Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Watching a city rise from the dust - Burning Man

(image from Google Earth Blog      )

My muse went to Burning Man last week because she couldn't resist watching people build the city. "Imagine watching a city being built by a thousand artists on a lake that's been dead for ten thousand years, with the sun and the alkali sucking the moisture out of their bones as they work." She sighed loudly, as if she were starving and had just smelled a fresh blackberry pie.

I smiled. "It sounds almost sacrificial. Must be an amazing sight."

"And at last I will see it."

I stopped cleaning my Camelpak and stared at her. "You've never been?"

She shook her head and sighed again, this time as if the blackberry pie had been taken from her. "No. I am a writer's muse." Rolling her eyes, she said, "I've never enjoyed the pleasure of time with a sculptor or musician's creative energy, so there's never been a reason for me to go. ... until now." She smiled.

"I'm pretty excited we're going, too."

She looked at my Burning Man ticket stuck to my bulletin board. "You've dreamed of going for so long."

"Years! But I've never had the chance, or the money, or the time... " I continued rinsing the bladder of my Camelpak, letting the bleach-tinged water pour into the sink. "I've either been in school, or broke, or busy raising my daughter. This is the year to go. Plus, it's extra special I'm going with my dad."

My muse grinned. "I like your dad. His muse is a little crazy, but he seems to like that chaotic energy. He's done some good work with her."

"Will she be there?"

"Of course. She's the one who suggested they go in the first place. She can't get enough of that Burning Man energy. There will be a large gathering of muses from all over the world, showing off their artists and inspiration."

I turned off the faucet. "I'm sorry I don't have anything to show off out there."

She waved her hand as if dismissing the thought. "Please. You have nothing to be sorry about. You yourself are the art I can display."

As I felt the stroke of pride in her words, and the excitement at the thought (I am the art), my muse suddenly stripped off her clothes and shook out her long main of black hair, her snakes writhing with excitement. She was beautiful standing in a sun beam, her skin gleaming with hints of gold and flame. "Time to go. See you in a few days."

"I'll be there."

And then she was gone.

I finished packing, thinking about my muse running naked across the playa, watching the city rise from the dust.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Using iPhone Voice Memo ap to record your reading

 (image from Metro Technologies)

Several months ago, I was asked by 410 Media to record a reading from Punk Rock Saved My Ass to post on their website. Between finishing my classes and a hectic summer, it never got done. This Tuesday, I decided I'd put it off long enough. Grabbing my copy of the book, I turned to the introduction I wrote and started practicing reading it out loud. The intro tells my own punk rock story and explains what inspired the anthology, so it felt like a good piece for 410 Media. But what was the best way to record it? 410 Media gave several options: call it in; call it in via Skype; record and burn it to a CD for mailing; record and email. I didn't like the sound quality of recording something over the phone, but the computer with the recording equipment was buried under a mountain of other computer work (my husband's a tech).

That's when I remembered that my iPhone comes with a voice memo ap. It's really simple to use. Touch the Voice Memo icon to load the program, push the red button on the lower left of the screen, and start talking. When you're done, push the button again. To see what you've recorded, push the list button (lower right side with three horizontal lines). A list of your recordings will appear. Tap the time/date of your recording to listen. If you want to share, tap "share" and you'll get the options for Email or MMS.

I practiced with several short recordings, only a couple of paragraphs each, which I emailed to myself easily. Then I decided to see how well the ap would record a longer piece. I read the entire intro, all five pages, which produced a recording over 8 minutes, and was surprised the ap could record something that long with that good of quality. But then the file was too big to email. I sent it to myself using MMS, then connected my phone to my computer to open the file in iTunes. After that, I had to figure out how to turn the file into an MP3 and compress it.

A quick Google search brought me to the how-to page on Apple Support for transforming a MP4 file into an MP3. Click the link to see how it's done. The info for compression is there, too.

Once that was done, I emailed the file to 410 Media. Quick and easy and the sound quality is very good. And it was great being able to listen to myself read. I now know how long it takes to read my intro (8 minutes), what parts to cut, and how my reading style sounds. There were places I upped the intensity of my reading for dramatic effect, and other places I spoke quietly, and I could hear whether doing that worked. Using Voice Memo to record yourself reading before you go out and read in front of an audience is a great way to prepare. And if you have an iPhone, there's no excuse not to. You don't need to set up a microphone or recording equipment, or try to find time at home to sit in front of your computer. Read in your car before the event to make sure you're reading is strong. Are you mumbling? Articulating? Too soft? Too loud? Are you boring? How can you make your reading more exciting? Or is your reading falling into melodrama? Plus, you can record several sections from your book and post them to a website to promote your book.

Once 410 Media posts my reading, I'll post the link here.

The more I play with my new toy... I mean work with my new tool... the more I love it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The cure for "resting" manuscripts

Writers are notorious for hiding in their bedrooms, surrounded by books written by other people, while working endlessly on their manuscripts. The story never feels polished enough for other people's eyes. They'll work and work, then decide to "let it rest" by setting the manuscript aside to work on something else that's been "resting." After a while, a writer can stack up a lot of "resting" projects.

Or is that just me?

I have eight manuscripts resting right now: 3 plays, 2 novels, 1 essay and 2 short stories. I'm waiting for feedback on a play and the essay, but I've had plenty of feedback on the others to jump back in and finish. But now the problem is the manuscripts have piled up so deep I don't know which one to start with. Should I chose the one closest to completion, or the ones who've been waiting in the drawer the longest? The one I might have time to actually finish? The one that is easiest to work on? Or start with the hardest and work my way through with diligence?

And I can't blame it all on grad school and motherhood either. I started most of these projects before school started, back when I had plenty of time to finish them. In all the years I've been writing, I've managed to fully complete four things: a 10 minute play which was performed two years ago at Mendocino College; two essays which both appeared in Hip Mama magazine several years apart; and one short story which might be published in an anthology. The rest of the thousands of pages I've written have either gone into the garbage or are now "resting," because setting something aside to rest means you're still working on it. You don't have to hold it up and say to the world, "This is my best work."

That's the reason we writers set manuscripts aside before completing them, at least that's why I do it. Never finishing something means I gain the satisfaction of being a writer without the humiliation of not being good enough for other people's reading eyes. There are no rejection letters when I let a manuscript rest, and I can always go back to it and keep polishing until it's surpasses perfection, which is impossible for anyone, even Tony Morrison, to achieve (although that woman comes pretty damn close).

But another reason I never finish anything is pure boredom. Revising until you have a finished, polished manuscript suitable for possible publication is boring! Tedious! Dull! There is nothing new or exciting anymore; all the characters have been developed and the plot plotted. You know how it ends and how the story gets there. There are no new discoveries, just plain-old-boring word manipulation. Yawn...

What's the cure for chronic manuscript resting? I suppose just grabbing a manuscript, sitting your butt in the chair and working on it until it's finished is a good way to break the cycle. That's what I tell my writers to do, but I'm obviously terrible at taking my own advice. So what is a writer to do with eight manuscripts resting?

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Finding the Source

My muse stood on the edge of the bluff, the ocean crashing and rolling far below her. The wind whipped the snakes in her hair; I could heard them hissing with glee as they crashed into each other like a slithering mosh pit. When I stood beside her, my muse looked at me and grinned.

"Can you feel it?" she asked.


"The roar of the world."

She turned back to face the sea, transfixed by the tug and flow of the tide. "It's all here, everything you need to create."

I nodded. "I feel it."

"Good. I was afraid you'd forgotten how."

I was taking a break from my frenetic life, spending time with my friend Jody at a place called the Howard Creek Ranch, three miles from Westport on the Mendocino Coast. We wrote, ate, talked, drank wine, walked along the bluffs, talked about our writing, and then wrote some more. Slowly the tension in my body gave way to a calmer quiet and I could feel my creative energy stirring. It had become sluggish with the weight of grad school and motherhood, but that old, Victorian farm house near the ocean, the desire and concentration to write grew. By the end of our stay I'd finished an essay left on hold too long and then dove head first into play revisions. I was afraid I'd forgotten how to write anything longer than short blog posts or papers for class. Happily, writing is a lot like riding a bicycle.

My muse is rested and fully energized. After three days of talking to the gulls and the abalone (who are quite intelligent, my muse says), she was filled with ideas. I just hope I can keep up with her.