Tag Archives: Harvey Stanbrough

Open Mic Night: 100-Day Twitterature Novel Starts Monday

Once in awhile, creative insanity comes over me. Working with brilliant college students, as I have for the past four weeks, certainly gets the brain synapses firing and the neurotransmitters and brain cells reconvening in interesting new directions.

And so, beginning Monday, May 15, and for 100 consecutive days to follow, I’m going to Tweet a miniature version of my next novel, Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s. The idea is pretty daunting, when you think about it: only 140 characters per daily installment, keep the narrative arc in place, entice viewers to come back for more.

I first heard about “Twitterature” at the Winter 2010 Southern California Writers Conference, in an online media class presented by author/social networking expert Lin Robinson. As an avowed fan of flash fiction in the austere, 100-word form professed by one of my writing and editing mentors, Harvey Stanbrough, I filed away this notion of trying to write a book in 140-character bites. If it worked for Cory Doctorow, why can’t I give it a try?

“Open Mic Night at Boccacio’s” is a series of moments, events, readings and interactions between attendees of an open mic music and poetry program at an eclectic Northern California cafe owned by a retired literature teacher-turned-sustainable living practitioner. At open mics, you don’t know what’s coming when a reader or musician steps up to the mike. Sometimes, it’s a song or poem. Or a short story or essay. Or an ongoing series. Or maybe even some local history or comedy. The audience cheers, cries, laughs, sighs, hoots or otherwise reacts in all sorts of ways — at least at Cafe Boccaccio.

That’s half the enjoyment of an open mic. The other half comes from listening to and watching the interaction of the audience, relationships or friendships that literally form over a latte and a night of readings. To me, this is the richness of the human experience, with music and spoken word as the backdrop.

Why 100 installments in a row? Because the book’s title (and the fictional cafe’s name) honors Giovanni Boccaccio, the 14th century Italian author who wrote The Decameron — a marvelous collection of 100 traveling tales, broken into 10 sections, that kicked off an entirely new genre and helped launch the literary side of The Renaissance. For example, Chaucer was highly influenced by Boccaccio’s work when he wrote The Canterbury Tales.

Fittingly, on every 10th day, the open mic will “reset” for its next round on Twitter. I’ll also re-post the previous 10 Tweets in this blog.

So grab your favorite beverage, take a seat, and I hope you enjoy the Twitterature presentation of “Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s.” See you Monday on Twitter.

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Filed under Adult Literacy, Books, E-books, Featured Websites, literature, Memoir, poetry, Reading, Teen Literacy, travelogue, Writing, Writing Education

Readings, Teaching Workshops, Going Online

To purchase The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

To join Writing The World Workshops

During the Southern California Writers Conference, I met the associate editor of Toastmasters Magazine, Beth Black. We talked for a few minutes, and continued the dialogue during the past week. Our conversation pertained to the way writers and teachers of writing have migrated online to conduct all parts of their businesses.

This is a monumental week for me in that regard, in three ways:

• I have joined Harvey Stanbrough and Chris O’Byrne in presenting the Writing The World Workshops membership-based website, with its writing courses, articles, tips and video classes;

• The 7-minute social media and networking tutorial I delivered at the end of my “Your Journal, Your Goldmine” workshop at the Southern California Writers Conference is now available on You Tube and my newest business website;

• Which is the third major development: I’ve joined my longtime friend, John Josepho, in forming Millennium Media Masters — which is all about print and online publishing, platforming, media and affiliate marketing development for entrepreneurs, artists of all media (including filmmakers), musicians and writers who want to get their stories, messages and brands out to their audiences in a variety of different forms.

So when Beth asked me a couple of Toastmasters-type questions pertaining to the online migration, and reading publicly, I obliged. Thought I’d share the answers with you:

Q: If you can give me a quote or two on what it’s like going from the quiet of writing time to presenting in public (or pitching to an agent or publisher), that would be great.

A: Writing alone is very solitary and insular, almost like being in another world — especially when writing fiction, when we should be in another world, the world of our story and characters. Everything happens between the creative and thinking minds. When presenting workshops or talking about writing, we have to carry all this information outward and be crisp and confident when doing so, because attendees are seeking to apply your experience and knowledge to their work. I find it easiest to approach this like a storyteller, weaving together information with anecdotes that best illustrate the point. Pitching to agents or publishers is different yet: I have 60 seconds to interest them and another 60 to 120 to summarize my book — making the ability to communicate verbally and with good expression a must.

Q: Also, if you’ve done any public readings of your work, what’s your take on that?

A: I’ve read from my poetry and essay collections all over the country — Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, New Mexico, Tampa, the South, San Diego, plus a few European cities — Munich, Venice, Florence. I love interacting with the audiences, seeing which poems or essays draw them most or provoke strong responses, and telling the back stories behind the works. It is a great way to see how your writing impacts people — and a reminder that all writers should read their works aloud, to hear their voice.

Next week, we’ll post the three-part series on Platform Development.

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30 Books (Plus One) Every Writer Should Own

Since the holiday season is upon us, thought I’d create a “gift list” to use when shopping for your writer friends – or yourselves.

This list is very simple: 30 Books (Plus One) Every Writer Should Own. I realize this is subjective, but it encompasses the type of material we need when working on our books, articles, essays or other projects. This list is also designed to spark new ideas, or to further exploration of ideas you already have.

In the list, you will find several self-help writing books, collections of conversations with authors, memoirs, technical books, books addressing other creative genres (music and art, specifically), and works written by some of the greatest authors.

While I would love to include my own writing books in this list – Writes of Life and The Write Time … that’s not for me to judge. One day, someone might create a list that includes them.

In no particular order, here is the list, with personal impressions from my experience as an author, poet, journalist, editor and writing teacher. You can order them through Amazon.com or your local bookstore. Take this list with you during Black Friday or Online Monday (or whatever they call it). Also, let me know what you would add to this list – I’ll run your suggestions and any comments in a future blog.

1 & 2. On Becoming a Novelist and On Writers and Writing, by John Gardner. We start with a bang – a two-for-one. No novelist has ever conveyed the craft and writing life better; then again, he was perhaps the nation’s most refined fiction writer and teacher of fiction at the time of his death in 1982.

3. Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel. Conversations with noted authors on their dreams, plots or ideas that came from dreams, and how they work with their dreams. A vital read if you, like me, believe the 6 to 8 non-waking hours of the day contribute mightily to the writing process.

4 & 5. Storycatcher: The Power of Story to Change Our Lives, by Christina Baldwin. Reading and working the prompts in this book is like drinking nectar, further flavored by your own words when they spin together perfectly. In other words, this book does magical things to one’s ability to journal, write an essay or story, and heal. Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest is another Baldwin title worth owning.

6. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White. After nearly a century, this book remains a staple of working writers and teachers. Its greatest value might be in emphasizing the need to write tight – crisp, concise, to the point.

7 & 8. Punctuation for Writers, by Harvey Stanbrough. This book deserves a spot on every writer’s desktop alongside The Elements of Style. It presents punctuation as a timely, valuable asset to every written sentence, rather than the necessary evil we first met in grammar school. Whenever I write a book, this gem sits on my desktop. An alternate Stanbrough pick: Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction.

9. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. In my opinion, one of the best memoirs ever written. I’ve read it 10 times, and counting. This masterpiece brings together nature, voice, observation, listening, creating, inner feelings, outer environment, hubris and hope … and every word sparkles with brilliance. What else is there? If you want more Dillard, go with Three By Annie Dillard – a collection that also includes An American Childhood, and The Writing Life.

10. A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. This is a tremendous book on how the physical senses play out in the natural world, and how we can attune better to our own senses … a critical aspect of deep writing. Some of the stories of how animals use their senses are breathtaking – and reminders of how much more sense-itive we can (and should) become as writers.

11. Color: A Natural History of the Palette, by Victoria Finlay. This book contains a history of primary colors, how they were mixed for artists since prehistoric times, and the fascinating stories behind the substances and creators of these colors. A great book of observation, journalism and craftsmanship. Good writers always form close alliances with color and tone; here’s a wonderful map into that journey.

12. Library: An Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles. I believe every writer should know basic library science and library history – and this book provides a wonderfully off-beat account of both. From Sumeria to your local library, the adventures of the printed word and its storage – and the wars fought over books – could not be better told.

13. The Browser’s Book of Beginnings, by Charles Panati. As writers, we should know the origins of every subject about which we write – and the etymology of the historical words we use. The incredible material can either be used in your works – or prompt little “archaeological” digs of your own. An alternate selection: The Book of Lists, by David Wallechinsky.

14. Writer’s Market, by Writer’s Digest Books. Between the great articles on marketing, editing and craft, and the thousands of publishing listings, how can any working writer not operate with this book close at hand?

15. 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, by John Kremer. John has been teaching marketing workshops to writers for a long time, and this book has become a staple for working writers nationwide. In this era of online communities and direct author involvement in promotion and marketing, its importance has never been greater. Writing today means doing good business; you will find a number of strong marketing strategies for your book in here.

16 & 17. Dimensions of a Life, ed. Jon Halpern. Written to honor great poet-essayist Gary Snyder on his 60th birthday, this collection of essays, stories and poems by more than 70 contributors focuses on aspects of Snyder’s life, work, personality, cultural influences, and more. It’s like taking 70 gemologists, peeling a diamond open, and seeing how that diamond comes together, one side at a time. Alternate selection for fans of Beat poetry and literature: Lighting the Corners, featuring the works and conversations of Michael McClure.

18. The Language of Life, by Bill Moyers. The subject of a 1995 PBS special, this book features conversations with 25 great current poets. In it, you will see how writers and poets develop voice, and read priceless insights on observation, imagery and craft.

19. Henry Miller on Writing, by Henry Miller. This book changed my writing life; I learned to really finish my book manuscripts after reading it. One of the 20th century’s most prolific writers and artists shares his take on the art and craft of writing – and the insights and tips fall from every page like fruit trees perpetually in season.

20. The Crossing Point, by Mary Caroline Richards. Every writer, teacher, artist, artisan, poet and those concerned with the creative process would do well to own this book of essays, talks, poems and musings by one of the 20th century’s greatest purveyors of personal creativity (and part of the famed Black Mountain literary movement). My copy is hopelessly ripped, underlined and dog-eared from extensive use; I can feel my creative electrons jumping each time I open this book.

21. How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci, by Michael Gelb. Here it is, in a single hardback book: the visual imprint of the creative mind and creative process. Its exploration of the ultimate Renaissance man brings out the creator in all of us. This book is filled with page after page of creative inspiration; I can’t last more than four pages at a time without putting it down and writing to exhaustion.

22. A Writer’s Diary, by Virginia Woolf. The beauty of this diary is that we truly see the inner triumphs and struggles of a great literary figure – but also how every minute of every day was spent writing or gathering the seeds for future works. A great look at the inner world of the perpetually working writer.

23. The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight, by Marc Weingarten. The story of the New Journalists – the writers to whom every current journalist, memoirist and narrative non-fiction author owes a debt of gratitude. Beginning with Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, these were the pioneers of incorporating fiction-writing and deep inner personal feelings into non-fiction work.

24. The Language Instinct: How Mind Creates Language, by Stephen Pinker. During our growth as writers, we realize more and more how vital it is to understand the nuances of language, its im-pressions as well as ex-pressions. This book, written by a renowned linguist, shows the way. Read it, and you will find yourself listening to every person’s spoken word more closely – and capturing it more completely in your next piece of writing.

25. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. A modern classic for writers seeking the deeper, inner places from which to write, and the relationships of their feelings and perceptions to the outside world. The vignettes and essays in this book are tight, concise – and built to prompt you to write.

26. Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, by Glenn Kurtz. Music and writing are so closely linked, structurally and creatively, that it behooves every writer listen to music deeply, if not play or study it. But this stellar memoir is about more than music: it is about the art and hard work of practice, and how practice creates ultimate attunement with one’s instrument. In the case of writers, that means written vocabulary and voice.

27. Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. Anne’s deeply felt, highly observant look at the little things in life – a prime topic of both her fiction and non-fiction books – informs this collections of essays/prompts. In it, she shows how she invents verbs to suit the action of the moment – reminding us that we, too, can invent words.

28. Cultural Literacy, by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. While this book is somewhat limited, in that it spells out “only” 5,000 cultural facts or subjects people should know about, I consider it vital reading to every writer who wants to make an imprint on society – and in particular, younger readers. Due to breakdowns in education, funding and the like, writers are in a particularly crucial position of helping to educate and advance our culture. We can develop a strong base with this book.

29. On Writing, by Stephen King. The man who re-invented the horror genre – in both books and films – wrote this heartfelt, deeply informed book to the writer who fights, struggles, bleeds, perseveres and stops at nothing to write … then comes back for more. In other words, a book for all of us.

30. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee. The author put 40 years of screenwriting experience into this book, which rises far beyond the world of the screenplay into something much more universal – the art and craft of writing a compelling story by visualizing a moment and then drawing it out. This book works for all writers. Alternate selection: The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby.

The Bonus Book: On Being a Writer, by Theodore Strickland. This Writer’s Digest Book Club selection is now 20 years old, but just as much of a treasure as the day it was published. It features wide-open conversations with a number of best-selling authors; between them, they canvass and discuss every nook and cranny of the writing process.

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