6 Writing Tips From John Steinbeck

  • 4 Comments

It would appear there is an internet meme going on lately concerning writing tips from classic authors. So far I have come across 10 Tips on Writing from businessman David Ogilvy and Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments, both very worthy reads.

Yesterday, I came across an article in The Atlantic titled 6 Writing Tips from John Steinbeck.

This is the advice that really resonated with me…which is odd because I have such a love-hate relationship with Steinbeck.

My first foray into Steinbeck was in High School where I was held down against my will and forced to read Grapes of Wrath. I *hated* Grapes of Wrath. Loathed. Jettisoned the book across the room in disgust more than once. I found it over the top, preachy and that alternating narrative about the Joad family interspersed with expository about the Depression and the Dust Bowl was dreary and overworked.

My next read was The Pearl, which I read grudgingly because it was Steinbeck, but I actually enjoyed in spite of myself. Then I read Of Mice and Men which I found to be a cruel, sad book, but the writing was solid. Then, because I liked the movie, I gave the book East of Eden a whirl and found it to be only so-so.

So I’d given Steinbeck a chance, didn’t like his stuff, and from High School on, I read zero Steinbeck. I wasn’t having it, unh-uh, no way.

I was vocal and insane about how much I WOULD NOT read Steinbeck.

Enter my multi-talented and fabulous cousin. Two years ago, he was in town and we went to Monterey to celebrate his birthday. While there, he asked if I’d ever read Cannery Row and I said no. Then I issued my overworked rant about Steinbeck.

He said, “You should give it a try, I think you’d like it.”

Well that was that. If my cousin said try Cannery Row, then by god I had to try it.

I went to the library bookshelf and plucked the slim tome from the pile and gave it a read.

I loved it. Every word, every story, every character so utterly perfect. I really actually truly loved and adored a Steinbeck book. Magic!

So when I stumbled across Steinbeck’s writing tips, I paid attention.

My two favorite books on writing are Ray Bradbuy’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which saved my life during my first real and profound battle with writer’s block, and Stephen King’s On Writing (which my rock star cousin gifted to me, because he’s so right on like that).

The little list of Steinbeck’s advice is pasted below…this now goes in the favorite pile too.

Here it is:




From The Atlantic.

When a Good Idea Pops You Across The Chops

  • 6 Comments

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot. Sometimes with a shake of the head after reading one of my more out there blog posts. Sometimes with genuine curiousity.

I even talked about it a bit here.

Really, I think coming up with ideas is about being an observer of life. About noticing the little things here and there and then talking/writing/painting/arting about them.

For me, I’ve always thought the world is a fairly absurd place, and I find something to laugh about or think about (or both) every day. Ideas are everywhere. Around every corner. In the sky. On the ground. At the bottom of your cup of coffee. Yet so many still can’t see them or maybe don’t pay attention.

Then sometimes, a good idea pops me so hard across the chops that I don’t know how anyone could be oblivious.

Today, I had to have a minor procedure done at my HMO. The center where I had this done performs a LOT of different minor procedures so there were a lot of us, and my doctor was running late. This meant I had some time on my hands as I sat there in the ready area in my backless gown with a blue shower cap thing on my head.

I was separated from the other patients by only a thin curtain on either side.

I listened as the 88 year old lady in the slot next to me ran down the list of medications she is allergic to (quinine..what an odd thing to be allergic to), explained that her knees hurt all the time and could they prop them up. She was also quite determined to make sure every person attending to her knew it was her left eye that was the problem. She was very concerned over them getting the wrong eye. Very concerned.

There is totally a story there. I mean, I was already starting to craft it in my head as I waited. I wished I had my trusty MacBook so I could start making notes.

Then there was the 67 year old woman on the other side of me. She was there for a colonoscopy. She was clearly nervous, you could hear by her voice. She was very docile and compliant to everything the nurse asked of her, but she struggled a bit to get into her gown (I heard her muttering to herself).

When they came to get her for her procedure, I heard the nurse say, “Ma’am, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have to take off your underwear.”

pause

Bwahahahaha!

C’mon! You can’t make this up!

But by far the best idea I heard all day was when the doctor came into the space next door (the lady with the eye issues) and said, “Hello Mrs. Sanchez. I’m Dr. Scary. I’ll be working on you today. This is my nurse, her name is Mercy. Are you ready to begin?”

A doctor called Scary and a nurse called Mercy? Tell me that isn’t a fabulous short story just begging to happen.

I was catching ideas with a butterfly net today!
.
.
.
And for the record, for my procedure, I got to keep my underwear on.

Just sayin’.






Image from the Best Quotes and Poetry blog.


Gimme Some Weird, People

  • 1 Comment

Today I’m going to lean heavy on my New Mexico readers, or travelers to and fans of New Mexico.

Been feeling a little homesick, so I took to Google for searches about New Mexico.

Of course there are all the sites dedicated to the aliens, the cattle mutilations, La Llorona and the chupacabra.

And I find a LOT of sites that want to tell me how weird my homestate is.

Weird huh. Is it?

Hmmmm. I don’t think it’s weird at all.

I came across a list of “New Mexico Attractions and Oddities” and went through the list.

Honestly, is it just because I’m from there? I didn’t find many of these things to be odd at all.

Examples:

The Chevy on a stick in ABQ. Ok, ok, I remember when that was first going up and there was a hubbub, but hardly what I’d called genuinely weird.

And the big green dinosaur, also is ABQ.

But are these really all that weird? Or just…um…bad taste?

Speaking of bad taste, how about the scrap metal roadrunner in Alamogordo or the recycled roadrunner in Las Cruces…or the auto parts dinosaur, also in Alamogordo. Not art, but not weird.

Or how about the big metal glasses in Taos. I mean, it’s Taos fer chrissakes. The whole town is a half bubble off level.

Then there’s the “mysterious/religious” stuff like all the spontaneous healing at Santuario de Chimayo with the crutches left behind, the shrine at the top of Mount Cristo Rey or the image of Magdalena in the side of the hill in Magdalena (outside of Socorro).

All sort of your garden variety stuff, filed under “mystical.” But weird? Nah.

And of course there’s all of the natural formations: Camel Rock, Shiprock, and the Kneeling Nun to name a few. All fascinating works of geology, but hardly weird.

The rock formation that gives you the thumbs up going into Laughlin, NV and flips you off on the way out is WAY more weird than any of that. **

And remember when the Burning of Zozobra used to be kind of weird before those frapping Burning Man people went mainstream? Now everyone just thinks New Mexico ripped off the idea (we were burning Old Man Gloom first, you damn hippies!)

I dunno, maybe it’s just the desert heat that leads people to believe that the good people and place of New Mexico are weird. I suppose to someone who has never seen such wide-open spaces and deep blues skies, it could all be a little scary.

But weird? Pfffft. No way. I live near San Francisco. Now that’s weird.

Blame The Good Man for this post topic. We got into a conversation about why New Mexico put “USA” on their license plates (a vague attempt to get around “One of our Fifty is Missing” troubles, I think).

The conversation drifted into new slogans to add to the plate as we bandied them back and forth.

The winner being: “New Mexico…you don’t know who we are and we don’t like you anyway.”

They can take their “weird” and go jump in a lake.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

If any of ya’ll New Mexicans know of something really weird I’ve overlooked, let me know. I’m open to suggestions.







New Mexico sign image Copyright 2007, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the terms of the Creative Commons license found in the right hand column of this page.

** Nevada rock formation images from Life is a Road Trip.


Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Education

  • 4 Comments

On the final day of the San Mateo County Fair, a beautiful blue sky Sunday, The Good Man and I went for a final visit and the intent of procuring unhealthy fair food.

I grabbed my camera to take along, intent on taking some photos of the carnival.

Let’s be honest, carnival shots have been done. A lot. By a lot of photographers that are a heck of a lot more talented than me.

Not only is imitation the sincerest form of flattery, when it comes to photography, it’s the best way to learn. I sometimes spend an awful lot of time figuring out how someone got the shot and trying to replicate it. *click* Nope. fiddle-fiddle-fiddle *click* Nope. You get the idea.

But then, I do finally figure it out. And I get it. Then I understand how it works. I learn a bit more about light and exposure and framing…and…and…and.

And so, the ubiquitous Ferris Wheel shot. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, actually. I like that the edges break out of the side of the shot. This is something my photography teacher has been working on with us.



From there, now that I got it, I branch out to try to get some snaps of things that take on my own style. Learn from the masters then add a layer of my own perspective.

This is my favorite shot from the day:





This one is for my best friend who loves carousels.



Nothing ground breaking here, but a lot of fun. And what’s best, you may not be able to see it, but I can certainly see how my skills are continuing to improve.

As they say, practice, practice, practice.


My Heart is in Southern NM

  • 8 Comments

And I’m wearin’ it around my neck.

About a month or so ago, the internet burst forth with the story of mega-corporation Urban Outfitters (who I won’t link to) stealing Esty artist Stevie K‘s wonderfully successful “The World/United States of Love” line of jewelry.

The concept is simple yet beautiful silver pendants depicting states and countries with a tiny heart inside. Stevie makes the pendants out of precious metal clay and sells them through her tru.che Etsy store. This beautiful concept was successful enough, Stevie was able to quit her job and pursue art full time.

Since I’m no stranger to having my creative work ripped off on a much smaller scale, I was of course incensed by this blatant abuse of an artist making her way in the world with her creative work.

So I decided to support Stevie’s work the best way I could. I went to her online store and bought this:



It just arrived today.

Lovely, isn’t it? In the posting for the New Mexico pendant, the heart was placed over toward the eastern side of the state, somewhere around Portales. Well, Portales is a fine town but it’s not where my heart is at. I asked Stevie if she could move the heart more toward the center of the state, and she obliged.

My heart is in Las Cruces where my real heart resides thanks to my two beautiful godkids. I will wear this necklace with pride both for where I come from and in support of independent artists everywhere.

I notice that Stevie has put her store on pause while she catches up on orders. Apparently I’m not the only one who wanted to support an independent artist who had her ideas ripped off.

But she’ll be back. If you want to show your love of where you’re from, keep an eye on Stevie’s store.