11 Ways to Create Tension

24 Feb
TreeFireEscape
I’m trying to build more tension into my memoir and turned to the internet for advice on how to build tension. Here are eleven tips for creating tension in your book:
  1. Now Novel’s How to Create Tension in a Story: “Keep raising the stakes: Your story needs several points where tension reaches a peak.”
  2. Writer’s Digest’s How to Build Tension and Heighten the Stakes: “Do the flashbacks contain tension, or do they meander backward in time?”

  3. Grammarly’s Suspense: 4 Tips for Putting More Tension into Your Writing: “Talking the reader through the characters’ worrying thoughts, doubts, and feelings reinforces suspense because it becomes clear that the characters don’t know how they might make it out of the situations they are in. The element of unknowing keeps the audience hooked.”

  4. Ingrid Sundberg’s 12 Ways to Create Suspense: “We all wonder if we can we live up to the expectations around us.  Build tension through what others expect of your main character. How do those expectations stress the character out? Self expectations can also be used as well.”
  5. The Creative Penn’s Writing Fiction: Creating Friction With Clashing Personalities: “Conflicting personalities rub against one another, allowing writers to maximize moments when characters come together. After all, if everyone in the scene “plays nice,” the story gets boring quickly.  With a bit of character planning, matching up clashing personality traits offers a quick road to friction.”
  6. The Literary Lab’s How to Create Tension: “Basically, I think a skilled writer can somehow convince a reader to trust them enough to follow them anywhere. Then, they can present material that might seem random or disconnected, and it creates tension because a devoted fan will wonder how it’s all going to come together. They’ll read on to find out.”
  7. Be a Better Writer’s Writing Dialogue with Tension: “Readers should have no trouble distinguishing one character from another according to what each character says and how he or she says it, just as we can recognize our friends by their attitudes and speech mannerisms.”
  8. Margaret Moore’s Tension: “Foreshadowing — the author hints or implies future developments”
  9. Writers in the Storm’s Using A Crowd To Create Tension In Your Story: “A Crowd is a great tool to create tension, good and bad. It can also be used to highlight character personality quirks.”
  10. Terri Giuliano Long’s Setting and Atmosphere, Part 2: 3 Ways to Use Setting and Atmosphere to Create Narrative Tension: “Darkness, turbulent weather and other forces of nature put people on edge.”
  11. WikiHow’s How to Write Tension: “Don’t be scared, experiment with your writing, if you don’t like it, re-write.”Writer’s Digest’s How to Build Tension and Heighten the Stakes: “Do the flashbacks contain tension, or do they meander backward in time?”
 Do you feel tense now???
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Does Where You Live Determine Your Education?

22 Feb

Doesn’t it seem sometimes like life imitates art? That the same issues that were being written about — class, education, nationality — in the books of previous centuries can still be written about today?
Does where you grow up determine your education? Does it depend on coming from the “right” type of family who signed you up for extracurricular coursework? Or, is education self-determined? Can you embrace the autodidact tendencies of Massachusetts-raised Jack Kerouac, who skipped school to read voraciously in library?
Education was paramount in my family. My father especially believed that getting a good education was my job. It was his job to have a job, to have a career in which he could earn money to provide for his family. This would allow him to put me through the best and most expensive college so that one day I could have a reputable, well-paying job. Consequently, as a teenager, I could babysit occasionally, but I was not allowed to hold a regular after-school job when instead I should be studying. From what I observed growing up, that was common among the class of immigrant families in my hometown. Parents who had pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps worked tirelessly so that they could provide their children with a good education that would enable us to live better, easier, more fruitful lives.
Yahoo Real Estate recently came out with its annual list of most educated states in America. It didn’t surprise me at all to see my home states of New Jersey and New York on the list. I attended a Blue Ribbon high school in Bergen County, New Jersey, and my classmates and I went on to attend some of the highest-ranked colleges in the country. Not only that, almost every single friend from my childhood that I’ve kept in touch with went on to grad school as well—and that includes people that were in honors and AP classes and people who were never really into academics.
I mention friends first because I didn’t grow up with extended family nearby. My cousins—those from my father’s side, first generation; those from my mother’s side, here just a few generations longer—were in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these states as well were all in the top ten most educated states in America!
That’s not to claim that my family is the most well-educated or that we use our education to further traditional, high-paying careers. Some of us have master’s degrees, others of us just graduated high school. Some of us have careers, others of us are homemakers. Some of us read for pleasure, some of us play video games. Still, we have the foundations and the options to choose what we want to do. I’m reminded of the eighteenth-century British novels I read about women of a certain class, who were well educated even though they were never going to use their education outside the home. They would surely study French and Latin and learn to play the piano and paint frescos because it made them more interesting, more desirable, more well-rounded. They enjoyed learning for the sake of learning.
I think there’s something to be said for living in a state that values education. Even if one prefers to work with her hands or to be a stay-at-home father, both of which are noble, being well educated provides options and allows one to enjoy a rich interior life. One of my friends lived in a state that did not value education. Rather, when her daughter raised her hand to answer questions in class, her classmates mocked her for being interested in school. The girl began to shut down, to stop raising her hand, to stop caring about school. Fortunately, my friend recognized what was going on and was able to get her out of that situation. Now her daughter reads and writes even outside the classroom.
I go through phases where I get lazy and watch a lot of Netflix. Right now, though, I’ve been reading and writing a lot again—and it feels so good! I can’t believe I ever got so distracted and lazy to stop doing what I love. Suddenly my life feels richer. I feel like I’m doing what I’m called to do. And part of me has been thinking about furthering my education again. I’ve been missing the structure and challenge of academia. I’ve been wanting to be exposed to new ideas, to be challenged by books I’d never think to read on my own. I wonder if it’s worth it to get my PhD. University costs are so outrageously expensive, and when you work in the arts, where little money is the norm, it’s hard to justify going into debt. That’s why I’m glad I live in New York. New York is a university unto itself. There are so many great readings, lectures, and panels I can attend—and often for free. I can go to the library and check out books at random or I can do a little digging and find recommended reading lists like Allen Ginsberg’s Celestial Homework.
In descending order, the most educated states in America are:
  1. Minnesota
  2. New York
  3. Vermont
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Virginia
  6. New Jersey
  7. Connecticut
  8. Maryland
  9. Colorado
  10. Massachusetts
No matter where you’re from in America, though, you can educate yourself by seeking out mentors and reading good books. Even if one is illiterate, a lot of libraries and churches offer volunteers who can help.
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Image-Making in Correspondence: Hemingway and Kerouac

19 Feb
HemingwayLetters
There’s something so intimate about reading other people’s letters. I remember in high school one of my friends found someone’s folded up note, and I read it over and over again because I was so fascinated by their voice and the bluntness of what they’d written.
The New Criterion has an interesting article up about The Letters of Ernest Hemingway 1926-1929, edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, and Robert W. Trogdon. In “The master off duty,”  Bruce Bawer writes:
One thing that needs to be said about these letters is that there’s a lot of conscious image-making going on in them. As one of his biographers, Jeffrey Meyers, has noted, Hemingway pursued a path of “scrupulous honesty in his fiction” but routinely felt compelled, in both his conversation and correspondence, “to distort and rewrite the story of his life.” Indeed, already in these documents dating to his late twenties, we find Hemingway recounting his experiences in a way calculated to make him come off as the same strong, stoic figure who, in succeeding decades, would take hold of imaginations around the world, thanks largely to splashy Life and Look photo spreads of the Nobel laureate on safari, at bullfights, and deep-sea fishing.
It reminded me a lot of Jack Kerouac, who both in his novels and his letters rewrote the story of his life. On message boards, people often ask what Kerouac biography they should read. It feels too presumptuous to recommend my own Kerouac biography, but I like to suggest people read Kerouac’s letters, edited by Ann Charters. Not only do they provide insight into his life, but they’re as engaging as his novels. Full of vigorous prose.
I’ve often wondered if writers correspond with the knowledge or hope that their letters might one day be collected and read by literary critics and obsessive fans and therefore take extra care in writing them? Or, was it that they were already writing to literary critics—their author friends, their agents, their publishers—and therefore trying to write in an entertaining, impressive style? Or perhaps, they are such great writers that even their letters come out with flair?
Bawer says:
Not Hemingway. He didn’t labor over these things—to put it mildly. When he wrote to his parents and editors, his main objective was to get certain personal or professional obligations out of the way; his letters to such eminences as T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, in which he faked at least a touch of humility and deference, were chiefly a means of networking. Even when he’s sending off dispatches to such authentic amis as Ezra Pound, Archibald MacLeish, and Gerald and Sara Murphy, with whom he’s truly eager to stay in touch and swap literary news and gossip, he’s not out to amuse or scintillate; on the contrary, you can feel him winding down after a day of “real” writing.
Perhaps there’s encouragement in that. One doesn’t just “sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” as Hemingway said. Nor did Kerouac simply write On the Road in three weeks after seven years on the road, as discussed in Burning Furiously Beautiful. Authors—even the very best ones—consider their audience, write, and rewrite.
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Dressing John Stamos for Awards Season

31 Jan

Grandfathered

It’s awards season in Hollywood, and Greek-American actor John Stamos just won Favorite Actor in a New Series for Grandfathered at the 42nd People’s Choice Awards! At the January 6, 2016, event, he hammed it up for the crowd, stopping to take selfies with adorable young fans. He looked quite suave in a black velvet suit accented with a red pocket square.

He seems to be a fan of the red pocket square.

He wore the red pocket square again recently, still with an all black suit, though this time it wasn’t velvet and there was a tie involved. (William Shatner was also involved.)

He wore it better with a tux a few weeks prior to the People’s Choice Awards when he attended The 67th Emmys Governors Ball. He told People:

“All dolled up and sporting Frank Sinatra’s pocket square. Given to me by his manager, the great Tony O.”

Okay, if I had a pocket square that once belonged to Frank Sinatra, I might wear it out as often as possible too!

But the pocket square might be getting a bit too ubiquitous. I mean, it’s kind of like how fellow Greek-American Jeffrey Eugenides became so known for his vest that someone started a Twitter account for Eugenides’ vest. Is someone going to start @StamosPocketSquare?

Even The Washington Post commented on it, though that time he wasn’t wearing Sinatra’s red pocket square but a different one.

I think it’s time for John Stamos to find a new accessory! If you follow him on Instagram, you know the man looks good in a pair of glasses. I’d like to see Stamos rock a pair of glasses at his next awards show. I’d recommend these Greek Handmade Frames:

eyeglasses_1-1

 

It would be great to see more Greek-American stars using their influence to help Greek and Greek-American companies, particularly during the Greek economic crisis.

John Stamos strikes me as a man who can pull off a piece of jewelry. I say, ditch the red pocket square and wear a piece of striking jewelry. After seeing Konstantino’s exquisite jewelry at the welcome reception for the GABBY Awards, I would pick a piece from his Byzantium collection for Stamos to wear:

bizantium_1

And you know how his Full House (and now Fuller House!) character Uncle Jesse was obsessed with his hair? I would obviously have Christo, the Greek-American hairstylist behind Curlisto, do Stamos’ hair. Curlisto did hair for the runways for the Greek American Fashion Week, and he has an entire line of men’s haircare products:

Curlisto

On to the fashion! For clothing, John Varvatos is a Greek-American clothing designer who creates stylish looks. For an awards show, Stamos could wear a grey John Varvatos Cotton Shirt.

Cotton-Shirt

Over the shirt, I would add some sophistication with this black Cotton Vest with Piping Detail:

Cotton-Vest-with-Piping-Detail

And over that, I’d layer Varvatos’ black Cotton Jacquard Jacket:

jacket

For pants, a simple black pair of pants like Varvatos’ Wool Blend Pant would do nicely:

pants

 

When Tommy John approached me about dressing a Greek star for the red carpet this awards season, I thought to myself:

Really? But can’t I just leave him … undressed?

I mean, he did just recently share a picture of himself on Instagram in his undies!

Stamos2

And then there was that time in 2014 when the Oikos spokesman showed off his underwear with the Greek yogurt logo on it.

Stamos

Why not just leave him in Tommy John’s underwear Second Skin Square Cut:

Red Carpet 2 TJ

And Tommy John’s Second Skin Crew Neck Undershirt:

Red Carpet 4

Have mercy!

My Literary Highlights of 2015

31 Jan

Even more than art, literature is fundamental to my life. Reading was so important to my development as a child and continues to expand my horizons to this day. I earn my living as a writer and an editor, but even my social calendar revolves around literary events. Literature is very much a part of my identity, and I make a priority for it in my life.

 

BurroughsAnne Waldman, Penny Arcade, Jan Herman, Steve Dalachinsky, and Aimee Herman read at Burroughs 101, hosted by Three Rooms Press, at Cornelia Street Cafe. (Anne Waldman pictured)

HettiePam Belluck, Hettie Jones, Margot Olavarria, Marci Blackman, and Beth Lisick read at Women on Top, hosted by Three Rooms Press, at Cornelia Street Cafe. (Hettie Jones pictured)

BigSur

Big Sur (an adaptation of Kerouac’s novel) on Netflix

brunchEpic four-hour brunch at The District with two writer friends, talking about “ethnic” literature, faith, and relationships.

SunsetAfter Sunset: Poetry Walk on the High Line.

Budapest1My friends surprising me by taking me to a book-themed restaurant on my first night in Budapest.

BookCafeBrunch with friends at the most exquisite bookstore, Book Cafe & Alexandra Bookstore, in Budapest.

ElenaReading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, a recommendation from my friend Jane.

BEABook Expo America.

AmramDavid Amram telling stories about Jack Kerouac and other literary figures and amazing us with his music at Cornelia Street Cafe.

MisakoBrunch with my friend Misako Oba, whose new book of photography and memoir, which I helped edit, was published.

DurdenDrinks with one of my favorite people at Durden, a bar based on author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel-turned-movie Fight Club.

PoetryNew York City Poetry Festival with my writing group partner.

OdysseyWatched Homer’s The Odyssey performed, put on by the Public Theater, in Central Park.

Reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” (coauthored with Paul Maher Jr.) at WORD Bookstore in Jersey City.

HobartTeaching a writing class at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.

WritersThe Redeemed Writer: The Call and the Practice, a conference I co-led in organizing through the Center for Faith & Work. (Pastor David Sung pictured)

BrooklynBrooklyn Book Festival.

ReggioBrunch at Caffe Reggio, where Jack Kerouac and friends used to hang out.

BindersFullOfWomenSpeaking on the panel Lessons Learned: Published Authors Share Hard-Earned Insights with Nana Brew-Hammond, Kerika Fields, Melissa Walker, Ruiyan Xu, and Jakki Kerubo at BinderCon.

LibraryMeeting regularly with one of my best friends to read and write together at the New York Public Library.

Hemmingway-1_0

Checking out the Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum with a friend who is a huge Hemingway fan.

OTRSpotting a first edition copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.

Light

Reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Like literature?

Burning Furiously Beautiful on sale at Barnes & Noble.

Burning Furiously Beautiful on sale at Amazon.

My Pinterest posts called Lit Life.

I’m on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

My Art Highlights of 2015

30 Jan
My life is so much richer because of art. I try to surround myself with it as much as possible. Although I recently read that having one large piece of work hanging in your home is the new gallery wall, I’m proud of the gallery wall I’ve curated. It’s filled with works that have meaning to me, and this year I had the opportunity to add a few new pieces to it that have great sentimental value. It’s one way at least that I feel better about not getting to visit as many galleries and museums as I’d like. For many years now, I’ve resolved to visit museums and galleries on more frequent basis. I suppose in comparison to many people, I am accomplished in this. But for someone who loves art, a monthly visit or so is never quite enough. There is just so much art out there in this vast beautiful world. And I want to experience it all. The Classical. The Abstract Expressionist. The photography. The unearthed treasures. It’s a way to experience cultures and travel though time. I may not have seen a lot this year, but I am proud of the range of work I saw. Here are a few highlights from my art going in 2015.
Shwab
An Archeologist’s Eye: Drawing the Parthenon Sculptures, showing Dr. Katherine A. Schwab’s drawings (she’s a Scripps College graduate!), presented by the Association of Greek American Professional Women (A.G.A.P.W.) at the Consulate General of Greece.

McDurrah

Fred W. McDarrah: The Artist’s World at Steven Kasher Gallery. McDarrah took photographs of the Beat and Abstract Expressionist scene in New York City.

Acropolis
The Acropolis Museum. (Incidentally Kathy Schwab’s work, mentioned above, is there!)
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Jeppe Hein’s Please Touch the Art in Brooklyn Bridge Art.
Beach
The Beach exhibit at the National Building Museum.
Mural
Alice
Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland at The Morgan Library & Museum.
face
Ice
Ice sculpting in the Christmas windows at Barney’s.
Crusader
The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.

Hobart Festival of Women Writers in Photographs

16 Dec
I had the loveliest time at the 2015 Hobart Festival of Women Writers. Cheryl Clarke and Breena Clarke organized an inspired long weekend of readings, writing workshops, writing instruction, and networking. The long list of women writers was impressive in its diversity and achievements. It was an honor to be a returning festival participant, and I had the best time teaching a writing workshop inspired by the highly individualistic writers categorized by their friendship, the Beat Generation. The writers in my class impressed me with their passion and literary acumen. I also had the opportunity to attend several workshops taught by other festival participants, and I’m so glad I did! There is always so much to learn from others about finding your voice, developing dialogue, pitching to journals, and creating work that matters. The instructors had years of experience writing and publishing, and I was so grateful to hear their journeys as writers.
If you missed it, you can read Breena’s interview with me here.
You can see video of my reading to support the Festival of Women Writers at WORD Bookstore in Jersey City here.
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Experience Hellas Every Day of 2016

14 Dec

HellasCalendar2016

I took this photograph in May of this year while standing on the beach across from my parents’ house in Greece. The name of the beach is Lagouvardos, which is part of the Peloponnese. I’d stolen one last look at the beach before I traveled back up to Athens to catch a plane.

Like the tides, I have a come-and-go relationship with Greece. It seems like I no sooner arrive, and it’s time for me to leave again. Perhaps like so many children of immigrants, I struggle with the concept of home. I call New York my home. I love the skyscrapers and window-shops, the fast-paced energy. It’s difficult in the beginning for me to settle into the quieter lifestyle of Greece, and yet soon it feels as if I’ve been there all along. Indeed, I’ve known my family’s house in Greece many years longer than the apartment I now live in in New York. More than that, it’s family that makes a home. It’s heartbreaking every time I have to leave.

I created Hellas: A 2016 Calendar to capture the natural beauty of Lagouvardos and Filiatra. The photographs show the blue, blue waters my father grew up swimming in; wildflowers that signify Greek resilience; our blue-and-white flag flying victoriously; and mountains rising toward heaven.

Experience the beauty of Greece every day of the year with Hellas, a 2016 calendar. The natural landscape of the Mediterranean comes to life in rich, colorful photography of Greek beaches, wildflowers, and lush palm trees. As you record your daily appointments in the calendar, the stresses of life will recede like the tide of the ocean in these stunning photographs.

Purchase your own copy of Hellas here.

Learning to Say “No,” Without Needing an Excuse

28 Oct
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The other evening, I was having dinner with my upstairs neighbor, E., a dear friend whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like despite our close proximity. We were catching up on our lives, and I told her about a quasi-recent turn of events in which I’d told someone I wasn’t able to make the commitment they wanted from me and how I’d tried to explain to them why.
 
She stopped me mid-sentence.
 
“You don’t need to explain,” she said. At first, I thought she meant I didn’t need to explain to her. I know she often has a full calendar and as well understands how particular stages of life mean commitments are more difficult to make and keep. I knew she could relate to my experience. Then, I realized she meant that I didn’t need to explain myself to the other person. I didn’t need an excuse for my no. As she suggested, I didn’t have to justify my no.
 
I think this is true in many ways. It’s difficult to say no to others. And so often I say yes to the detriment of my own goals and dreams and time. I put other people’s wants and needs ahead of my own. I do believe there is value in this. I do think there are many times when we are called to go the extra mile for someone. There are times when it’s important to give back, to encourage, to help, to mentor, to volunteer our time and our talents. To set down our own desires in service of someone who really needs it. Still, there is a difference between someone’s real need and someone’s fleeting want. A difference between committing in a way that serves a greater good and getting locked into somethng that is so far removed from one’s own important needs that both parties end up suffering because of it. And there are times when saying no should come not with a justification but with thought and compassion. I know my friend would agree with me. She avidly devotes her free time to volunteer work, to spending time with those in need, to helping the disenfranchised. 
 
Perhaps the difference and the balance comes in not saying an automatic yes to things that hurt one’s own self in the long run.
 
Often because I am a writer and an editor, people come to me with essays, full-length manuscripts, resumes, and book proposals, asking for my advice, my edits, my time. I love helping people. I love hearing their stories. But I do this work for a living. It’s how I earn my income. There are people who pay me to do this. It’s how I pay for my electricity and how I pay for my subway fare and how I pay for my dinner. And unless it is a real need, say someone who has been out of work for a year and needs their resume reviewed so they can get a job to feed their hungry baby, it is unfair of me to not charge them when I would normally charge others. It’s unfair for my other clients. And it’s unfair for me, as, in a way, I am my own client. I am working on a new book. I spend hours sitting at the computer, typing, deleting, revising. I do this on top of my full-time career. I do this on top of my freelance opportunites. I do this on top of the free readings I give to support the biography I coauthored. I do this on top of smaller creative projects. I do this on top of the volunteer position I have leading a writing group. I do this when others are watching tv. When others are getting together with friends. I don’t get paid to write my book. Not yet. And so when someone asks me to look over something they’re working on, I instinctually want to say yes, I want to help them. But it takes time away from my own writing. It would mean saying no to paying freelance opportunities. Or, perhaps it would mean saying no to spending time with friends I haven’t seen in a long. I am honored that someone would want me to review their work, but I shouldn’t have to justify why I can’t help everyone for free.
 
I stubled upon Austin Kleon’s tumblr the day after meeting with E. He’s the author of Steal Like An Artist, and he posted about authors and editors saying no. I think I may steal E. B. White’s line:
 
“I must decline, for secret reasons.”
 

Mary Karr Reveals Her Favorite Memoirs

28 Oct

KarrMary Karr Credit Illustration by Jillian Tamaki via The New York Times

Mary Karr, memoirist extraordinaire, has a new book out. It’s not a memoir but a book about writing memoir: The Art of Memoir. I’m adding it to my ever-growing must-read list.

I’ve had the opportunity to hear Mary Karr speak at the Brooklyn Book Festival and at the Festival of Faith & Writing, and of course she is the author of The Liar’s Club, Lit, and Cherry.

I love Q&As and was thrilled to read her answers to The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review “By the Book” column. I got some great reading inspiration (Annie LiontasLet Me Explain You, about a Greek-American family), I loved her answers to whom she’d invite to a literary party (can I get an invite?!), and I was happy to discover her favorite memoir is St. Augustine’s Confessions, since I had recently discussed the book in my class “Writing Under the Influence of the Beat Generation” at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.

I was especially intrigued by her question “Do Flannery O’Connor’s letters count?” to the question “Who are the best memoirists ever?” I used Kerouac’s letters for much of my research for Burning Furiously Beautiful. I think in some way, letters are a form of memoir. In another way, though, they don’t necessarily adhere to the intentional literary craft I discussed in my response to “In the Age of Memoir, What’s the Legacy of the Confessional Mode?” Though a great letter writer is better than a mediocre memoirist!

You can read the full interview with Mary Karr here.