Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And The Winner is...

There is something about writing contests that usually makes me uncomfortable. Yes, I know they are a popular way for literary reviews to gain revenue, and without this competition many quality publications might not survive. Depending on subscriber fees can hardly get the job done. But knowing that sometimes I am sending out work and that 2000 people or more are competing for the same prize makes me stop and wonder: Maybe I’d be better off sending my writing to a literary review under the heading of general submission. But then guilt sets in. Shouldn’t I help support the very thing I aspire to? Good writing… work that is often the cream of the crop. Contests, in general, have a way of revving up my heartbeat; my competitive edge begins pumping as if I were training for a marathon. One of my earliest writing contests was when I was eight or nine years old. I had to send in my list of names to the TV station for Lassie’s new puppies. I can remember how smug I felt, how certain the names I’d come up with were going to win, and the prize, of course, was a puppy. One Sunday night after having dinner with all my relatives in Brooklyn, we sat down and we waited together for the list of winners, which appeared after the credits for that week’s episode. Silence. The clucking of tongues. Murmurs in broken Yiddish. Oh, that feeling of defeat. I can still taste it. How I ran from the room sobbing…How could this have happened? I was a child with an ego like the Sears Tower. A few weeks later, my aunt Faye arrived at our house on Long Island carrying a wicker basket with a checkered blanket. Underneath was a new puppy, our russet cocker spaniel that I named Taffy. This loving deed and gift from my wonderful aunt was much appreciated, but did nothing to prepare me for future competitions, not to mention…life.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sex and Writing

Writing about sex or describing a sexual encounter between your characters can be extremely challenging. How do you keep the language fresh─ new, different and certainly evocative? Recently, my thesis advisor said she could actually feel me blushing when I wrote a honeymoon scene that takes place in the early 1940’s. Perhaps, that was because the couple in the scene is based on my parents and their two weddings─ one an elopement to Virginia on a snowy Xmas Eve, and the second, a few months later, a religious ceremony held in a big catering hall for all their friends and family.

It was difficult to write the scene of their wedding night. I felt myself turning into a squeamish teen…Mom and Dad? Yuck! I was also aware of trying to write in relationship to the times and decade. Though sex is sex, the language of sex, the romanticism of the times had to come into play. I stayed away from the clinical and went for the atmosphere, the pressures of war, the coyness of the bride and the naiveté that comes with youth and inexperience. Basically, I tired to stay true to the characters personalities. But mostly, in order to get through the writing, I had to detach.

Here’s Some Basics heard at an AWP conference in NYC:

1. Make your own rules
2. Don’t be afraid
3. Don’t tease
4. No fish-net stockings
5. if it hurts then say so.
6. show that sex is messy
7. be reckless
8. make it hot
9. full steam ahead
10. it’s okay to blush ( I added this one!)