Wacko Wednesdays: Demographics

Writing Tips

‘Wacko Wednesdays!’ Each Wednesday, Christine Cavalier, a Philadelphia area writer with a Masters degree in Educational Psychology, outlines a different personality quirk for you to consider. Infuse these personality aspects into your characters and bring your writing to a whole new level. Make your characters memorable by adding a little wacky flavor!

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My husband Gary and I have a friend (who we haven’t seen in a while) named Dave. We met Dave in college. Dave was a very short and slight guy with a personality bigger than a house. Dave was bubbly and he loved everything and everybody. Besides the incredible penchant for enjoying life, Dave seemed like your typical college student. He hung out with us, drank beer, played pool (and lost miserably but never cared) and stressed over term papers. Everything was copacetic.

Until one day Dave announced that he was getting a part-time job at the McDonald’s on campus. That in itself didn’t seem so bad, but then Dave enthusiastically announced that he asked for the first shift. A cry of disbelief rose from the room of friends. “DUDE! That means you’ll have to get up at like, 4 AM in the MORNING!” Dave brushed off our warnings of sure failure and happily started his job at MickeyD’s, sometimes leaving the house before the sun rose. We all gave him a week.

Local Writers Groups (by Christine Weiser)

Writing Tips

Someone asked in a post if we know of any writers’ groups in the area. We get this question all the time. We aren’t in a position to recommend any specific groups (although we’ve heard good things about Alison Hicks’ Wordshop Studio), but – basically all you really need to start a writers’ group are good readers and committed writers. Don’t just get your friends to sit around and talk about how great everyone is (or worse — how terrible everyone is). We’ve found the best formula to be inviting a group of careful readers willing to commit to a regular meeting (once a month, every other week) where they discuss and critique each other’s work. It helps to have one experienced facilitator in the group (maybe a teacher or experienced writer, or someone who just manages the meeting to keep everyone on task). Carla and I have had a group that has ebbed and flowed over the years (from as few as three to as many as 12), and being forced to submit work on a regular basis really is helpful. The experience of discussing what works and what doesn’t in a story/poem/essay can be a valuable tool to writers of all ability levels.

Any other feedback on writers groups out there?  

Robins Reading #2

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I almost forgot to mention that we had a great open mike that followed yesterday’s reading. You never know how open mikes will go, but we all enjoyed poems by Ruth Rouff and Bob Finkelstein and a novel excerpt by Jacob Russell. Carla also read from her recently rediscovered novel, Stoney Creek. Good fun.

Jacob asked if we’ll do links to literary blogs, and yes — send things along! Our blog gal Cecily can take a look.

Summer Reading at Robins by Christine Weiser

Magazine News

Today, we held our quarterly reading at Robins Bookstore, which we do to launch a new issue (the summer issue is hot off the presses now – click HERE to find free copies). It was a small group of readers, and they were all great.

Poet Eileen Moeller kicked off the reading. We’ve published her three times (no small feat with our particular poetry board!), and her reading was great, as always – funny, smart, insightful.

Next up was David Harris Ebenbach. We published David’s story “Shot” in our third issue, and we’re honored to publish another piece of his in our online issue (“The Forum” will be our July featured story). David managed to turn the story of a triple-X theater owner into a moving tale of loss and redemption. He’s working on a pornography-themed collection of stories, so stay tuned for steamy details.

I was happy to introduce Bill Connolly (whose poem “Highlights” appears in the summer issue) with the humble bio: Bill is an administrator from the Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District. Bill climbed on stage, saying how he was under-whelmed by his simple bio and he was honored to be included among such accomplished writers. That’s one of the things I love most about PS – when we have the chance to showcase both emerging as well as established writers. We’ve had many examples of writers whose work was first featured in PS, and they went on to great accomplishments. Our review system may not be perfect, but it’s so cool when we find gems like these.

Last up was poet Jason Jones, who said he liked his simple bio (Jason Jones is a graduate of Temple University. He lives and works in Philadelphia as an Editor for Taylor and Francs Group). Jason read his poem, “Physics” from the magazine, then recited three impressive works from memory.

I got home to some nice emails:

“What a great reading today — thanks so much for including me! Philadelphia Stories has now twice accepted some of my edgiest work, and I think it’s great you’re open to such things.” – David Harris Ebenbach

“Many thanks to all for your contributions to a wonderful event.  It was a honor to be included and share the microphone with such talented writers.” — Bill Connolly

I have to say – these are the kind of things that keep me going. It’s not always easy to find the 10-20 unpaid hours a week to keep PS alive, but when I go to these events, and people come up and thank Carla and me for the work we do (how often does THAT happen at your day job?), I remember that this is the most rewarding thing I do. Sure, not everyone’s so generous, and we get the occasional nasty emails (the most recent favorite: “take me off your fricking list you linguistic twit”), but for the most part, I’m proud to promote local writers and artists. Too often, Philly is lost in the cultural shadow of New York, and that’s a shame. We have some kick-ass talent here.

How Blogs Can Help New Writers

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about Jennifer Weiner’s blog. Today I want to go in a totally different direction and talk about a blog called “Anything for Material: This Writer’s Life” by Julie Ackerman, who is currently writing her first novel. She hasn’t been blogging for all that long–just since February of this year–but reading her blog has been fascinating for me as a writer. Especially as a writer who is intimidated by the novel form.

Julie left a high paying job as an attorney to stay home and write a novel. This fact completely blows me away, even though a year ago I quit a great job to stay home and be a freelance writer myself. I write articles and get paid for it. She’s writing a NOVEL and is willing to put herself out there and get it published. I realize that hundreds of writers do the same thing every day, but that doesn’t–for me–discount her bravery and courage in any way.

Julie uses her blog, it seems to me, almost as support for herself as a writer. She addresses the challenges she faces in writing her novel on her blog, and you can actually watch her work through a hurdle as she blogs. Julie writes a great deal about her process. She was inspired by Julie Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way,” and often utilizes some spiritual tools to help discipline herself. She speaks frequently of her “internal editor” and how hard she has to work to ignore that voice and plunge forward anyway. One of my favorite posts of hers is titled, “Creator Vs. Editor: The Smackdown” and she starts it like this:

Today my novelist friend said writing a book was like raising a child, because just when you learn how to handle a 10 month old, you have to learn how to handle an 11 month old, and just when you figure out one aspect of novel writing, a new challenge appears.

This has certainly been true for me. In writing my first draft, I edited what I had written the day before, then wrote at least 1,000 new words. But since finishing the draft, I’ve struggled to create reasonable daily goals for editing, and without them find it hard to feel satisfied, know when to quit for the day or to measure my progress. Also vexing is learning how to both create new work and edit existing work, tasks that use different parts of your brain and require different kinds of focus and energy.

The post goes on to talk about the different time of day her creator prefers, and how much she hates and resists the editing process. As all writers know, the editing can be the most critical step (my husband used to say to new writers when they read at the open readings we hosted, “Tell me about you editing process.” To which they universally replied, “Editing process?”). Watching Julie learn to trust herself as both a writer and an editor is the key strength of her blog.

I often say to my writing friends that you are shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t blog. For me, blogging has not only been a rewarding way to learn about myself and my writing, but it’s actually the place I found my voice. And it sure doesn’t hurt that more people read my blog in an hour now than read my entire collection of published poems–ever.

Julie’s blog is the perfect case in point of how writers can use blogs to improve their writing, and support themselves through the process. I find her blog deeply inspiring as I just now begin to contemplate putting together my own book. If you check it out, I’m sure you’ll be inspired too!