Hope you had a lovely Easter! In case you missed my post last Friday on BWC on “probably the most intense and haunting collection of artwork I have ever witnessed,” you can check it out here.
“Ten minutes from the George Washington Bridge.” That’s how I always described where I grew up. There was something about growing up in northern New Jersey that made us define our hometown by its proximity to New York City.
Photographs I took of the Manhattan skyline on a recent visit to New Jersey.
One of the big MFAisms is: “Start with the action.”
As a journalist, I understand the importance of strong titles and hooks. You need to entice the reader, draw him in. I don’t believe, though, that the hook and action are synonymous.
As a reader, I feel flung into the deep end of a cold swimming pool when a story starts with the action. I splash around trying to figure out where I am and where I can find some solid ground. Once on dry land again, I feel like I was needlessly jerked around. I would’ve loved to swim around, but I prefer to stick my feet in first, test the waters.
I felt relieved then when I read Jane Friedman’s article “The Biggest Bad Advice About Story Openings” on her Writer’s Digest blog There Are No Rule. Friedman states that an opening with lots of action and little characterization, “Delivers a stereotypical crisis moment that’s full of action or pain, but without a center.”
Isn’t that so true? Doesn’t it seem like all action stories are the same? The reason action matters in any type of story is because we are intrigued by the characters.
What are your feelings about starting a story with the action? What does a great hook look like?
I think there’s probably a law against carrying an open flame in the subway. I’m not sure. But it’s a pretty safe bet. This threw my Easter celebrations into flux last year.
Usually I spend Easter with my family in Baltimore. Last year, though, Greek Orthodox Easter fell on the same Sunday as “American” (i.e., Protestant and Catholic) Easter, so I decided to stay in New York rather than deal with holiday traffic.
At the Cathedral, we lit candles to signify that now that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God in heaven, we, the believers, are to be to the light to the world. We carry our lit candles out of the church with us at the midnight Easter service, and shine them for all the world to see on our way home. Up until last year, that had always meant carrying our lit candles into my uncle’s van.
Last year, though, I took the subway to the Easter service. When I left the Cathedral, lit candle in hand, I realized I was more than twenty blocks from my apartment. How could I get home with my candle still lit?
Surely, I’d get stopped if I tried to go in the subway.
What cabbie wouldn’t object?
I can never figure out the bus system, and it certainly wouldn’t be the solution anyway.
So, I hoofed it. I got a lot of stares from passersby on my walk home. At first, the masses coming from the Cathedral looked like we’d attended a vigil. Or, maybe we were part of a weird cult. As the crowd dispersed—east, west, uptown, downtown—we began to look like solitary candle holders. Who were we? Why were we carrying candles across city sidewalks in the middle of the night?
I’m glad you asked.
The folks over at Broadcastr asked me to participate in the David Foster Wallace Appreciation Project. I’ve written a little bit about Wallace here on the blog as well as over on Burnside (also, check out my BWC editor, Jordan Green’s, piece on Wallace), so I was really excited to be part of the David Foster Wallace Appreciation Project on Broadcastr.
Broadcastr is compiling stories from fans to celebrate the release of The Pale King. In my appreciation story, I talk about resisting and embracing David Foster Wallace’s style in my own writing.
And when I say “talk,” I mean it literally. Broadcastr is a social-media platform that collects audio stories. Last year I was working on curricula for a documentary that involved oral storytelling so I was really intrigued by the idea of contributing audio. I’ve done a live reading here or there, but this is the first time I’ve ever done a recording. I hate the sound of my own voice when I hear it on answering machines so I was a bit hesitant, but in the end I really enjoyed the experience of recording something I’d written. It was a whole new way of viewing a story.
The name of my Broadcastr post is called “Accepting and Rejecting the Influence of David Foster Wallace.” I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!
Hola! The latest entry in my Church Hopping column at Burnside Writers Collective is up, and it’s probably one of the most unique churches I’ve featured to date. It’s Don Justo’s “Trash” cathedral in Spain. A lot of my friends said the church is “interesting” in that tone that means “strange,” and while I agree it’s definitely not your traditional cathedral, I think the symbolism behind it is astounding. What do you think?
As I mentioned, I recently went to the MoMA thanks to the generosity of a friend of mine. One of the reasons I’d been wanting to go was to see the Abstract Expressionist New York exhibit that’s running through April 25. The writers of the Beat Generation used to hang out in bars with the abstract-expressionist painters, so I’ve been fascinated by how the literature and visual arts of the 1950s have influenced each other and have done some writing on the subject.
I like this line that was posted on one of the placards in the museum:
With a grave intensity and sense of responsibility the Americans who would later become known as the Abstract Expressionists set out to make art that would reassert the highest ideals of humankind.
It reminds me of how Jack Kerouac said that “beat” stemmed from the biblical beatitudes.
“Stereotype” is a dirty word. Stereotypes of ethnicities and races come with all sorts of negative connotations—the types of assumptions that are too dangerous to even give examples of, but you all know what I’m talking about.
I remember years ago learning that even “positive” stereotypes are negative.
Really? How can that be?
I’ve been stereotyped. Because of my last name, people make all sorts of assumptions about the literature I read and the language I speak.
“Did you read the new translation of The Odyssey?”
“Can you tell the class how to pronounce this Greek word?”
“I can’t remember who the god of wine is. Stephanie, who was it again?”
If it happened once in a blue moon, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But it happens often enough that it’s at times made me insecure in my identity. Should I know that there’s a new translation of Homer’s epic poem? What does it say about me that I don’t know?
Sometimes it works to my advantage, though. I’ve received opportunities to write about Greek things by virtue of my ethnicity. That is a positive, but it is also a negative. Is that the only reason I was selected?, I can’t help but wonder….
“Why do you write about Greek things?” my mom, who is not Greek by blood, asked me.
My lit teacher has a theory that literature is reparative. We write to rectify, to make ourselves whole. She may be right. I write about Greek things because I don’t feel as Greek as others seem to think I should—which makes me think I need to feel more Greek—and my writing seeks to explain, to justify, even to rectify.
Also, I figure if I can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. People have been making stereotypes about my interests and knowledge of Greece for decades. That’s not likely to change. The stereotyping comes from a good place: people love Hellenic history and Greek culture. Why not give the people what they want? After all, I like Greek culture too, even if I don’t always know as much about it as some people assume I do.