Showing posts from May, 2011

trouble is on the road again

About a year ago, a very nice group of bloggers e-mailed INTERN asking if she would like to participate in a "where I write" thingy where you send in a photo of your writing space. At the time, INTERN was feeling very Secretive and declined in what she hopes was a gracious and not too paranoid-seeming manner. However, INTERN currently finds herself in a time of great reflection regarding living and writing spaces. Here, therefore, is INTERN's belated answer.

For most of the past year, INTERN lived and wrote in a 1985 Toyota pickup truck with a fiberglass camper on top. After a three-month sojourn at a friend's cabin, INTERN and Techie Boyfriend returned to their van this week:

Yes, it's beautiful. Here is a picture of the inside:

INTERN's relationship with her van is complex. Like some sort of vehicular monkey's paw, it's come to represent a host of different things to INTERN, a lot of them tied up with her convictions and fears about being a writer. If …

ship 'o' scripts

From INTERN's personal dictionary of literary terms:

The Athenian Manuscript Paradox: What happens when you replace every #%$% detail of your story so many #^@%# times you can hardly #^$%# recognize it any more.

The shipmanuscript wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete their first draft had thirty oarschapters, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks scenes as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timberwriting in their place, insomuch that this shipmanuscript became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the shipmanuscript remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
—Plutarch, Theseus[1]

Over to you: at what point are you still revising the same story, and at what point have you ended up with a completely different book? INTERN wants to know!

thirteen reasons why (it's hard to find the right critique partner)

Why INTERN’s mom is not her critique partner:

“It's a neat story, but is it realistic? I mean, YOU weren't doing those things when you were seventeen—“ *blushes, looks fretful*
“—were you?”

Why INTERN’s dad is not her critique partner:

“Great story. Given any thought to law school?”

Why INTERN’s sister is not her critique partner:

“The second letter in the main character’s name is the same as the third letter in my middle name AND YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD NEVER WRITE ABOUT ME.”

Why INTERN’s grandma is not her critique partner:

“Can you print this again in a decent type size?”
“Like how big, grandma?”
“72 pt.”

Why INTERN's grandpa is not her critique partner:

*sets manuscript on fire by using it as an ashtray* *shoots rifle at ceiling* "Thieves! Vandals!"

Why INTERN’s best friend from college is not her critique partner:

“Du-u-de, the first two pages were so-o-o good, then I lost the manuscript on the beach when I was skimboarding.”

Why INTERN’s highschool English teacher is not h…

thoughts on universals

If INTERN has been rather absent from the blogosphere over the past week or so, it's because she has been deep in her basement Book Laboratory conducting experiments and pondering the notion of universals in literature. What does it mean for a novel or memoir to have “universally relevant themes” or for a character to be “universally relatable”? These are terms that pop up pretty frequently in agents’ wishlists for the perfect manuscript, but they can be pretty mystifying until you get the hang of them. If you're not sure what's universally relatable about your story, how do you find out? And what can we learn about universal themes from books that already have them?

INTERN is no Donald Maass (for one thing, her grin is much toothier), but she’s found it helpful to boil down the first question to the following theme-finding formula:

“Not everyone can relate to x, but most people can relate to y.”

Actually, here’s an even better way of putting it:

“Not all readers can relate to…

the curious incident of the RATTLESNAKE in the night

CAUTION: Do not read this post if you are squeamish about snakes or the ingestion thereof. Thank you.

INTERN has not written much here about her life at the ranch, but last week there was an Incident so utterly...unusual...that INTERN cannot help but share it here. Also, because she has been telling you about rattlesnakes and she wants you to know she's really not exaggerating.

INTERN always suspected the cabin wasn't snakeproof.

Then one night, her suspicions were confirmed.

In case you are wondering, that is a diamondback rattler. On INTERN's kitchen floor*.

Alerted by INTERN's cries of OH FUCK calm demeanor, the Ranch Hands rushed in and dispatched it**. In case you are wondering, that is the rattler's actual HEAD. (it's dead in this picture).

Now, the rule at the ranch is if you dispatch a wild creature, you're not allowed to waste it. Next thing INTERN knew, she found herself in the middle of a chicken-fried rattlesnake cook-off. INTERN shits you not.

It was …

Week 'o' Critique Part 2: How to Revise (When You'd Rather Just Drink)

In Monday’s post, INTERN talked about the 14 stages of Critique Acceptance. Today, she’ll focus in depth on #6: paralysis.

Getting a critique of your work-in-progress can feel a bit like getting your plans for your dream house torn apart reviewed by your architect friend. OK, so you always had a feeling that putting a spiral staircase from the bathroom to the balcony didn’t really make sense, but now here’s this outside person telling you that you also need to widen the doors, raise the ceilings, and put in a chimney to go with that fireplace.

How the hell are you supposed to build your house with all these new constraints? How do you even get started? Will it still look even remotely close to the house you envisioned?

Maybe you are a person who picks up a pencil and gets started. Or maybe you find yourself circling the drafts again and again as your brain threatens to explode from the sheer complexity of the task ahead.

Eventually, however, you have to do something. Otherwise, you’ll be …

Week 'o' Critique, Part 1: The 14 Stages of Critique Acceptance

1. Anticipation

“Critique is finally here! Oh yesh oh yesh oh yesh.”

2. Dread

“Wait a second. What if Critiquer thought my manuscript was A CHEESY OVERWRITTEN TRAINWRECK and was pretty much just embarrassed for me?”

*bites fingernails, hovers mouse over critique document without opening it*

3. Elation

*scans first few lines of critique. notices words like “heart-wrenching” and “brilliant.”*

“Oh yesh oh yesh oh yesh. I am a pretty bird. Oh yesh oh yesh oh yesh.”

4. Dread

*skims down a little further to the body of the critique. starts noticing words like “confusing” and “unconvincing”*

5. Panic

*starts skimming faster. notices words like “cut” and “rewrite.”*

6. Paralysis

*sits at computer. gazes blankly at screen. for six and a half hours.*

7. Avoidance

"Critique? What critique?"

*bakes lots of cookies, goes for walks.*

8. Rededication

*sits down at computer. stares at critique. stares at manuscript. plays Eye of the Tiger on iTunes.*

9. Grim determination

*cuts hard-won chapters. rewrites s…

thoughts on plots

This afternoon, INTERN is pondering plots. Particularly, she is thinking about how funny it is (and how perplexing) that you can write an entire novel (or even several drafts of a novel) and only realize at the very end that—oops!—you forgot to give your story a plot.

Before INTERN delves into this conundrum, an anecdote. Perhaps two:

INTERN was eighteen or nineteen years old. She had just finished writing a "novel" (in quotation marks for reasons that will soon become apparent) and was flogging spiral-bound copies of it for ten dollars a pop on a street corner in downtown Vancouver, wearing her then-standard uniform of hiking boots, aviator sunglasses and a blue polka-dot dress*. Within a few minutes, she had sold three copies and made a small fortune in ten-dollar bills. She stuffed the cash in her purse and made a swift getaway on her bicycle.

A few days later, she got an e-mail from the editor of a small press in Vancouver. He had read the manuscript and enjoyed the w…

on the quest for the perfect writing cabin

INTERN and Techie Boyfriend's residency at their mountain hideaway is swiftly coming to a close as the owner prepares to rent out their cabin to more lucrative and slightly sinister-sounding Summer People. As a result, INTERN has been spending a lot of time on craigslist looking for a cheap place to live.

"Just a little cabin tucked in the woods somewhere," thought INTERN. "A quiet place to finish those revisions. It doesn't even need indoor plumbing."

With this fantasy in mind, INTERN looked at postings for dozens of cabins and apartments advertised as "perfect for a writer or artist."

Well, it turns out landlords have some pretty in-ter-esting ideas about what writers are looking for in a writing cabin. Here are the features, taken directly from craigslist posts, that no writer can live without:

“on demand hot water”

You read that right, people—hot water's on DEMAND. That means no more formal application process for taking a shower.