Tag Archives: literature

Public Speaking Isn’t So Bad.

I made it! I did it! I successfully stomped my way onto that stage, mellow xylophone setting the mood behind me, and I read an excerpt with only one “um” and maybe one or two tongue-tied moments. And absolutely no “penis”! And I made my grandmother cry. Praise the gods.

I also came home with armfuls of copies, as planned. There were several amazing readings that night by some seriously talented poets/short-story writers, but I was perhaps most impressed with the small seven year old girl (the youngest author to be published in this issue of Apiary) who made her way onto the stage before me, and mumbled a simple (or so it seems at first listen) poem into the microphone:

Girl With Wings

2 little girls walking down the street

1 little girl is walking

1 little girl is flying

– Ayah Joice 

So here it is. It cuts off at some point because our fancy shmancy i Phones cannot send 3 minute videos from one to the other. My lisp is out in all its lispy glory. Blah.

Happy Romantic Monday!

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“It is astounding, how many selves we have.”

So last week, I attended the Philadelphia Stories dinner celebrating our 2012 winner of the Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction! Winning author Adam Schwartz gave an amazing speech that brought quite a few of us to tears. He was so humble, so overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion. Now that is the ultimate rewarding experience for a writer. He talked of how we work our behinds off in solitude, maybe showing our work to a family member or a friend. But for a group of strangers to recognize your work, celebrate it, and throw a dinner in your honor where we hand you a fat check and talk about how great you are for 3 hours?

Yeah, I can only hope I’m in his shoes some day. The choked up part came when he tried to do something as simple as thank his wife for all of those hours he was allowed to “go off and tinker with his story”. He paused for quite a while, gathering himself, and when he started again he wondered out loud why he couldn’t get out a few simple words. The best part was during his moment of silence, when his wife – who was seated somewhere in front of Joe and I – leaned over to a friend and whispered, “this happened at the wedding too”. About 30 seconds later, when Adam started again, he said “this happened at the wedding too”. That’s when I got all teary eyed. The next morning at Push to Publish (where I had the pleasure of spending most of the day talking with Adam about our writing, our jobs, etc.), we agreed it must have been the idea of sharing such a personal emotion with a crowd of people. That was it.

Now seriously, click here to read Adam’s kick-ass short story, “The Rest of the World”.  What a wonderful guy, and (obviously) an extremely talented writer.

Push To Publish 

As I said I’d be doing in my previous post, I whipped out my little pink notebook and spent a lot of time scrawling things down all Saturday afternoon. After bagels and coffee, we gathered into the auditorium on the always beautiful Rosemont College campus (I really suggest looking at pictures of this place, it’s like a mini Hogwarts), to hear keynote speaker (and this year’s final judge to choose Adam’s story) Kevin McIlvoy get us all revved up for the day with an opening speech. I scribbled furiously while this man talked about things I never even imagined. For 30 years he has studied language, recording the voices of men and women 70+ and obsessing over each recording, considering how “several streams pour into each other to make the voice that has developed over the course of a long life”. Kevin said “an old voice has more moments of emptiness that are full”. He made my brain hurt in the best way ever. While I always thought I paid close attention to the way each of my characters speak, McIlvoy pulled me up to a whole other level of thought as a writer of dialogue.

Kevin continued into something I understood immediately: “It’s astounding, how many selves we have. Writing exposes our most secret selves.” As writers, we’re all a little Bipolar, a little Schizophrenic, aren’t we? Morbid, romantic, hilarious, thoughtful. There’s things we can write down or type out that we would never allow out into the world in any other way. It’s a therapeutic release of sorts.

Things got weird again (but in a crazy genius sort of way) when McIlvoy started with the bird calls, and even invited us to join in. But, it served its purpose. He compared the call and song of the Common Yellowthroat to the way a person does something called “think-sounding” (following the sound of one’s thought to the next thought). He spoke of “rhythmic syn-crony” and all sorts of other things that sounded lovely, even if I had to give them a little extra thought. This man certainly has an iron grip on language and voice.

Kevin ended his speech with something every one of us understood as we nodded our heads in agreement: “We are engaged in writing as an act of faith….It takes stamina and courage…We are here because we are believers…[The] artist life is questionable as a career…Be attentive to all [writing] offers you. It will bring more of you to the world.” 

I bought this. Go buy this.

Then came the speed dates. That agent I met with last year that I was hoping to meet with again this year? Yeah, writers tore through her signup sheet like wildfire. So I sadly signed my name under the open times of a few others I was hoping to meet with, and decided I’d have to awkwardly corner her somewhere on campus before the day’s end. But on a positive note, I think my speed dates were all a roaring success! I shoved my Honorable Mention-winning short story, “Sirens Underwater” into the faces of three published writers. Alison Hicks gave me a few very nice compliments, and told me if Glimmer Train gave it a thumbs up, then it has a home somewhere. She then rattled off about ten literary journals I could try, and I struggled to write them all down before my hand cramped up. I thanked her, and moved on to a very nice chick from Apiary, and finally the bad-ass and wonderful Aimee LaBrie, who ran the 8-week writing course I took last winter. We talked, mostly about my story and a little about life in general. She scrawled several helpful notes and comments and question marks on the edges of every paper and I had to be kicked out so the next writer could meet with her.

Then there was lunch. Then workshops about selling genre fiction, the pros and cons of e-publishing, and a Q&A with agents and editors. And somewhere in there, I was able to corner agent lady without too much awkwardness, and she handed me a fresh business card and told me to query her. Score! 

Watch this and you can totally see my head at 0:30 as Aimee pours over my story (with agent lady in the background!).

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s rainy here in Jersey and I tripped up the stairs this morning.

P.S.

Remember that cute little house Joe and I looked at?

Guess who isn’t a property virgin anymore?! Soon, I will write to you via my own bad-ass writing hideaway.

Oh, and this one’s for Le Clown:

Guess who wore her shiny boots?

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The Old “Bray” VS. “Brag” Thing

Oh, Sylvia.

Part of me likes to think she herself purposely created the controversy, so after her death she could send us all into a literary downward spiral, our fingers growing tired from online debates in forums, snatching up every copy of The Bell Jar each of us could find only to turn to that last page and know, once and for all, which word it is.

Well played, Ms. Plath, well played.

So yesterday I got some new ink, of that popular quote that constantly has everyone up in arms. And, like for so many others, it means something very special to me. But I didn’t just open up my copy of The Bell Jar and point; I did do some research online, exploring both sides of the controversy before I had the words branded on me for all eternity.

And this is what I took away from my browsing:

No one knows for sure, except Plath herself.

– If you search “brag”, Google tries to tell you you’re dumb:

Showing results for i listened to the old bray of my heart (Surely that’s what you actually meant to say.)

Good Reads agrees with “brag”:

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

– Some people here aren’t sure either way:

http://lovingsylvia.tumblr.com/post/1209727081/loving-sylvia-plath

– And Peter Steinberg seems pretty damn sure it’s “brag”:

http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com/2010/07/internet.html

Of course this post is stemming from my annoyance by someone who told me to “do my research” because I am so obviously wrong, but instead of responding with “no moron, I’m right”, I’ll say to each, his own.

I like to think the correct quote is brag; but what if it is bray? Both words make sense.

bray

1    [brey]

noun

1.

the loud, harsh cry of a donkey.
2.

any similar loud, harsh sound.
Her heart very well could be making a loud, harsh sound; a bray. It’s making its presence known; it’s crying out.

brag

[brag]

1.

to use boastful language; boast: He bragged endlessly about his high score.
verb (used with object)

2.
to boast of: He bragged that he had won.
This makes sense, too; her heart is boastful, which it has every right to be. After all, it’s what’s keeping her alive. That “I am, I am, I am” is the chanting of her heart’s bragging rights.
In my opinion, “brag” also seems to make more sense in the context of the book; reaching the end of things, an epiphany maybe, after Joan’s funeral, that maybe not all is lost for Esther? It seems that the death of one of her best friends reminded her of how very alive she still is.
“There would be a black, six-foot deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar, yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the traces of newness in Joan’s grave.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am.”
And so, for me, the “brag” of my heart means something very special. It’s a constant reminder of how precious life is, even when there is no light. All I have to do it lay a hand across my chest and give a silent “thank you” to that ever boastful part of myself.
(And while hundreds of others are branded by the same words, it means just as much to them as it does to me, “brag” or “bray”.)
So there it is. Which version do you prefer?
Happy Thursday!

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