargains on Ebay…so if you’re sitting at a typewriter, you’re either going to write or fall asleep.”

He goes on to discuss the fact that the MP3 hasn’t pushed away the vinyl record, something to which I can attest. I started collecting records about fifteen years ago when I realized how much music was at my fingertips when I yard saled. At the time, records went for a quarter. But these days, hit a record shop or even the Punk Rock Flea Market and it’s clear that records are not a thing of the past. And that’s what typewriters are slowly becoming today.

So why not try it? Go to a thrift shop, start yard saling, see what you think. Spool some paper, hit a few keys, get a feel for it. Who knows, you could become a part of the ever-growing revolution of the typewriter. You could be the next Kerouac.

 

Dennis Finocchiaro is the author of Capturing a Moment and editor of the upcoming Anthology Philly. Images also by Dennis Finocchiaro.

Image taken from Xavier.edu.

 

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The Greatest Love

Story Ever Told

(in My Opinion)

by Dennis Finocchiaro

Love stories come and go. Most anyone can say they cried reading The Notebook. And let’s face it, The Princess Bride is probably the actual greatest love story ever told, or we can at least agree to disagree. But whenever I think of true love, I think of a small segment of my favorite book of all time, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Of course, these days, everyone has heard of the book because it’s now a movie, or they’re just finding out the movie is based on a book as they read these words. Surprise! (This surprise is only for the misinformed, and I doubt that includes people who end up on this blog). But no, while this book is about the love between a mother and son and in no way romantic, a story within the story is the absolute purest form of love ever created.

I am writing about, of course, the fairy tale Oscar’s dad tells him, of The Sixth Borough.

In this tale, there was once a sixth borough of New York, an island that nobody remembers. Every year they had a big party, the climax being when a man famous for jumping would jump the small amount of water between NYC and this sixth borough. Once year, he finds he can’t make it across. And the next, he jumps and lands in deeper water. At first, the people think the logical: the jumped is getting old. But he insists he has not lost any of his jump (haha) and so they measure the distance only to find that the island is moving away from New York City.

And, of course, this doesn’t sound romantic at all, does it? The story continues past this celebration to two children, a boy and a girl, who are in love. The boy lives in the sixth borough and the girl across the small amount of water. They chat through cups on a string, which of course is absolutely adorable in and of itself. But as the island escapes the mainland, they have to keep adding to the line.

The string from his yo-yo.

The pull from her talking baby doll.

The list goes on. The two kids slowly destroy everything they love just so that they continue talking until, one day, they realize it’s going to end. The boy asks the girl to say “I love you” into her can and captures the words on his end, sealing the cup and placing it on a shelf so that, to this day, as the sixth borough has ended up in Antartica, “On a frozen shelf, in a closet frozen shut, is a can with a voice inside it.”

Why do I think this is the greatest love story of all time? Maybe I don’t, maybe I just absolutely adore it and couldn’t think of another story that gave me the same feeling as this one. But whenever I think of the sixth borough, I get chills. I even went to NYC once and took pictures that reminded me of the tale. Jonathan Safran Foer told a hell of a story in ELIC, but he also made up this fairy tale that made me fall in love with New York and the romantic side of the city. The purity of the love between these two children is described with the diction of a master, and hell, maybe I just have a soft spot for fairy tales.

But then again, there’s always those terrible moments in novels, and let’s face it, not everyone can write a good love story. Vonnegut, for instance, is without a doubt one of my favorite writers. But his stories tended to sway from romance, which was smart. He knew his genre and what worked with his stories; but one of his greatest unrecognized traits was that he avoided what he knew didn’t work. Brilliant. But not everyone is as intelligent as that; ask anyone who reads the Twilight books.

They are my example of romance that doesn’t work for me. And trust me, it’s not the teen angst aspect of the story, I eat that shit up when it’s well-written. But those books were just plain terrible. I know it’s become cliché to make fun of them, but the writing isn’t even any good. Many people ask me how I can love Harry Potter but hate Twilight, and that’s so simple: it’s the writing. J.K. Rowling is one hell of a writer. Her imagery creates moments in my mind out of things that are purely fiction. Like I know what a thestral is, right? But her words describe it and I imagine it. That’s what’s missing from all of the scenes, not just the love scenes, in the Twilight saga.

I can willingly admit I am a fan of a romantic novel. Nick Hornby has written a few that I love. Caprice Crane has, too. But they are artists, working words into stories that grab the reader and pull them in. Twilight just didn’t do that for me. I could never understand Bella’s love for a vampire, nor could I see the attraction. And trust me, I’ve even admittedly read books like The Notebook and A Walk to Remember (would anyone believe me if I claimed they were read for a class?), and as embarrassing as it is, I will admit that I fell in love with the characters. Jamie Sullivan from the latter was written with such a love of life and a purity that I couldn’t help but adore her.

That’s what was missing with Bella Swan and her boys. There was no real reason to care about them, to connect with them or to even want Bella to clearly be with either Jacob or Edward. Readers chose a side with no real reason. Or because they thought one actor was cuter than the other.

So there you have it; I admit, I enjoy a nice, mushy, well-written love story sometimes, but it has to have some literary merit. Is there anything wrong with that?

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Ahh, February. The month of looove. For some, it’s that special time when you curl up with the one you care about (or a book) and whisper sweet nothings to him or her (or it, a book), take him or her out to dinner (or it, the book, though I’ll say, it need not be a special occasion for me to take my book out to dinner). For others, it’s just another month in the long stretch of winter when we’re forced to plan our immediate futures and more importantly, spring shopping, around a groundhog. In some cases, it’s both. (Come onnn February, how can I possibly sit through an extra day of you this year?)

Whether you love it or you hate it, February holds that key day that has the ability to be somewhat fun, but mostly very annoying, all at the same time. You’ve guessed it: it’s Valentine’s Day. In honor of the special looove day, Den and I have teamed up to present something special to you. No, it’s not flowers, or chocolate, or lingerie. Though we thought about it.

Instead, we present to you our first-and-probably-last-ever-edition of: What It Takes To Write A Really Freakin’ Good Love Story (Or Scene), And How (Unfortunately) Possible It Is To Really Suck At It.

Check back Monday and Tuesday for Parts 1 and 2 of our series, as Den tackles the beautiful, sappy, mushy love, and I go in for, well, the other stuff.

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By Shawn Proctor

“I hate writing, I love having written.”
―Dorothy Parker

For many writers the thrill and pride of a finished work, refined and polished, motivates them. They feel pride in the accomplishment. Like Dorothy Parker, they are happiest looking at their body of published work.

Not me.

My stories divide into two categories: published and active. When a story has been committed to print part of me celebrates that it has been completed, part mourns its loss because I know what happens next. The piece goes out into the world to readers. It is not mine anymore. And other stories, ones I am still writing and editing, take its place. Like a friend who has moved far away, the story becomes less familiar over time until one day I no longer feel connected to it. The spark of inspiration vanishes. I can revisit the story, see its merits and flaws, but the experience is as a reader, not as a writer.

Active stories, like Anthology Philly’s “Heartwood,” excerpted from my unpublished novel The Sugarmaker’s Son, stay a part of my active imagination. I ponder them in quiet moments. I see reflections of their narrative arc when I read fiction or watch a movie. They are companions and friends.

My favorite moments as a writer come from the rush of finishing a first draft, the struggle of revision, and the craft of editing. Each stage presents a different challenge and reward. It’s the thrill of finding the just right detail or turn of phrase that keeps me writing. But I don’t hate “having written,” as Ms. Parker says. Publication ends my attachment to older stories. It clears space in my mind for the next short story, the next novel, the next character who will tiptoe close and begin to whisper.

Shawn Proctor is one of the authors from the upcoming book Anthology Philly. He can be followed on his blog and his twitter is @shawnproctor.

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Why I Love My Typewriter

Wragsthinks blogger Dennis Finocchiaro will be discussing his love of typewriters and why he thinks they’re making a resurgence. Here’s a little teaser video, a special news piece that ran on CBS last Sunday.

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Kim and Erica Minutella recently met up with Dennis Finocchiaro, editor of the upcoming Anthology Philly, for a chat.

By Dennis Finocchiaro

A chat with the Sisters Minutella (read: Brothers Grimm) is about as entertaining as they come. Kim, a self-proclaimed introvert, chattered away as her older sister Erica listened on and chimed in when necessary.

Kim and Erica are the recent winners of a contest held by WragsInk Publishing to find fresh new writing talent in the Philadelphia Area. Their story, Beautiful Things, took first place in the contest and will be the opening story in Anthology Philly, due out in March. I met with the co-writers of the story for a chat.                

Beautiful Things is the story of a strange man, Julius Taylor, who moves to a small town where everyone notices his eccentricities. Most gossip about the newcomer, everyone except his neighbor Ellie. Her curiosity gets the better of her and he comes home one day to find her sitting in his living room. The story that started as a horror short ended up “more as a fairy tale” in the end, says Erica.

Elle was based off of Kim, ultimately,” Erica explained. “She was bullied a lot as a kid, picked on for being different. That inspired both the character and the story. I wanted to write something that she could relate to so I made some changes to [the original] story.”

After a moment of quiet reflection on her past, Kim perked up again and explained. “Beautiful Things was a story I came up with in the eighth grade. I wanted people to know that being different was okay, that there wasn’t anything wrong with it. It’s about society and acceptance of different people. I told Erica the story, and every few years we would discuss it, pull it out, and add some details to it.”

It ended up in the anthology editor’s hands, namely me. And as I read it, I knew right away it was one of, if not the, best we received. I was blown away. It had this sense of magical realism, mostly created by the fact that the newcomer, Mr. Taylor, collected oddities of his own. He had a violin that would play melancholy songs on its own and other similarly strange objects. This idea drew me right into the story.

My favorite books as a kid were the Narnia series. I just loved them,” Erica said.

Kim quickly interjected, “She used to look in wardrobes all the time for another world.” I can only assume she meant as a child, but you never know. Creative people never fully give up on the childlike dreams, do they?

So after years of revisiting and editing the story, the sisters decided it was time to free the story into the world and into my hands. And I was absolutely thrilled.

One of the more intriguing parts is when two of the characters, a little girl and an older man, end up as friends. The diction of the story was carefully chosen to keep them from treading those dangerous waters; any feeling of negativity would have seriously diminished the power of the story.

I wanted to maintain a sense of innocence in the characters,” Erica said. “I felt like that was so important. Not everything has to relate to everyone’s bad nature.”

Yeah,” Kim added. “It was about the guy’s good nature. We wanted to show that just because the guy is into oddities [he isn’t] so bad. Everybody is so worried about people who are different. They’re not weird; they’re just into different things. Everyone is different. We just wanted to make these characters good people.”

Everyone has that inspiring adult in his or her life, and Ellie finds that in Mr. Taylor. “There’s always an authority figure in life that inspires you, whether it’s a teacher or the cool uncle that you have,” Erica said.

Kim actually had a friend when she was little, an older neighbor Bob. They had a similar relationship, and we wanted to capture that in the story. Everyone knew him and nobody thought anything of his friendliness. And they were right to feel that way; Uncle Bob, as Kim referred to him, was just a nice guy who lived on the street and got along with everyone.

As a child, Kim needed a friend like him, considering her history with her classmates. “He was actually a really good person who also happened to read a lot of conspiracy books.” Eventually, Kim would also turn to graphic novels and Manga as not only an escape but also for inspiration. The Visual Studies major is currently attending Tyler School of Art and aspires to work as a graphic novelist.

I owe it all to Erica. She got me into Manga and graphic novels, especially DragonBall Z, Batman and stuff like that. It’s what I want to do when I grow up.” Her dream job, she went on to say, would be to work for DC Comics.

A sketch by Kim Minutella

Erica works promoting visual artists in Philadelphia and is working on her first novel, one that she doesn’t like talking about too much in the early stages. “I’m working on a novel, it’s set a thousand years in the future and is a parody of video game culture.” But that was as much as she would say about it as she moved on in the conversation.

When I was in third grade I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to write novels at some point, and writing a short story is probably the best way to get started,” Erica said.

The funny thing that came up was the fact that Erica wasn’t sure what genre she wanted to work in until a certain professor informed her of a quote, allegedly by Isaac Asimov (I tried to find it but could not).

I switched back and forth between fantasy and horror. Finally I took a science fiction class in which the professor quoted Asimov in saying that women couldn’t write science fiction and that it was the province of men and they shouldn’t even try. So once I heard that I accepted the challenge.” And while Beautiful Things isn’t exactly science fiction, it is an excellent mixture of fantasy, fairy tale and sci-fi, which is part of what makes it so appealing.

One thing the sisters have in common is their love of the characters they create. Kim spoke of them as if they were her children, while Erica backed that up even more.

I think of my characters…they’re all pieces of my personality, not only do I identify with them, but it’s as [Kim] said, they’re like my children and I’m watching them grow up. I hate when I have to kill one off.”

I had to wonder what the process was like between not only two authors, but two who are also siblings. Their process is simple: conversations. They bring up the story once in a while, bouncing ideas off of each other, and as they tell it, the story began to form on its own. “We actually talk about our ideas all the time. I have a sketchpad at all times where I take notes and then I share them with Erica.”

Erica continued her thoughts. “It’s very chaotic. We change ideas all of the time.”

We’re actually really close, practically best friends,” Kim said. This was obvious from my time with them.

While neither of the girls had been published before this anthology, it won’t be long before we hear from both of them again, of this I am sure.

If you want to check out the story by The Sisters Minutella, then check it out on Amazon.

Photograph by Antonio Greco

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