Tag Archives: Writing

Z is for Zombies

I know, kind of a stretch, right? This is my final post for the April A to Z Challenge, and hey, Z is tough. But let me reassure you – I am not into that whole Walking Dead thing. Zombies just never have done it for me. However, there is one way in which they relate to what I’m doing that I can discuss. And that is the old writing maxim: Write it like they’re dead.

This typically applies to nonfiction work: memoirs, biography and the like. Most of the time, someone writing a biography has the cooperation of their subject, so it’s not an issue. But what do you do when you want to write a memoir – ostensibly about your own experience – and in come all those other people in your life, and you find you have to write about them, too?

I went to an excellent panel at AWP (I know, really, this is the last mention!) on Privacy of Secondary Characters. If you are writing creative nonfiction, memoir, or even poetry, you have to consider this. Or if there’s a chance that your best friend will recognize herself in your novel, I guess it would apply there too. But the bottom line is, it really doesn’t matter.

If you are worried about how others will respond to your work, then you have two choices: either don’t write it, or write it like they’re dead. You can’t create this work worrying about what others will think, even if they are explicitly mentioned in the work. One quote from the panel stands out: “The only authorization is the ethos of art.” Which is to say, you will get no authorization, nor do you need to. Unless you are portraying someone as criminal, you can’t worry about it. (And if you are, that’s a whole different story.)

Other tidbits from this session (it really was excellent) include:
1. Make the writing worth the cost (if it’s that good, who’s going to argue?)

2. Don’t worry about defacing the Family Scroll (a hypothetical scroll of family history on which you don’t want to make a black mark)

3. There’s no such thing as writing honestly about yourself and not doing justice to others.

4. You cannot ultimately predict how anyone will respond (panelists had stories of responses very different than they had envisioned, some good, some from different people than they had expected)

5. Compassion + mercy + forgiveness can come back around to the authors.

6. The subject and writer are in this together, even if the subject has a lot more to lose.

7. We do it, we do it imperfectly, but don’t kid yourself there’s no cost to anyone.

I guess then it’s all about your risk tolerance. How much of a risk are you willing to take? What might the costs be of your craft? There is, of course, always a cost. How do you weigh that against not performing your craft?

As I said, this has mostly to do with nonfiction, but you might also consider this if you are writing fiction. I had an idea for a novel a while back that would have been very transparent to my best friend, about a woman whose dad was dying of cancer. The new book I’m working on is actually about my best friend, who herself died of cancer. It is nonfiction. I have considered how her mom might feel about it, or her husband or her son. But I honestly can’t worry about that. Also, they don’t read much or go to book events, or read reviews. So there is really little chance that they would actually know about the book unless I told them. I am torn.

What is your responsibility to your subjects? Is their story just out there for the taking? How do you reconcile that if your story is inextricably intertwined with theirs?

There are so many questions. It’s an ethical question, to be sure. And a good discussion could be had on ethics in art.

What say you?

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A is for AWP

Here is my first post for the April A to Z Challenge. A is for AWP, folks!


Every year, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) meets in a different city. The Internet explodes with articles about “How to Make the Most of AWP.” All of my writer friends start talking about it about a month in advance, especially the ones who teach at colleges. It’s one of the biggest conferences out there: the estimate this year is that 10,000 people will attend.

This year will be my first time attending the conference. I have heard about it for years, and I have wanted to go for a while. Last year I was going to go but had to cancel at the last minute. This year, it is in my backyard, in Minneapolis, so I couldn’t pass that up. I’m taking the money I saved on plane fare and spending it on a hotel room, so that I can dive in and not come up for air until it’s over. I’m looking forward to it.

AWP is an industry conference but also geared highly towards the average writer. There are many more breakout sessions to attend than at other conferences I’ve been to, and the schedule is insane. I still haven’t finished going through it all. They have a nice feature where you can mark a session that interests you, and add it to your schedule. So when you’re done, you print it or send it to your phone or whatever, and then you have a handy list of everything you want to do, when it’s scheduled and where it is. Some sessions are geared towards academics, but most are simply for writers. There’s everything from How and Why to Blog to publishing companies sponsoring readings from their authors. I have several choices marked for each session time – it will come down to a game-time decision based on where I am standing, what else has come up, and what I feel like doing.

Of course, one of the fun parts of AWP is the off-site events. There are myriad parties, readings, happy hours and so much more. Everyone pulls out their A game. I’ve received about 25 event invites on FB so far, and I am having trouble deciding what I want to do. One of my issues is that I don’t want to drive. I want to park my car and leave it there – that’s the whole point of getting a hotel room. There is a good bike rental service in downtown Minneapolis, called Nice Ride, so if I really want to get to something off-site, I could probably use that.

The problem with big parties is that they are just that – big. Huge crowds of people all talking to each other is something I can’t do for days on end. I’m going to be by myself too, which makes it kind of awkward sometimes. I expect that at most events I will know people, so that’s not really a big concern. But I don’t have a pal to hang with. If push comes to shove, I can always retreat to my hotel room and actually write.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is meeting people in person that I have been communicating with for years. I am hoping to set up a time to meet with Bethanne Patrick, otherwise known as The Book Maven, as well as run into Jane Ciabattari, a past President of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I’ve done blog posts for both of them in the past, and follow them both on several social media platforms. I also hope to meet some writers that I admire, such as Dani Shapiro.

I’ll make the bookfair my first stop, since I know several people who are exhibiting. And my attendance at AWP is not as a publishing professional: it is as a writer. So I’m going to be there first and foremost for myself. I want to get to the bookfair before it gets too crowded, before everyone gets tired out, and before they run out of copies of their latest issue. I want to visit journals that I might submit my work to, and meet the editors whenever possible. I also want some facetime with folks that I have worked with in the past.

I’m so looking forward to this! If you are on Twitter, look me up @LindaWonder and follow along as I navigate this spectacle. It starts next Wednesday!



Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? It started on November 1. You can sign up for free on the NaNoWriMo website, and then, if you complete a 50,000 word novel (presumably coherent) during the month of November, and upload it onto the site, you will receive a certificate and other goodies.

I tried this once, and it’s a great exercise, if nothing else. But honestly, they should do it some other month. November is a terrible month to be taking on a project like this. But someday, I’ll do it again.

What I learned before is that you have to do your prep. There are all kinds of planning aids available, and there are even meet-ups in some cities where writers can hunker down together and type away as a group. The common wisdom is that you need to write 4,000 words a day. Heck, who can’t do that?

It’s all about being part of something bigger. If you want to try it, it’s not too late. Get on over there, check out the forums and sign up for your very own NaNoWriMo.