only a lunatic would apply shoe-polish to a weasel. (tinymonster) Thu 20 Nov 03 09:43
Count me as interested in any Rockville readings.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 20 Nov 03 11:42
I guess the flip side of that question might make more sense in the context of the release of a brand new book. I can approeciate the time advantage to short essays or stories, but what else is particularly compelling about working with (or reading) short pieces?
Dwight Cruikshank (dwightberg) Thu 20 Nov 03 23:08
Gail, thanks so much for sending the book. I just got it today. I've read five of the essays so far: "Deranged Marriage" "The New Dad" "Born to Pop Pills" "Faith in the Baby" and "Curse of the Hippie Parents" They were all excellent. I pariticularly liked "Born to Pop Pills" and "Faith in the Baby" The latter was so poignant. Titles make a difference to me and I chose the ones that jumped out at me the most. I'm struck by the power of the personal essay. When it's mostly narrative, it's similar to a short story, but these true stories often have more of an emotional heft and sincerity about them. It think, you have to be a really talented writer to achieve the same kind of verisimilitude in fiction. It's probably easier if you write mainly from personal experience rather than imagination. I'd be curious to hear what some of the writers have to say about the difference in the personal essay and short story.
Kristin Ohlson (kristin-ohlson) Fri 21 Nov 03 06:14
Thannks, Dwight, for liking "Faith in the Baby." I'm jetlagged in Ca and up since 4 am, but I'll try to respond cogently to the question Gail asked. I actually have a longer project based on some of the material from my essay, but it's a novel-- and was actually in first draft before I wrote the essay. I think writing this essay (and others about my son's and my highly charged relationship) made problems in the first draft of the novel clearer-- it was too autobiographical, too stuck in what actually happened to take wing as a work of the imagination. Once I realized that, I revised and began cutting the strings between the actual me and Ruby, the main character of my novel; the actual Matt and the Louis of the book. It was quite freeing and changed the novel dramatically (pun intended). So writing about this part of my life in short nonfictional pieces -- dealing with what actually happened there -- makes my fictional handling of material from my life richer.
Hank (hpellissier) Fri 21 Nov 03 06:29
Hi -- I'm Hank Pellissier -- I wrote the story about donating my sperm to the lesbian friend, and getting her pregnant. "My Seeds Are Sprouting in Two Wombs" -- Her son "Nathan" is now four years old (I am called "Uncle Hank"), Nathan played regularly with my daughter Tallulah, who was born just 3 weeks after his birth. I saw "Nathan" regularly, but he never stayed overnight with me, and we didn't get a lot of one-on-one time together. I really can't say that I feel extremely bonded to him, I can't say that at all. I would need to see him at least once a week and I'd need lots of one-on-one time with him, to feel bonded. Plus, I am of course totally absorbed with my daughter. Its possible I'd be more attached to "Nathan" if I didn't have my own child, but I'm not sure even of that. Three months ago, "Nathan" moved to Philadelphia with his moms, one of them is going to grad school there and they plan to stay there for about 5-7 years. So now I don't see him at all, but he will be back for holidays, etc. Oddly enough, my reaction to missing him is that I'm interested in being a donor again. I miss having a child in town that I have that relationship with. I am probably not the greatest donor material, since I am 51 years old, but I did get my wife pregnant again 8 months ago so it is apparent that I have potential. I've talked to 3 different women about the chance of me donating sperm to them, but nothing has yet been agreed on. My wife, amazingly enough, is not at all possessive about my sperm. She figures that she got two kids out of me, and that's all she wants, so I can do what I want with the remainder of my dwindling supply. Anyway, if anyone has questions about my story, I will be checking in occasionally.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 21 Nov 03 10:43
Welcome, Hank. Speaking of titles, "My Seeds Are Sprouting In Two Wombs" is just a wonderful near-brag of a title. It captures your enthusiasm perfectly.
Julene Snyder (julene) Fri 21 Nov 03 13:18
Hi all, First, thanks to cdb for sending me the book. I've read most of it, and have both praise and uh, less effusive praise to bestow: I greatly enjoyed "Meatmarket.com" but that's probably to be expected, since I love anything Heather Havrilesky writes. I particularly enjoyed the long paragraph on page 55, that begins, "Imagine, if you will, trying to buy a food processor without a Best Buy, or a Macy's, or a Williams-Somona. Imagine if you had to go to crowded parties and other tedious functions and search the crowd for someone with an old Cuisinart at home that they might be willing to sell you..." She just cracks me up. She's got a great knack for making writing funny look easy, which it most assuredly is not. In that same vein, I really liked Tim Cornwell's "On Being Ken," not least because I have a 6-year-old girl who is constantly trying to get me to play (shudder) Barbies. The ending had me laughing out loud at the image of Ken in an old bra hanging with the stuffed animals listening to show tunes. Hee. For me, Mary McCluskey's "Isle of Skye" was the tearjerker in the bunch. The last paragraph was so heartbreaking and true.
It would have made more sense over tea (wren) Sun 23 Nov 03 06:48
Andother "hello, all." (gail) sent me a copy of the book, which arrived on Thursday; I finished reading it Friday (I read fast), then went back and reread bits yesterday. My question, for those of you who are here, is: what made you decide to structure the essays the way you did? Some -- (julianjbo)'s, for example, are fairly chronologically arranged; others start in the present, move to a distant beginning, then bring the reader back around to the present ("Faith in the Baby" comes to mind); still others spiral. I'm curious about the decisions in structuring that you each made. (I'm also pre-coffee, so my apologies if this turns out to be gibberish.)
Kristin Ohlson (kristin-ohlson) Sun 23 Nov 03 17:32
For Faith in the Baby, I started in the present because it was a dramatic moment--thus good scene with which to snag the readers' interest-- then drifted to the deep past so readers had a background--then did some kind of expository catching up, then finished on another present episode also with dramatic impact. I didn't much think about it--I just wrote it that way--but I think I selected the first moment because it gave readers a strangers' eye view of my son-- I'm not in that scene at all and I think I was throwing out a challenge--"how would YOU react to this guy?" Then it all becomes more personal, and very very personal at the end. But frankly this was all intuitively done, not thought out-- I'm giving a logic for it by looking backwards and thinking why it might have made sense. by the way, I said earlier that the cool thing about publishing online is that people keep stumbling over this piece and contacting me. Just got another email today from a woman in Australia who got the piece forwarded to her.
Hank Pellissier (hpellissier) Mon 24 Nov 03 14:52
I like to start in the middle of the chronology, or about 10-30% of the way in, and then go back in time to fill in the questions that the reader might have, and then go forward in time from there. I like to start somewhere where the reader has to just wonder ever so slightly what is is going on, but not too much. I also like to start with a dialogue; I almost always do that. I like the way it looks, and the way it jumps the reader into a scene. I used to write plays so it is a longstanding dramatic habit for me to do this --
Hank Pellissier (hpellissier) Mon 24 Nov 03 14:59
I am glad you like the title. I wrote about 9 essays about this lesbian insemination topic, and I really liked writing all the titles. Some of the other titles were "Mating With A Jar" which described the "donating" process, and "Counting The Polliwogs" which was about my sperm analysis.
JBO (julianjbo) Mon 24 Nov 03 15:35
Writing is staring angrily at the blank screen and waiting for that first sentence to sound right. Once the first sentence sounds right, the hang ups come only once every page or every other sentence. Once the first draft is finished, and the elation that a masterpiece has sprung in full bloom from your fingers, comes the disappointment when your /spouse,favorite reader,etc/ tells you they don't get it and you start to redo and redo. And eventually, long after I've lost any of the newness or drama or whatever I was putting in the story in the first place, the editor gets their sticky fingers all over it and makes me go through it again. Since I cannot, at that point, really relate to it anymore as a fresh piece, I usually just go along with them as they gut the story in hopes that the money comes soon. And when it goes up and I see it in print or online, I'm thrilled and enchanted, and grateful to my brilliant editors. Except for the title. No-one's ever kept my titles. I wanted to call my piece, naturally enough, Sierra Doe.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 24 Nov 03 18:26
> Writing is staring angrily at the blank screen and waiting for that first > sentence to sound right. Once the first sentence sounds right, the hang ups > come only once every page or every other sentence. I wish that were true! I know what you mean about getting that first sen- tence right, but my experince (iin songwriting and nonfiction) is that you're never over the hump.
Theresa Pinto-Sherer (theresa-ps) Mon 24 Nov 03 18:28
i have to say that Julian Orenstein captured the entire process of writing as i see and feel it. for me, the first sentence, the opening idea that i want to convey is hardest. once that's done, the rest does flow, almost too quickly sometimes as ideas shoot into my head and i can't get them down fast enough, which i'm sure makes for a greater headache later on as the editor has to try and make sense of my stream of consciousness. but not before my husband has a criticism or two that sends me into a spiral of anger and insecurity. eventually, it does get submitted and hopefully published and paid for. and my titles too never get kept. i can't recall exactly but i think my original title was "if found, please do not return." to answer the question more specifically, i don't really consider chronology or structure when i'm writing.
It would have made more sense over tea (wren) Tue 25 Nov 03 09:11
I did some counting today. Thirty-nine essays. All nine in "Pluses and Minuses" are about heterosexual relationships. Two of the six in "Multiplication" are about lesbian relationships (one primarily, one shares the focus with a heterosexual couple). Out of the other essays, I believe four are on mother-daughter relationships. I didn't notice gay male relationships or sister-sister relationships as the focus of any essays. Does this reflect the content of the Mothers Who Think section of Salon? A conscious decision in the editing process? A perception that the essays of that sort were less universal?
David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Nov 03 09:22
Luck of the draw? Choosing pieces based on their merit rather than populating a demographic procrustean bed?
only a lunatic would apply shoe-polish to a weasel. (tinymonster) Tue 25 Nov 03 09:43
That'd be my guess. Though I had to look up "procrustean bed." What a great phrase! Thanks, David!
Jacques Delaguerre http://www.delaguerre.com/delaguerre/ (jax) Tue 25 Nov 03 09:57
Yah, not knowing stuff like that can leave you struggling like Sisyphus, caught between Scylla and Charibdis until the Greek Kalends ...
It would have made more sense over tea (wren) Tue 25 Nov 03 10:10
Well, that's what I'm wondering. The lack of sister-sister relationships in the essays was very noticeable to me, and from there I went back and made a few notes. I don't know the demographics of the essay writers for the whole history of Mothers Who Think, and I'm curious -- so I'm asking, not grinding some imaginary axe.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Nov 03 10:13
I have to apologize to wren. I did not intend me response to be as snarky as it looks upon review. I did not assume the grinding of an axe, wren, and I apologize for the wording of my post.
It would have made more sense over tea (wren) Tue 25 Nov 03 10:19
It would have made more sense over tea (wren) Tue 25 Nov 03 10:37
To clarify: my closest relationships with my bloodkin at present are with my sister and her children, so I'm very aware of sister bonds. For that matter, there are no essays on extended family (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, godparents) that I can recall -- which could be another set of questions, such as: did the title "Mothers Who Think" somehow dissuade people from thinking in general family terms when they submitted essays? (Of course, how can one determine the answer to that? Strike that question as unanswerable.)
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 25 Nov 03 12:14
Well, the name of the section was changed to "Life" some time ago, although it may have been partly in response to advertisers thinking only moms would read under the MWT banner. Perhaps Jennifer will stop back by and say more from the editorial viewpoint.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 25 Nov 03 19:13
I realized that Hank didn't get to address a variant of the first question I thought of last week: I'm wondering if you thought about what it would be like for the kids to read this when you wrote it, and what you think about that now. And for anyone who doesn't have the book in hand, the story of seeds sprouting in two wombs is at http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/1999/10/12/sperm_donor_2/ It's got some very funny passages.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 25 Nov 03 19:18
I also wonder: do you multitask on different writing projects, or you work on one thing at a time? Anyone got a take on the rhythm and workflow aspects of writing?
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