Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Giving to you on My Birthday

In 1 on August 30, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Today is my birthday. I have always liked a good party, and am not ashamed to admit that during my childhood (and occasionally, ahem, since then) I unabashedly went out of my way to be the center of attention. There is a photograph of me on my 8th or 9th birthday in which I am wearing: a  fringe suede skirt with knee high cowboy boots, a lace top, a party hat AND a veil. That’s right, a veil. Or some piece of lacy fabric from my mother’s closet that passed for a veil.

I still recall waiting until all my guests had arrived and then sashaying brazenly out into my backyard, hands on hips, waiting for everyone to admire my outfit. I have a feeling the result was anticlimactic.

Anyway, on this birthday of mine in the midst of my third decade, I’ve decided that I want to give to YOU this year. So I’m giving away free classes!

That’s right!

Be the 1st, 10th and, say, 30th person to email me and I will give you a free online class:

October Mini-Series, three week-long online classes ($129 value) or

Fiction’s Magic Ingredient, in November ($149 value).

Details about classes are on the “classes” page.

Email me: jordansmuse (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject “I deserve your class!!” And then tell me in a couple of sentences why you do–or why you’d like to take them, at least 🙂

Runners up will get free copies of one of my books.


A Picture is Worth (at Least) 1,000 Words

In Craft, Musings on August 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Tanya Egan GibsonGuest Blog by Tanya Egan Gibson

I’ve never been a picture-person–one of those folks who whips out the camera just in time to capture baby’s first step or a butterfly alighting on a puppy’s nose. On vacations, I miss the sea lion/dolphin/whale breaching the surface and end up with photos of water, water, water. Yesterday at Six Flags my camera’s battery expired before I could get a shot of my daughter touching an elephant’s trunk. (Apparently you’re supposed to charge the battery every once in a while?) When I do manage to extract a working camera from the depths of my purse, I’m likely to decapitate my subjects or backlight them so excessively that they seem walking shadows.

And yet, strange as this might sound, I consider my digital camera one of my most important, and best-used, possessions. Rather than taking notes about a new place or interesting object I might want to include in a story, I photograph it, keeping what amounts to a visual idea notebook on my computer. Even if I’m not the person to whom you’d want entrust the big group photo of your once-in-a-lifetime four-generational family reunion, even I can take a close-up of a pile of shells. (After all, they don’t wriggle or blink.)

Until I had children, I was in the habit of taking extensive handwritten notes about anything that caught my eye. But on a visit to New York when my daughter was two years old, I discovered how hard it is to jot down more than a few words at a time about, say, the Long Island Sound when your little tyke is trying to run into the Sound. In March. In her shoes and coat.

Desperate to pin down everything possible about the Sound for a scene in my novel, I ended up using my camera (which I’d brought along to take cute-and-hopefully-not-headless photos of my daughter at the water’s edge) as my substitute notebook. I snapped countless photos, unworried about centering or composition or lighting: closeups of rocks and shells and drying sepia-colored foam, tight shots of the patterns windswept beach plants and runnels of water left behind in the sand, wide shots of gulls flying past broken pilings far out from shore.

No, the camera couldn’t capture the smell of the air or the texture of the sand or the sounds of lapping water and gulls, but these were at least easier to recollect, later, with this array of images in front of me later, transferred to my computer.

Since then, I’ve taken to “collecting” images wherever I go. I gave to one of my characters the flesh-colored koi my daughter spied in a pond outside a restaurant. I take photos of clothing (on hangers–not on people, as I think it’s intrusive to take stranger’s photos) in which I outfit my fictional people. I snap pictures at floral shops and in gardens to use in my pretend people’s flower arrangements and yards.

In folders on my computer are weeds on the side of a highway. Puddles. Dirty snow, up close. The ugliest doll in Toys R Us. Black paint eroded by the acid of thousands of tiny hands on the metal spinning wheel of an amusement park teacup ride. A spill on aisle seven–glass and pickles and brine.

For many of these I can already envision places in my next novel and short stories. But there’s of course a folder, too, for things that grabbed me without my knowing why. A folder of images for those days when it feels like nothing is new. Sparks of novelty. Jumpstarts.

They’re not centered, usually. And certainly nothing you’d ever frame. But then again, neither were the scribbles in my notebooks.

Tanya Egan Gibson is the author of the novel How to Buy a Love of Reading published in May, 2009.  An alumna of Squaw Valley Community of Writers, she is mother to a four-year-old who produces countless construction-paper “books” that she insists Mommy “get published” and a one-year-old who teethes copies of HTBALOR, and wife to the most patient man in the universe.

Season of Change

In 1 on August 23, 2009 at 11:23 pm

I don’t have to fear sounding cliche when I say all things must change, do I? It’s just true! In the life of a freelance writer/editor this is more true than for others, I think. A magazine you write for for several years may fold, or they may cut back on their budget and you may find your column disappears in a puff of slashed ink. Clients come and go–hopefully they come back and bring their friends, but nothing is for sure.

It’s not a business for the weak of heart, for the stable of paycheck, or anyone who likes predictability.

Yet those things don’t bother me in the long run. And if you hope to survive as a freelancer, they can’t bother you too much either!

There’s been a lot of change this year. My boy turned 1, we bought our first home, one of my gigs dried up, and my teaching has expanded. Now, I feel the seasonal change upon me, though I’m not sure why I’m feeling that today. It’s just as warm as all the preceeding days of summer. The light is still long. The bbqs still going. It’s a strange shift I always sense in the air sometime before my birthday every year. I never know when I’ll feel it, but it creeps in overnight and makes me feel restless.

The restlessness is the snake of change slithering about my ankles. It’s a reminder that these lazy days are winding to their annual close. We say goodbye to late evenings outside, juicy watermelon, ice cream cones and tan lines. I do love the fall, actually, but I always feel the slightest bit of sadness when summer whistles its way out the door.

Fall will, however, bring a new set of online classes around here. Check them out at: My “mini-series” of 1 week classes begins in October. A new session of Fiction’s Magic Ingredient begins in November.

Enjoy these halcyon days.

Down Time

In 1 on August 19, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I started to enjoy my summer early, around May 31st, when we moved into our new house. We finally had a back yard, which encouraged lounging, and a patio, which encouraged sitting and sipping coffee while birdwatching. I didn’t even mind that the weather was so mild until mid July that it felt more like spring.

There have been lots of playdates and long walks, ice cream cones and weekends lying leisurely in parks as a family. But there’s also been a lot of work. (And I’m only working part time), including judging a contest in which I read 25 books; teaching the first in a series of online classes (so far, a blast!); editing at least one full manuscript each month; and writing several articles/book reviews.

Now it’s hit me: I didn’t have a vacation this year! As a freelance writer and editor, vacations often get forgotten unless you force yourself to take them. Oh sure, there were some long, lazy weekends, even one at the beach, but the laptop came with on most of them, and so did the work.

I wonder if there is still time before the warm months are fully gone.

It’s not as easy to just get away now with a young child, either. My son is 14 mos, so we tend to go nowhere further than a couple hours drive. Next year, though, we’re taking a vacation. I’m dreaming of Hawaii. Though the last time we went there, we came home parents to be.

The Art of Plausibility

In Business of Writing, Craft on August 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm

I’ve had the good fortune to professionally edit writers’ manuscripts (as a freelance editor) for the last seven years, and have judged several writing contests, sifting through on the order of hundreds of essays or book-length manuscripts (so please don’t begrudge me such a long first sentence). Though I’d never deign to suggest I see as many ms’s as an agent’s slush pile, I’ve gotten quite an education in the school of “implausibility”—or topics/ideas that every writer should seek to omit or reconsider before pursuing an agent. Yes, fiction is a license to make things up, but there’s a line!

Violence and Gore (not Al). Recently I edited a manuscript that involved obscene, gory sex between unfeeling “clones.” Though the author eventually made an elegant point about humanity, the imagery was so grotesque that it felt as though the author’s only purpose was to gross out his reader. It was so difficult to read that I had to play incredibly cheerful music at the same time just to make it through. Violence, murder, and death all have their place in fiction—but remember you want to entice readers first. Shock ‘em a little bit later. Talking Animals. Disney cornered the market on talking animals about seventy years ago. Unless you’re writing children’s fiction (and even then, be selective), opinionated penguins and babbling beavers “young down” your writing and can appear silly.

Beautiful People. Except in Romance, literature is the place where flawed people get to be flawed. Therefore every character need not be “Five foot ten, with a stunning mane of blonde hair and killer blue eyes” or the male equivalent (You can decide for yourselves what else is wrong with a description like that). Beauty is fine—but let it be real beauty. Scars, off-kilter noses, chipped teeth and moles can add up to a composition that is still attractive. And sometimes, frankly, beauty is boring (no offense to the beauties among you). Let your characters be interesting over beautiful if you can.

Meetings of Convenience. There’s nothing that stretches credibility more in a novel than when you put your characters in places where they conveniently interact with, or “know” each other because you haven’t thought out your plot. For instance: A girlfriend flies to another state to be with her new boyfriend, only to walk in at the precise moment he’s trysting with her best friend—didn’t they figure this might happen? Or your protagonist “bumps into” the very person crucial to taking your plot to the next step somewhere he always goes. Meetings must be organized and timed to be surprising and dramatic. I’m not saying that there is never a place for coincidence or convenience, but look for it in your work and see if it’s merely a shortcut to a tighter plot.

On Cue. Okay, I’ll admit that this one’s just a pet peeve. Please, please, please do not let your characters do anything “as if on cue” or a variation on those words. You are the magician playing sleight of hand with your audience. You never want your reader thinking (or worse: reading the words), “Well she did that as if on cue.” You want the machinery and devices of your novel to be hidden so that all readers see is the elegant action that your complex characters engage in. If your readers see the wizard behind the curtain (you), it’s known as “authorial intrusion” and it breaks the spell you’ve tried to cast.

Agony. The two most common kinds of agony I see rendered utterly implausible in fiction are childbirth and homicide. Do your research, people! While there are five women on the planet who have had a relatively painless birth, I promise you that childbirth involves a lot more than a little breaking water and screaming obscenities at their husbands. Also steer clear of TV renditions of the act. Rent some real videos or attend a birth—it’s a powerful, animal, otherworldly event that often goes on for days. Similarly, when a person is murdered in my clients’ work I see lots of dramatic clutching of the heart, staggering about in pain, and shaking of fists at the heavens as one’s lifeblood runs out onto the floor. I’m fortunate to have never seen a person shot or stabbed—but my brothers-in-law are Sheriff’s deputies—and they vouch that a great deal of deaths are pretty simple. Bang, pow, person falls over dead. Stab, stab, scream, dead. If you want a dramatic death, research what means cause one to writhe and clutch at one’s chest, or slowly asphyxiate to death. Redux: don’t take your deaths from TV or movies!

About Faces. I’ll leave you with another pet peeve of mine: when a character makes a sudden, dramatic, and unjustified change of heart. Your character hates the terrible nun who beat her as a child and then, whammo, has great sex one night and wakes up the next day totally forgiving. Character changes must be earned, slow, and justified. There must be actions that precede these changes, and logical reasons for why your character changes. Changes work best when they happen toward the end of the novel, unless a change in the middle is only one of several changes your character will undergo.

When Blogs Really Work

In 1 on August 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I love this information age as much as I often find myself overwhelmed by it. When I love it are times like this: Today, a friend I went to graduate school with, who is herself an immensely talented writer, Emily Bloch, (Google her, she’s everywhere!) posted a link to a blog on Facebook.

The link will probably mean the most to anyone in GenX, as it’s about filmmaker John Hughes, whose movies we grew up on and which managed to sum up so much truth for a lot of us kids growing up in middle class families in the 80s.

Below is that link. It’s really lovely, as is her follow-up blog post the next day after more than 1100 people commented on this post, surprising the heck out of her.

So today, I heart the internet, and am glad to be blogging, even if my readership is quite a lot smaller than 1100 🙂


Class is in Session

In Classes, Craft, General on August 5, 2009 at 5:06 pm

The first week of Fiction’s Magic Ingredient is underway. I don’t know yet how my students are feeling, but I’m enjoying reading their work, and eavesdropping on their discussion via the class message board. I always get energized by talk of craft; it’s why I really should be a perpetual student. I can never get enough learning. Even in the act of teaching I learn. Maybe more so, in fact.

Here are some discussion topic questions we’ve been mulling over:

What are your stumbling blocks as a writer?

What skills do you covet (that you don’t feel you possess?)

Session II, which is full, begins August 30th. I’m contemplating a session III since I’ve had so much interest. If you think you’re interested, email me at: