J.K. Rowling on the Moment She First Realized How Huge Harry Potter Was

Oprah interviewed J.K. Rowling in 2010 and the interview isn’t widely available online but I did find some clips from the interview on OWN. Here’s J.K. Rowling discussing why she didn’t Google Harry Potter or her own name for years and what happened when she finally allowed herself to.

 

Taking a detour down Writers Road

As I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a nonfiction book proposal. Let’s face it, nothing is ever done if you’re a perfectionist. So, I’ll be constantly refining my proposal up until I die. In fact, I started my book proposal almost three years ago. So, what? A girl has got to be prepared. I feel like I eat, drink, sleep book proposal writing, but last night I called it a day and closed up shop. Then I hit “send” and it’s off to Editing Land. As insecure as I am, some parts of it sparkle and shine. There are moments of near-brilliance. I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

My apologies up front, but this blog is going to be taking a detour down Writers Road for quite some time. As I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a book proposal. Let’s face it, nothing is ever done if you’re a perfectionist. So, I’ll be constantly refining my proposal up until I die. In fact, I started my book proposal almost three years ago. So, what? A girl has got to be prepared. I feel like I eat, drink, sleep book proposal writing, but last night I called it a day and closed up shop. Then I hit “send” and it’s off to Editing Land. As insecure as I am, some parts of it sparkle and shine. There are moments of near-brilliance. I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

The biggest thing I’ve learned (the hard way) in this process is to trust my voice and my intuition. I have major anxiety so I scrutinize each sentence and each word sometimes to the point of over-editing a piece. I obsess over the word choices I’ve made. I have panic attacks about my style. I’m not neurotic. I’m thoughtful definitely neurotic. It’s counterproductive, really. Eventually, I have to learn to trust my voice and let go. At this point in the querying process, it’s either a yes or a no. I do have faith in my book that someone will say yes, I just don’t know how difficult it will be to find the person who does. But, every writer has to come to this point when we’re breaking in to publishing. We’ve studied, we’ve read three hundred plus books, we have ink stains and highlighter marks on thousands of pages, and our hair is falling out from the stress of pushing out five drafts in under three years. Oh, that last part is just me. Fine. After we’ve done what we came to do, the writing, we must let it go and submit it. That’s the next stage of growth. Does it need work? Is it being ignored? What are agents saying about it?

Are you a writer? Have you gone through this? Do you aspire to write a proposal one day? Questions and comments are welcome.

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. When I read books like these, I typically read like a writer which means I study them. I may not finish them for quite some time.

Resources for Writers

Association of Writers & Writing Programs: https://www.awpwriter.org/

Poets & Writers: http://www.pw.org/

Sometimes I Publish Short Stories About Cults & Mental Disorders

I’m so happy to finally link you guys with my short story “How to Develop a Mental Disorder” which has been published in a literary journal called Milk Sugar. Milk Sugar accepted my piece several months ago, but like all good literary magazines, they publish your work several months after acceptance.

This story is unique and in a way, it’s for you. I’m linking it on My Cult Life because it’s about everything you’ve read here before and nothing like it. If I could condense my blog into under a thousand words, this story would be it. It’s compressed–emotion, language, space. I’ve been waiting years to share it with you all, knowing that it might speak to you guys, but wanting it to be published somewhere first. If you like it, go ahead and share it, quote it, write a piece in response to it.

Here’s a glimpse at their site and my bio. You can access the story in full here for free or read some of it below. If you’re a writer, like them on Facebook or visit their site for more information on submissions.

milk sugar

Here’s an excerpt from the story, “How to Develop a Mental Disorder”:

Cry. Suffer from some incredibly traumatic experience that leaves you with Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD). Some examples might be: War, Rape, or leaving a fundamentalist Christian
group after seven years and becoming ostracized from said group. Disagree with the
fundamentalist Christian leaders of said group, be a woman, attend a University, don’t get
married and if you do—don’t marry a fundamentalist Christian leader. All of these events will
ensure you will be ostracized from the group and being ostracized will ensure you will end up
with PTSD.
Evolve. Delve into what it means to evolve into a compassionate human being even when those
around you, who formerly loved you, seem to hate. Read about forgiveness: Arendt, Gobodo-
Madikizela, Wiesel. Then read to blow your mind: Daly, Breton, Barthelme, Foucault. Then read
to remind yourself about those who exist in the world to destroy it, who baffle your mind, who
you cannot explain and who hate you. Hate—for a moment. Then remind yourself that
forgiveness is a type of revenge and that forgiveness doesn’t overlook the deed—it rises above it.
Forgive. Seek forgiveness by writing letters to those who hate you. When no reply comes and
when your efforts are ignored, return to Cry. When one reply comes that is filled with hate,
proceed to Take beatings.

Take beatings. Of all forms, of all kinds—verbal and physical. Beatings from your mother, from
your father, from your sister, from your best friend, from strangers. Mostly personal attacks
when they find out the secret evolution you’ve been making behind their back. Some attacks
won’t be said to your face, but rather they’ll be attacks on your character—in secret. Some will
be beatings out of misunderstanding, jealousy, rage, disgust. You have become what someone
hates most and you must come face-to-face with the violence. You are alone and to them you are
disgusting, you are a heathen, you are going to Hell. You are the face of everything they’ve been
told to kill, maime, murder, destroy. You are the Other.

Read the rest here.

Memoir Writers Blog Party

As part of the Memoir Writers Discussion Group I host on LinkedIn, I’m hosting a BLOG PARTY over the next month (until the end of March, 2013).

A Blog Party is a simple way to get to know everyone from the group outside of the forum. This will give us a chance to become friends, learn each other’s backgrounds, and see what our books or books-to-be are about.

 

Birthday balloonsAs part of the Memoir Writers Discussion Group I host on LinkedIn, I’m hosting a BLOG PARTY over the next month (until the end of March, 2013).

WELCOME TO THE PARTY!

A Blog Party is a simple way to get to know everyone from the group outside of the forum. This will give us a chance to become friends, learn each other’s backgrounds, and see what our books or books-to-be are about. Mostly, it should be fun and a place to really let our hair down and be ourselves. An added bonus is that a Blog Party can increase your traffic and grow your readership!

Here’s what we’ll do. First, comment below since this is the host site. Leave your name, a little teaser about who you are, and a link to a blog post that you wrote FOR this Blog Party. Please include the following in your blog post:

First, start off by introducing yourself. Make it personal, but also give us some background on your writing background. If you have a picture, share!

Second, tell us why you write. Is it a lifelong dream or something you recently discovered?

Third, tell us about your memoir. Is it just beginning or have you published it?

 

Fourth, if your book is published please include a link, photo, and synopsis so we can check it out.

Fifth, tell us what you are hoping to gain from other writers and the Memoir Writers Discussion Group.

After you leave a comment with name and a link to your introductory blog post, scroll down to see who else commented here and visit at least one other site (the host site doesn’t count as one). Read the writer’s post and comment. Your comment can say anything really, and you can include a link back to your introductory post so they can come say hi to you there.

What should happen is that everyone will get some new comments and hopefully you will find some writers from the group that you really like!

Rules:

  1. You must have a blog
  2. You must be a writer
  3. Link to a specific post that introduces who you are and what you write

Lisa’s Introduction Post 

ebar

Hi! I’m your host, Lisa Kerr. I’m thirty-two years old and live in Southern California. I’ve been obsessed with writing since I was first introduced to The Baby-sitters Club. I’ve been reading and studying writers since then. I love writing about landscapes and I love being outside. I was raised in a small desert town in California and there’s something absolutely fascinating about the desert.

I have these two adorable cats, whom I’m a little obsessed with. Molly (pictured below) is still very much a kitten even though she’s over a year old. She plays catch and fetches. Yes, you heard me right. She’s part Golden Retriever/baseball player.

Molly

Boo, pictured below, is a laid back dude. He’s gentle and kind of keeps to himself. DSC_0370

My memoir is in-progress. I started it about three years ago when I started this blog (technically I started a few years before that, but the daily work on it started three years ago). I’ve written at least 500 pages but I’m currently starting to love the draft I’m working on now. My memoir is about my seven years spent in a cult and it’s titled after this blog, My Cult Life. In the book I explore the bizarre rituals, my purity vows, my pastors obsession with exorcisms and the subsequent loss of my faith, dealing with the complexities of forgiveness and identity. I’ve also got an official bio here.

I started the Memoir Writers Discussion Group in order to find a community of writers struggling with the same questions about memoir: How do you find your voice? How much do you “tell” when it comes to writing about other people? etc.

Now, tell me about yourself and link to your post below!

This Week’s Play-by-Play

I’ve been sending query letters and book proposals to literary agents, so I’m nervous. Three years of work is about to be judged by the people whose opinion truly matters. What if they say yes? Then what? I have no idea what happens after this because no one really talks about it. So, I’m talking about it as it happens because YOU certainly want to know. I did. And so many of my readers are writers, aspiring and otherwise.

Alvin Langdon Coburn, Broadway at Night, ca. 1910

 

Photo by Alvin Langdon Coburn, Broadway at Night, ca. 1910

Sorry in advance for the play-by-play. I know very few writers who do this (blog, or even Facebook their life story), but good lord, I can’t keep anything to myself and I’m so nervous and uncertain. Of course, maybe the honesty will lend well to my writing a memoir. I’ve been sending query letters and book proposals to literary agents, so I’m nervous. Three years of work is about to be judged by the people whose opinion truly matters. What if they say yes? Then what? I have no idea what happens after this because no one really talks about it. So, I’m talking about it as it happens because YOU certainly want to know. I did. And so many of my readers are writers, aspiring and otherwise.

There have always been too many options for this book and that’s been my biggest struggle. How do I mix narrative with true-life events? As a writer trained in fiction, I understand how important form is and how a writer can make something plain or disturbing into something beautiful or poignant or frightening with her words. Even still, other questions emerged: how do I tell the story as it happened and not feel like I’m writing a crappy Lifetime movie? Or offend a Christian nation? Or can I stay true to real life and go as deep as I would like to go into art and experimentation? What makes my voice distinct? Am I even to the point where I have a distinct voice? Then there were the months I spent figuring out just what made a good memoir. I have only an elementary understanding of the form, but I’m getting there. (To answer your question, yes, I’m a bit neurotic.)

And then the largest one of all: have I forgiven and is forgiveness necessary? I’ve begun to answer that question and I hope I articulate it well.

Some of these questions have been answered, some haven’t. I’ve learned that the only way to answer these questions is to write your way around them, and through them, and under them, and see where you land. When writers say “read and write” and that is all, it really is. Of course they leave out the millions of little details in between because in many cases it takes decades of reading and writing to master it.

How did I know it was time to send my proposal off? I feel like I’ve found myself and my voice and for the first time, my writing for this book isn’t reeking with a “confessional” tone. And then of course there was the excited feeling, the feeling of actually having FUN with a story.

So, cross your fingers for me as we wait. And wait. And wait. 4-6 weeks. Or longer.

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Writerly Ambition

“The good stuff always wants to be better, and its writers are always reaching way above their heads, to create something even they weren’t sure was possible at the outset, something that hasn’t yet existed in the world. Formula work only seeks to fulfill the formula. Mediocre work seeks only adequacy. Commercial work seeks cash first. Art–real art–seeks the unknown.”

“The good stuff always wants to be better, and its writers are always reaching way above their heads, to create something even they weren’t sure was possible at the outset, something that hasn’t yet existed in the world. Formula work only seeks to fulfill the formula. Mediocre work seeks only adequacy. Commercial work seeks cash first. Art–real art–seeks the unknown.”  Emphasis my own

A quote from Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: The Art of Truth by Bill Roorbach

art

Back to school, again

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll be going back to school again this semester. I’m going to take a few required courses and then be done with that chapter of my life. Thankfully, an awesome professor was really sweet and worked with me to get enrolled despite how late it is, and some other challenges I’ve faced. I also was able to add a class from UCLA but only one. As it turns out the other one conflicted with a required course, so I had to say goodbye.

girl studying

{Photo above: Not me}

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll be going back to school again this semester. I’m going to take a few required courses and then be done with that chapter of my life. Thankfully, an awesome professor was really sweet and worked with me to get enrolled despite how late it is, and some other challenges I’ve faced. I also was able to add a class from UCLA but only one. As it turns out the other one conflicted with a required course, so I had to say goodbye. It’s okay, though. The one I’m enrolled in will be perfect for where I am with my memoir writing and the instructor’s syllabus made me excited. Yes, excited. She has very good taste in memoirs and we’re reading one of my favorite memoirs, The Kiss. I’m obviously excited to study it with the class and the professor, though, because even though I’ve read it twice, professors always frame the study of a passage or a book in an entirely different way than what you may have seen. Classmates are good at that, too.

I had to submit some nonfiction writing samples to get permission to take the class, though, so now that I jumped over that hurdle, I can relax until next week when I start the juggling act–work, school, homework, book…sleep?

In the meantime, I’m preparing the materials I need for applying to MFA programs (a graduate degree in Creative Writing). Some of you know, there’s a lot of work that goes into applying to grad school. The application is one tedious part, the fees, getting your transcripts mailed to the school and processed, then your personal statement and test scores. For writing programs, it’s a bit different. Besides submitting all of this, a student also submits up to 25 pages of (really great) writing, and a critical essay on books you’ve read in the past (this is a breakdown of themes within the novel, outside research, and study of the characters or the diction). Reading is a major part of writing, so they want to make sure you are a good reader and know your shit. They are also making sure you’re fit to be in a graduate level literature class, since most programs have so many of them. The reason? Many people who receive MFA’s go on to teach English at the college level.

I actually wouldn’t mind teaching, but teaching is something you have to practice doing and many times you practice by working for little to nothing initially. For the first few years it’s a challenge financially while you establish your teaching experience, at least for the young professors I know. I do have a job, although I’m not entirely certain it will be a long-term career, so I think it’s great timing for me to consider other options.

Don’t you get a graduate degree in writing to be a writer, Lisa? If only it were that simple. To become a professional writer, one must write–often and well. Although the purpose of your graduate degree is to complete your work on a thesis (a book-length manuscript in this case), that’s just one manuscript. It usually takes many, many, many more to become self-sustaining on residuals (and many writers don’t ever reach that stage). There are, of course, the very lucky few who “make it big” but writing is like acting–success is possible, but it’s a long shot.

That’s reality, but of course we’re all dreamers. We imagine we will be the one to make it big; have success; land on the New York Times best sellers list with our first book.

Writing: The hardest job West of the Pecos

Why are MFA programs so impractical? I don’t know. I think professors build their classes upon what their professors before them did and a lot of that means degrading genre writing and focusing largely on theory and art rather than becoming a professional writer. They do have a point in much of their tradition: great writers are born from studying great writers. Mediocre writing can be born just about any way.

Memories.

As much as I am a writer, I don’t want to write at all lately. Of course when I get lazy or uninspired, I judge myself and get sad that I won’t reach my self-imposed goals of finishing my own book. I will admit–I have wanted to quit writing this book since September and feel like life would be easier if I would. But it won’t. I know myself–if I were to quit, I would feel so guilty and not be able to sleep at night.

Instead of continually suffering, I decided to enroll in a few memoir writing classes this semester along with finishing the final two classes I need to graduate. I should’ve graduated long ago, and would have, but that’s a novel so I’ll refrain from telling the story here.

For years, I have debated with myself over whether I need an MFA to complete my book (an explanation for non-writers: an MFA is a two year graduate program focused solely on producing a book-worthy manuscript that’s been peer reviewed and reviewed by professors and mentors. The chances of getting your manuscript published after an MFA program seems to be higher than doing it the good old fashioned way, judging from my observations, although it’s not a certainty and the more I’m observing I realize many writers don’t publish immediately after their MFA is complete) and whether I could afford an MFA. An MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree is an expensive one and they are often located in areas of the U.S. that I don’t want to live and where my job is not located.

Meanwhile, until my inner debate is finished, I’ve decided to take a few classes locally. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the UCLA Extension writing classes (UCLA does not have a traditional creative writing program) and there aren’t many options when it comes to creative writing (it’s not as popular as science or business, so classes are limited). A few friends have had great professors and gotten a lot of good writing and instruction from full courses or weekend courses. I’ve signed up for one weekend course and one full course, although I’m not sure how I’m going to balance it all this semester (with work, plus two traditional courses, plus these). If all else fails, I’ll put them off until this summer or next fall, but knowing that they are there and very close makes me feel good.

Speaking of next fall, I’ve started my application process to two graduate writing programs despite not being entirely sure if I can afford it. I’ve decided to apply and see if I’m accepted (first) but since almost all of the application deadlines for Fall 2013 have passed, I have to act now to actually reserve a place in these two programs who are still accepting applicants.

My main deterrents to applying to MFA programs prior to this were two things: 1) Most MFA programs are very impractical (teaching mostly theory and very little on how to actually make money or how to get published) and 2) I would likely have to give up my job and move which would make it financially impossible for me to attend. MFA programs typically frown upon genre writing (or writing that is commercially successful).

I was supposed to apply to one program last November and it was a program I wanted to attend years prior, but the more I started looking at the theory-heavy coursework I started dreading the idea of getting my master’s there and getting into that much debt. I knew I would clash with some professors (because of my non-traditional view of what the MFA should be) and didn’t want to spend two years and a hell of a lot of money doing just that. So, I didn’t apply and stopped researching programs for the time being until I figured out what to do. After all, I couldn’t attend a graduate program until my classes were finished and it didn’t look like I would get all the paperwork in in time. (As it turns out, I did!)

 

Only a few months have passed but the writing has not gotten any easier. I have written some pages I am very proud of and I feel like I’ve found the voice and am framing my story very well, but I’m back in the same spot again, wondering if I should go back to school to finish this damn manuscript and knowing that I did really well writing in a workshop environment. (Again, for non-writers, a workshop is where you share your written work with fellow peers and they go page-by-page pointing out strengths and weaknesses. It’s the standard way writers get their work edited before we have agents and publishers and all that.)

Why are MFA programs so impractical? I don’t know. I think professors build their classes upon what their professors before them did and a lot of that means degrading genre writing and focusing largely on theory and art rather than becoming a professional writer. They do have a point in much of their tradition: great writers are born from studying great writers. Mediocre writing can be born just about any way. Also, most writers want to teach writing so the MFA is suitable for teaching after the program is over. I do think great writers are made partly by focusing on the art of writing and devoting hours of study to great masters before us, BUT no MFA program should be entirely focused on this especially to the point of neglecting the real world, the publishing industry and industry trends toward commercial work.

I found the following great interview with Tod Goldberg the other day while searching for a low-residency MFA program and what Tod says here is what I have been saying for years. Of course, that means I’ll be applying to his program. If his words here are any indication of his classes, I have to admit, I will feel it worthwhile to attend.

Caleb J Ross: You said something at last year’s AWP which stuck with me. Paraphrased, of course, you said that you teach your MFA classes like an instructor of any trade program might, with the end goal of providing financial opportunities for the students. This seems like a radically different approach than most MFAs which may instead focus on non-definable, creative signposts to gauge student success. First, am I expressing your idea correctly? Second, how is this goal compromised by a low-residency program, if it even is?

Tod Goldberg: Pretty close. Essentially my philosophy is that if you’re in an MFA program, your goal isn’t to become the most well-read person on earth with a handful of literary quotes at your disposal at all times, it’s to be published. It’s to be produced. Graduate programs in creative writing are some of the few that seem entirely esoteric because they don’t seem to be training you for anything tangible, apart from maybe being a particularly enlightened barista, because, well, that’s frequently the case. But I think that has to change. Being a professional writer is a job. And if you want to write books, or write screenplays, or write poetry, simply for personal edification, you certainly don’t need an MFA program to do that. But if you want to become a professional writer, I think an MFA program can and should be a clear stepping stone in that direction. Most aren’t. Most entirely eschew the idea of life after the MFA — in fact, most programs tend to herald your acceptance into the program as the “making it” part of your writing career, which is silly. It’s school. It’s what you do afterward that makes a difference. So in that light we talk about publishing and production a great deal in the program I run at UCR, about the difference between being workshop-good and publication or production good. We have agents and editors and film producers and studio heads that come in an read our students work and give them a real world idea of where they stand. And our professors are doing it, too (no one works in the program in the professor who isn’t still publishing or producing).

I got my MFA late in the game — I’d already published 5 books, countless short stories, sold several projects to Hollywood, written hundreds of pieces of journalism and was actually directing two MFA programs at the time (before going to strictly a low residency MFA, UCR Palm Desert also had a part-time traditional MFA program, too) — when I went to get my MFA from Bennington, so I feel that I have a unique perspective on this. Clearly, I didn’t need an MFA to be successful. But my experience with one particular professor at Bennington, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, opened my eyes regarding how to become a better writer, how to build on what I did well already, and that alone was worth the price of admission, and I believe that comes from that mentor/mentee relationship that low residency programs foster.

So I don’t think this philosophy of mine is hampered in the least by low residency program; in fact, I believe it is the best avenue to pursue this line of thinking. Being in a low residency program mimics the life of the professional writer. You’re probably balancing your writing with another job, you’re probably also writing some stuff like book reviews on top of your creative work (or doing coverage if you’re a screenwriter) and you’re probably at home on the weekends, up until late in night, in your underwear, typing.

(Excerpt from Caleb J Ross/AWP Blog. Read the rest of the interview here. I highly recommend it.)

 

 

Information from around the web on MFA programs: 

Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) (I’ve always found their information useful.)

Bennington College (A low-residency program I’ve heard great things about.)

Vermont College of Fine Arts (Another low-residency program I have heard good things about.)

The Atlantic’s Five Top Low-Residency M.F.A. Programs (Take it for what it’s worth. I don’t know that I would rank Antioch very high, at all.)

2012 MFA Rankings: The Top Fifty (Poets & Writers Magazine) (I use this as a guide to what programs exist, not for their ranking system)

Why the Poets & Writers MFA rankings are a sham (a Columbia graduate scolds P & W for ranking his alma mater lower each year due to their very high tuition)