Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Bust and Haunted House

We made an altar near our front door.  Upon it we set a forty pound pumpkin, several gourds, fake glittery skulls, mini tombstones, dried corn, fake autumn-themed flowers, candles (electric and regular), various sundry items from the dollar store (and no, sundry probably isn't the right word), as well as a squeaky rat.  It looks very cool.  Very.  And around the altar we have little bats pasted to the side of the building and our front door, hanging skulls draped in coffee-stained cheese cloth, and an inflatable cat (not that kind of inflatable pussy, you perverts!).  Hannah and I are sitting outside right now listening to Nox Arcana via the MP3 player hooked up to my laptop's external speakers.  There is a bucket of awesome Halloween grab bags for Trick-or-Treaters on a little circular table beside Hannah.  The set up is perfect - we even darkened the outside light to add to the atmosphere of our little Halloween corner.

Now you would think with all that fun stuff and neatly wrapped goodies just waiting for someone to come by and snarl/sing/laugh/or otherwise say "Trick or Treat!" that we would be quite the attractive mark for all those wandering the streets in costumes tonight.  But, no, we have had a total of two kids come our way.  And we made one of them cry.  Apparently Nox Arcana is just a tad bit too intense for that unmasked little goblin.  I think we made about forty gift bags.  We were hoping that we would run out and have to dig into the reserve candy.  Sadly that isn't going to happen.  We're packing up shop and going on a drive to try and find the mysterious Haunted House spectacle that a nearby family reportedly puts on every year to scare the locals.  I'm a local!  I want to be scared!  So it's off into the night with us.  Happy Halloween to all and to all a good fright! (Did I just come up with that?  I'm patenting it, dammit.)

Update: We never found the free haunted house but went instead to the Haunted House on 4th which is set up by the Lyon's Club.  For the most part it was just people popping out randomly and screaming as loud as they could.  But to get to those parts you had to go through a pitch black labyrinth with a floor that varied from soft soil, hard wood, squishy rubber, inclines, declines, and even vibrations.  There were times when the walls closed in and became very tight and other times when it turned so suddenly that I ran straight into the wall.  In the end a man with a chainsaw chased us through an open air coral.  He couldn't get the thing to work right away and I made a quiet comment about 'performance anxiety' and then hoofed it toward the exit.  It was worth the seven dollars.  After the Haunted House we went in search of a liquor store because it just felt like a liquor night but, lo and behold, all the liquor stores (the ones we knew about anyway) were closed.  So here we are now, back home and getting ready for NaNoWriMo.  Sober.  

Boobs and Boston

On Monday I went to the Premiere Urgent Care of Post Falls to do a preliminary drug screening.  The job for which I am applying for is that of customer assistant at a bra shop.  Unless something shows up in my background check or pee test that makes them dislike me (and there shouldn't be a damn thing in either of those that would make anyone dislike me), then I will be starting work for them very soon.  I'm happy because, aside from learning the cash register, I think that the metrics and pitches sound challenging but able to be met without too much undue stress.  On the whole it would be the perfect job for me because the work environment is professional (I would get to dress up a bit and wear some makeup and get in touch with my feminine side which gets lost a great deal of the time), has very little in and out customer traffic, seems very laid back, and is in a small, out of the way, strip mall.  Also I will only be working fifteen to twenty hours a week, thereby allowing me to keep the job even after I begin my MFA program.  I have to wait and hear back later today, but I am positive about it and if I end up not being hired it won't sour me on the store, but it will be quite a surprise.

As for the MFA program; I have already been accepted at Solstice (the college near Boston) and since it was my first choice for a long time, I am thinking that that's where I'm going to go ahead and attend.  I haven't heard anything back from Queens University of Charlotte and I never did get my application sent off for PLU's Rainier Writers Workshop.  I think that Solstice and RWW were tied for my affections and it came down to logistics.  Also, the RWW program has a very low number of new members they allow into their program every year and while I desperately wanted to know if I would have made the cut, I was also leery of facing a rejection.  I know that as I start to send out my writing to magazines, agents, and publishers that I am going to face a great deal of that and so I sort of figured why start now.  Wrong attitude I know, but it feels good to have made a choice.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


On Tuesday I received a phone call from Meg Kearney, the director of the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts.  She told me via voice mail (as I didn't catch the call) that I have been accepted into their program!  She also informed me that my formal letter of acceptance would be coming in the mail very soon, that she had put it in the mail on that very day and today it arrived.  I just wanted to share a little of the acceptance letter because it really stroked my ego.

"Our Admissions Committee had this to say about your application: 'The stark/dark nature of Amanda's fiction is quite appealing.  She is developing a complex and evolving character whose mysterious background keeps us guessing - she has an excellent sense of pacing, and makes thoughtful use of detail.'"

I'm very excited.  I still have a good many things to do (another program to finish applying for) and many decisions still to make, but this news really made my day.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Today is our fifth anniversary (the anniversary of our relationship as having started via a romantic phone call on October 13th 2008).  The traditional gift/theme for the fifth, is wood.  Coincidentally, today is also the anniversary of my cousin and his wife.  It is their twenty-fifth and the tradition is silver.  My girl is snoozing on the couch at the moment and I'm left to wonder what we might do tomorrow morning to celebrate the culmination of five years together.  The evening is spoken for as we will be traveling to the valley to celebrate my cousin's anniversary (ours taking a little bit of a step into the background).  After dinner and a bit of party-time with the cousin, Hannah and I will pick up a mutual friend and return to Post Falls for an evening of cake and, most likely, some scary movies.

I keep thinking about wood.  It is an interesting element to be attributed to an anniversary.  Of course, perhaps I shouldn't even be calling it an anniversary since it's merely a marker for for the time we began dating and not the date of our marriage.  We would like to get married, but until everyone in this country is allowed to get married, that isn't going to happen.  I know we could have a ceremony and say vows, but it reminds me too much of Rimrock Apartments when I was a kid.  We'd all meet up outside, all us kids, and go to the little dead end alcove between two of the apartment buildings which was definitely 'out of bounds' as it was blocked off by those stinky bushes that smelled sort of like sage and sort of like something else.  We would sneak through the tight gaps, decide quickly who was to marry who, and then stage a little wedding.  It was a fairly common occurrence; I was the bride several times, even the groom once or twice, and I was a very popular choice for the minister.  We would eat pilfered food from our parents' pantries.  I seem to remember Kellogg's Cornflakes.  And the berries off the sage-ish bushes.  We didn't eat them but we would squish them, throw them, rub them on our hands and arms as if it were part of our ceremony.  For the life of me I can't remember what the marriage signified which leads me to believe that it meant nothing.  I'm not going to extrapolate on this and say that marriage in general lacks all meaning.  No, the point of all of this is that there is a difference between a real wedding (and I'm using wedding in a broad term as we are most definitely leaning more toward a hand hasting ceremony) and a 'let's go through the motions for our friends and family' wedding.

I'm thinking about the wood again and thinking of the dowel mom bought to work as supports in the cake.  Hannah beat me with said dowel earlier today, thwacking my rump with it.  I'm glad I was wearing jeans; it could have been unmercifully distracting if I hadn't been.  What does wood mean?  It's the foundation of a house (or could be), and if you're the second little pig it's a false sense of security.  For me, wood is the forest and it's fire in a little pit encircled by rocks and soil.  It's divine in its construction and destruction.  It is scaffolding and it is the stake meant for a vampire's heart.  It is what makes it all possible and yet a creaky step in an old farm house can be the bane of superstitious person's existence.  It can bend, snap, burn, grow, die, branch out, polish up, fade, split and splinter and in all of that perhaps it is perfect traditional for two people coming up for air after five years of weirdness mixed with familiarity.  We've bent for one another, snapped at one another, burned with rage, burned with passion, we've grown as a couple, we'll die as a couple, we've branched out and someday, maybe, we'll branch out and start a family.  It's the split part that we've managed to avoid.  There have been some very close calls but just as faded wood can be revived with Old English so too can a blistering relationship be restored by sacrifice, appreciation, and lots of angry make up sex.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ten Rules I Don't Agree With

I picked up a book at the library today and read it in about ten minutes.  Considering that this book is 89 pages that might seem fantastical or impossible.  The book is Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing and while, just as I had suspected, I found that I already knew of these rules through various means, I learned something much more interesting through reading this book.  I learned of true pretentiousness.  Surely I am not alone in this assessment but even if I am, I stand by it.  This book is nothing if not a lesson in the snobbery of fiction writers.  On the very first page Leonard tells us: 
"These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story.  If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules.  Still, you might look them over."
This on its own would not strike me as overly condescending (perhaps a bit confrontational and accusing), but when combined with the rest of the book, I feel that, right there in the first blurb, he draws the line between what is wrong and what is his way.  The book continues on to list the ten rules while making extreme use of white space and drawings.  Sitting at the library and reading through it, I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't make it an essay or a pamphlet instead of a book.  The rules are terse and his thoughts and examples concerning them are just as terse.  But this does not annoy me as much as what he says after nearly every rule: don't do this unless you are (insert name of various authors whom Leonard respects).  If you are one of these people then the rule does not apply to you.  This is incredibly belittling.  What if I'm the next great Steinbeck, or Conrad, or Joyce Carol Oates?  What if I'm better than them?  What if my descriptions are paramount to anything Leonard has ever read?  Overall, I see the validity behind his rules but dislike greatly that he goes on to excuse others of these rules just because they are somehow better writers than I am.  

He speaks a good deal about removing himself from the writing and letting the characters do their job in showing and revealing the story at hand.  I agree with this, but I don't agree with him that we have to step back from describing places and things and even what the characters themselves look like.  My rule of thumb, forgive the cliche, is to make everything count.  When I describe the main character my aim is to give the reader some greater insight about him or her and not to 'listen to the sound of my own voice.'  

The Rules are as follows:

  1. Never open a book with weather.  (Unless you're Barry Lopez)
  2. Avoid Prologues.  (Excepting of course if you are John Steinbeck)  
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. 
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"...
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.  (Unless you are Tom Wolfe)
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell breaks loose."
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.  (Unless you are Annie Proulx)
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.  (Unless you're Margaret Atwood or Jim Harrison)
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Of these rules, the last is the one I actually do agree with, it also happens to be a suggestion that Monica Wood touched upon in The Pocket Muse.  It is important to cut the fat and keep the meat but why not make the meat as appealing or as mysterious as possible through use of adverbs and adjectives and clever turns of phrase and intriguing dialogue?  On the subject of adverbs, however, Leonard not only abhors the use of them to describe 'said' but considers any use of them to be a writing mortal sin.  I am confused by this.  I thought adverbs were a part of speech, modifiers which might facilitate understanding or add to the intensity of a scene.  Perhaps he had a bad experience with an adverb a long time ago and just hasn't let go of it yet.  It seems to me that these rules are not so much rules for writing, but a segregation tool attempting to place the principles of fiction on a pedestal over the lesser form of genre and bumbling genre writers, which is interesting since Leonard himself is a genre based writer.  It is important to remember, especially when looking at a list of rules such as this, that there is such a thing as 'bad' literary fiction and 'good' genre fiction.  The lines that divide the two forms can be blurred and even erased.  Rules are never absolute in writing.  Never.  You learn them to break them and then you break them as beautifully and startlingly as you can using the parts of speech that best serve to communicate the story.  Maybe that was his real goal behind this book.  Maybe he set out these rules hoping that we would break some of them, and, if that's the case, then I am more than happy to comply.

Some Sound Advice!

This is a link that was posted recently on the Creative Writing MFA Blog, which is a fairly informative writing hub concerning that ever pressing topic: the MFA and the various programs through which to obtain one.  Several of the blog posts speak of first hand experience in dealing with the Low Residency Program through Queens University of Charlotte and I found this to be particularly helpful in the decision making process.  However, enough promotion, and on with the good stuff:

How to Apply to an MFA Program is a blog post from by Seth Fried who writes for the TinHouse Blog.   It is a truly excellent piece that - had I known about it prior to having mailed out my first two applications to MFA programs - wouldn't have helped me in the least.  But perhaps it will soften the blow of any rejection letters that may be forthcoming.  Enjoy this small excerpt, but please, do yourself a favor and follow the link to read the entire 'how to' article.  It's very much worth it.


Much like the royal courts of the yestermillennium, MFA programs will not grant you an audience unless you approach them with proper letters of introduction. That is why it is of the utmost importance that you secure two to three letters in which your former teachers recommend you as a human.
When requesting these letters from your teachers, you must be sensitive to the fact that teaching is demanding work and leaves very little time for writing letters. A polite thing to do is to create a generic letter to which any teacher can simply sign his or her name. I have included an example below:
Dear College,
I am writing to recommend that you accept Seth Fried to your creative writing program.
Seth was a star pupil in my (please circle one) REMEDIAL MATH COURSE/ANGER MANAGEMENT CLASS/BASIC HYGIENE INTERVENTION. Based on his performance, I am able to say with a high degree of certainty that you would be a fool not to accept him.
I found his intelligence to be so intimidating that after grading his work I was often unable to perform sexually. Frankly, I’m not even certain that he shouldn’t be writing a letter of recommendation for me.
He would truly be an asset to your program. Not only is he talented and focused, but he also does not do hard drugs and has never been convicted of a violent crime.
(sign above)