Thursday, October 30, 2014

Love and Darkness and Ghosts

30-30 Writing Challenge

Today is the final day of the Hugo House 30/30 Challenge! There is still time to donate.

There will be a party  tonight at Hugo House to celebrate Samhain Eve, the time of year when the boundaries of the Worlds (at least on this side) become very thin indeed. There will be a live
DJ,  and a costume contest (my illustrator will look particularly absurd), beverages of suspicious and not so suspicious natures, spooky basement tours and more. If you haven't had a chance to investigate the basement, and hear the plaintive cries of the damned, you really should before the House "comes a tumbling down."

Spoiler Alert, those cries of the damned are not coming From Some Lovecraftian Beyond, but are the ordinary ones of writers struggling through rejection letters, writer's block(s), and the outrage of indecipherability. But they have a place to suffer, a place to gather that is made for them.

On hand will be a few copies of "Love and Darkness: A Comical Investigation:" hand-sewn Zines. ready to move for a small donation. So if you didn't get a copy, head on by the party.

Click for larger view.
For more information click here:

Hugo House is located at:
1634 11th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Love and Darkness Update

30-30 Writing Challenge

It's the final week of the Hugo House 30/30 Challenge! Here are 30 limited edition copies of "Love and Darkness: A Comical Investigation" hand-sewn Zines ready to head out to the wonderful donors who between now and October 29th donate $50.00 or more.
Click for larger view.
Also, right now your donation will be matched dollar for dollar for any donation over $25.00, so if you don't want a Zine or are on a budget, or both, you can still make a tremendous difference for the best non-profit writing organization in this world, the Hagengard, or even the world of the Mirrormidions. I can say that with assurance because without Hugo House, none of these stories, or countless others would come into "this world."

So please, your donation makes a difference.

Details: my Hugo House First Giving page allows you to make a comment and leave your email address. It also sends me an email notification of your amount, so be sure and leave some sort of contact information so I can have David (my illustrator and amanuensis) mail you a copy of "Love and Darkness." Yes, he'll even send it internationally!

And thank you very much for all who have donated already. If you know another Hugo House 30/30 writer, please go ahead and donate for them, if you would rather. The important thing is supporting the House.

Thank you,
~Ada Ludenow

(Some of you may have moused over the, um, other secret "giveaway" earlier on the blog. Let's just say I'm willing to bare all for Hugo House. And this one is easier, since for $>40.00 I'll email a print-ready 11x17 PDF of that particular image, but you'll still need to leave and email address on the First Giving Page. Over $50.00 and you'll get both the Zine and the PDF.)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On Genres

30-30 Writing Challenge

It is the end of October. You only have a few days left to donate on my page for the 30/30 Writing Challenge. I have been writing for at least 30 minutes every day, and much time spent thinking about writing.

The leaves are turning their brief Autumnal flirtations, of sparkle and crash, the red lipstick of a Friday night, the purple of painted toes left bare and open to the rain, and the jaundiced view of Saturday mornings. It does not occur that there are ends to these things. The ends will occur.

Does an oak grow a maple leaf? Does the sweet gum take on the foliage of the magnolia? Even in the wide and ruddy family of Acer, we see different sizes, colors, shapes. To ask any of them to grow other leaves requires skillful grafting and cruelty, if not hubris on the part of the arborist.

How helpful is this extension of a Fall metaphor? It weighs on my mind now, because I am nearly ready to release The Nightingale's Stone. "What genre is it?" This is the question I am most loathe to answer. "What kind of book?" is easier to answer with smartassery: "A good one."

Let us be clear: a genre, like any category, will multiply its contradictions, its exceptions, its grey valences. The piling up of predicates to explain certain books sounds like one of the laughable coffee orders Seattle was once famous for:

"I'd like a split shot YA/vampire-steampunk, with 2% zombie, chicklit-crossover, please…"

But the basic idea I recommend is to think of them as guidelines, especially if you are a writer who reads many different kinds of work. And you are, aren't you?

What sorts of books do you read, and which do you prefer to read? This consideration becomes very important when you are setting out to write. If you are "just starting" you will often write in the genre-styles that interest you. This is an ancient and well respected means of becoming an artist. In the old days, this was called an apprenticeship.

Do you prefer books about undead lovers who need the nourishment of living human blood? Do you feel more comfortable setting your story in current day Manhattan? (Perhaps because doing research on 19th Century Manhattan does not fit in with your schedule?) Did you ever receive delivery of a pair of really kickin' heels obviously meant for someone else? Did they fit? Did you keep them? Did misadventure occur, or did you wish for it to?

That subjunctive part is where the story may start and at the end of it you may have your vampire romance chicklit crossover novel. I'm not sure where the zombies come in; perhaps they are being used as non-union delivery driver/drone labor?

My friend Kristen tells me a lot of chicklit covers have artwork like this.

Most writers, agents, editors and publishers I have spoken with caution against writing in a genre just because it "makes a lot of money." There are probably more rejected romance novels  than any other genre. Why? It makes the most money and so attracts people interested in that sort of thing. Again, there are doubtless expert ventriloquists out there who can write a romance novel according to formula and make it work. But they are vastly outnumbered by those writers who tried it "even though I don't like romance." Writing is a personal sort of job: as I have said elsewhere, if you don't actually like what you are writing no one else will either.

One of the best ways to find out about a genre that you may be writing for is to ask a professional bookseller! For example, if you walk into Elliott Bay Books at Seattle, they will be more than happy to chat a bit about what you may be writing, where they may shelve it, what sort of blurbs and covers grab attention. This is their job, their career, their field of knowledge and you are all part of the Greater Text World. (Just go when they're not so busy.)

A few words on poetry: poetry has had different genres or forms since its very beginning: lyric, epic, tragic, prose, and so on. However, poetry, in general is much more flexible and fluid with regard to its subject matter. The application of something like a "fantasy" to a poem is quite recent and somewhat ridiculous I think. Fantasy has always been  a potential subject matter for poetry!  Science? Parmenides described a spherical earth in a poem 2500 years ago.

So what sort of genre am I working in? What is The Nightingale's Stone? Why it's a magical-realist, historically fictional memoir of course. And there is a nice pair of shoes, a problematic man, and skeptical troll so it can be considered philosophical fantasy chick lit. See? Easy, isn't it?

And don't forget to donate!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Love and Darkness

Cover Art: Ludwig and I discussing matters

The Hugo House 30/30 Writing Challenge is nearing it's last week. David and I have been collaborating on a project called "Love and Darkness:" a ComicZine. As with this blog, the words are mine and David illustrates it.

But what's it about? Pico Iyer's has a deservedly quoteworthy observation that "writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger." When you consider how often we don't choose the right words when communicating with a loved one, the choice of the right word, used in the right way to a stranger becomes even more important.

I have some idiosyncratic attitudes and uses for Love and Darkness, as two subjects, metaphors, domains, etc. and so do all of you! Yet somehow the mutability of language allows us to get what each other is thinking and feeling. Metaphorically speaking, I prefer to think of language as a liquid and not a structure. A while back I wrote a rather opaque little syllogistic piece, I hesitate to call it a poem called "The Knight." This comic explicates and expands on my initial idea.

But it is fundraising time, so I am excited to say that from now until October 29th, 2014, if you donate more than $50 to the Hugo House 30/30 writing challenge, my illustrator and dogsbody David will send you a copy of this Zine.

Sample of the 4th Page
It's a handsome little 7 page folio Zine, and it is a direct result of me writing at least 30 minutes every day. David also claims this is "funnier" than most of what I write. This statement doesn't surprise me, since I think he often misses the more subtle and drier aspects of my humor. His sense of humor "never really made it past Junior High" and well, I don't need to explain it any further than that, other than to translate one part into "Middle School" for many of you.

The details.
The First Giving page will inform me when you make a gift to Hugo House over $50.00. You can include a comment and email address when you donate through the secure web page. We can contact you through the email address, or mail it to a physical address if you leave it in the comment. Either way we can get you the Zine, but we will need some way of contacting you. You can always email me directly at ada (dot) ludenow (at) gmail (dot) com if there are problems.

I would like to thank David Lasky, Laura Shoemaker and Hugo House for their support and insights through this time, and in general. Especially when I have to deal with quarrelsome illustrators to meet deadlines.

30-30 Writing Challenge

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Memory Part I

Dear Mercutio,

Does it surprise you that I shall make a copy of all the letters I send you? From a professional viewpoint, it is very easy for me, since copying letters is how I am frequently employed. It is not for reasons of aggrandizement. If there is any sense of pride or hope for posthumous fame, it does not intrude upon my mind while I copy the letter.

No, quite simply it is because I want to remember what I have said before, and my mind, crowded as it is as a woman of A Certain Age, is not always up to the task of immediate recollection. I do not wish to bore you with a repeated argument. There is some vanity at work here. I do not want you holding your hand in front of your beard and whispering "she's become old already, the flame is still bright but it keeps shining on the same place."

I have earned such vanity, I believe, for I long felt myself unworthy of it. Yet the topic of vanity is for another letter.

This letter concerns memory, at least in part, for that is a vast topic of thought. It is, perhaps the one thing that makes us so much ourselves. You know of my adventure with the Troll in the Harz Mountains, and memory was the central point around which Anton and I danced. Quite simply, it is only a fool who thinks that memory recreates the past. The bigger fool is one who thinks someone drenched in memory "lives in the past." Memory makes a past, at any one time, such as when I sit at this desk and write you. I believe that this present aspect of memory is what makes certain times last so long, while others are the eye-blink moments we strive to stretch out in desire, in regret, in confusion.

I shall not discuss Time, here,  directly, although that building plan may drift in and out of my words. If I return to this copy, I may see the previous sentence and write you a more detailed view on the subject, yet of course it will be only one view, and the one I am in at that point.

Memory reminds me that I must come to an end, or a beginning at least: the teeth of Jormungandouroboros who consumes himself. He must be a tasty morsel, and why not? He is the world after all. But a circle, like a snake, is not memory although it may be useful to conjure that geometric figure to understand what we are doing. Yet a shackle is also circular.

What can I remember? I am echoing Michel deliberately here, since a good memory is often (wrongly) conceived of as leading to better knowledge. What makes a good memory though? More apt descriptions may be a useful memory, a quick memory, but what of a fortunate memory? Many would say it is one that is never right, since forgetting is often held up in diametrical opposition to memory. In some places I have been, forgetting receives the fetishistic worship that remembering something "accurately" does in this City.

You know my skepticism runs down past the ink beneath my skin, below the bones and down into the unnamed, untouchable places that I am.

Memory, like language requires agreement to be effective. I will write you more when I remember it.

Of Furðerseeing
Ada Ludenow

Speaking of Memory, don't forget to donate to the Hugo House 30/30 Challenge!
30-30 Writing Challenge

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where to write?

30-30 Writing Challenge
The 30/30 Challenge Continues! As a gentle reminder (or a harsh, dominating one, for those of you into that sort of thing) please come by my page and drop some tax-deductible change into the donation jar for Richard Hugo House.

The first thing I am compelled to write in this posting is that the only real thing you can be sure of in writing advice is that you will get conflicting writing advice. Previously, I tried to just give an example of the conditions that compelled me to write. When to write involves the times you are the most productive and then manage your life around getting those precious minutes. Your results and conditions will vary.

But where to write? Aside from paper or your computer, I mean to tackle the thorny topic of physical locations.

Not all of us are blessed with the privilege of a writing office, finely appointed with luxurious furniture and perhaps some oak paneling. I do think good light is important, and that could mean a darkened hovel where the rich and sordid world of your subconscious may feel at home. But home is useless if it is full of people who will bother you.

Some writers prefer to work in barren, empty rooms. Some need to have a full range of fetishes and icons around them to bring the Muse. Finding this ideal is a heuristic enterprise, coupled with a deep hermeneutic of your own ontology. Those with short attention spans should not work near a television. I would also argue that turning off your Internet connection is useful, so perhaps finding a place away from WiFi is necessary.

Places outside of your home? Well, one of the secrets of finding a good writing place, I think: it must be free of distractions.

Here I am in the Café at Elliott Bay Books. I adore Elliott Bay Books. They have carried my work and always have something of interest that I stumble over; no Internet Algorithm can supplant the serendipity awaiting you at an independent bookstore. Whenever I am in Seattle I stop in, and on extended visits I try to write there as much as possible. It just feels like a place where good books are conceived.

However, there are sometimes when Elliott Bay Café does tend to attract… distractions.

And of course I have written an essay or elegiac poem or two regarding a handsome man while enjoying coffee at Elliott Bay, or other Cafés too numerous to catalogue. I should know better by now, but it's the least indulgence I can give myself.

Thinking about just how nice that person's hands would feel on your shoulders is a pleasant pastime.So is imagining their wonderful hands touching your hair. But it usually means you aren't thinking about your plot, putting words down on the page, or writing that synopsis.

Invasive (meaning unwanted) distractions are even worse. It does not matter whether it is a bar, a library, or even the office break room. Those places and their inhabitants will make themselves painfully obvious in a matter of minutes.

Must I even discuss places that have animals? That Cat (you know the one) who finds your keyboard or notepad an irresistible bed just when you started writing? The Dog who is now suddenly hungry for what ever you may have as long as it isn't the food sitting right there? You know that ignoring them will result in acts of repugnant (and usually messy) vengeance.

Writing is, essentially, a solitary activity. The secret I recommend is figuring out a good empty place with everything you need: WiFi, if you can stay off Facebook; good coffee or alcohol, if you can actually write like that; and chairs that don't lull you into sleep. I personally prefer an establishment that does a lot of business when I am not there. This way, they won't go out of business and send you looking elsewhere. The staff are not as keen to get you out the door for new cycles of paying customers and don't forget about actually buying something while you are there and not just one parsimonious cup of low-end coffee that you perch on your table for legitimacy.

Look for places around theatres or nightclubs and go in the morning. If you are church goer, see if you can use a room when no services or groups are there. Many cafés  in business districts do heavy business in the morning but quiet down in the afternoon. I would stay away from anywhere that has regular, steady clientele, unless you are there to study people. If you do that (I am fond of Feldsham's great plaza restaurant in Hagen for this) just go in with the determination and single focus that you are there to sketch characters, not compile great plots.

I think this is most important when you are on vacation or holiday. The great advantage of travel is that you are not yourself, or don't have to be. You are allowed to bend your habits, and this can bring on all manner of wonderful creativity, but again, don't expect to get a lot of work done in a busy restaurant in a tourist town on Saturday night.

Going to an off-season hotel lobby might be just the trick. And don't worry about not having subjects around you. Imagine all of the people who have sat at those "empty" tables. Imagine the clandestine loves, imagine the bitter partings, imagine the droll sameness of it all for those moments when you are feeling like relating the crushing weight of the everyday. It is all there, happening around you in your mind.

Just start writing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why write?

30-30 Writing Challenge

Why do I write? I could say of course that right now, I am writing for Richard Hugo House, and the 30/30 challenge. Someone recently asked me how I "got into" writing. I was forced into it as a child of course, but it was not a difficult matter of persuasion.

I was lucky to be born with two advantages: for some reason I have a natural faculty with words, languages and symbolic systems, and that predisposition is endemic to both sides of my family who presented sterling examples of narrative practice.

My father, as I have said elsewhere was a notorious storyteller. My mother was also quite adept at fictionalizing: some people may call it revisionism, but the great pains she took to put me in the story and make the plot work out for everyone were often quite ingenious.

There was always a lot of dialogue in my mother's stories

My mother's brother was not as adroit at outright falsehoods, but he did enjoy telling a tale or two especially if it involved any excuse for egregious verbal side trips into the divers interests of humanity.

I have heard writers say "I come from a family of storytellers!" I could of course say the same thing, but it would be a lie, and yet in that lie, I am still telling the truth, for what are storytellers but liars?

How dreadfully dull it must be to grow up in a factual household, where everything from grandfather's legitimacy to current, observable weather conditions is not the subject of speculation, elaboration and falsification: where inveterate hyperbole and chronic paronomasia are not congenital diseases!

In this environment, learning the following was unavoidable:

Plot: It's good to know the details of your lie up front. Familiarize yourself with causality, and know that in the beginning, you must hide 90 percent of the story from your audience. Actual truth is irrelevant and often gets in the way.

Characterization is vital for good lying. The characters must  be  believable in motivation, and appearance. Be careful of using anything that seems fictional, like an outre name (even if it is the real one) because the name draws attention to the essential Untruth of it all. This is a complex magic, and you want to distract the audience away from the strings supporting your levitating assistant.

Sincerity: if you approach your lie with a lie, the lie will get you in the end. For example, don't try to write in genres that are not genuinely appealing to you. The real trick is to convince yourself of your own lies. Once you can do that, everyone will believe you.

Language: It's important to know the language your audience is expecting to hear. I am being someone "loose" in my use of the word language. I don't mean you write in different jargons or slang, unless jargon and slang is important to the people you want to reach. But when addressing a lie to a general audience, I have noticed that spoken fireworks are often more effective than rhetorical pyrotechnics. But also remember that every rule predicates the existence of its counter-example, and so occasionally, for just the right lie, it might be necessary to dust off that Greek.

Competition: My lie will be better than yours, and in fact, if my story isn't good enough, if I detect the slightest advantage you may have owing to interesting narrative devices, whether it is an importune bowel-movement, a three-legged dog, or an enemy's distinctive catch-phrase, know that I shall appropriate these any or all of these advantages and wield them far better than you could ever dream of. (And yes, Yuletide at the modest Ludenow household was full of nonsense like this. Family tradition holds that a particular grandmother of Celtic ancestry was the font of all of this fabrication).

Structure. This is different from plot. It has to do with masses, and shapings and metaphors stolen from sculpture. It is a good idea to know just how much space you will need to write out your majestic screed, just as my father knew how long enough it took me to fall asleep when I was a little girl and oh how endless the details of Polyphemus's island were! I also believe he convinced my mother she was Calypso, when she was really Penelope, and I only learned to understand my father's sly irony when I was grown and given to waiting for Odysseus myself.

Can you learn all of these things from a book? Perhaps, if you read other books and observe how writing is crafted and with what art lies behind it. But you do not have to.

My father never read a word of Aristotle, but his stories always contained a beginning, middle, and end. Mimesis and peripateia came to him naturally. He concocted a mythos better than anyone I have met (with the exception of another Troublesome Man, but you can read my memoir about that). My uncle had read Aristotle and impressed upon me the importance of lexis and the ethos of characters. My mother was a master of both hamartia and anagnorisis.

Look for teachers in the world, beginning with yourself, for they, you, and the world may offer the explanation for why you write.