Lessons and Mistakes in the Workshop

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Back in the spring when I handed over the first two chapters of my novel to my fellow creative writing peers, I got a stomachache that lasted five days. Professor Doyle mentioned in the beginning of the semester that we should keep our stories below 30 pages. I was handing them a manuscript consisting of 32 pages, plus it was barely even double spaced (1.5 inches). It felt as though I was putting them through hazing, but it needed to be done. I wasn’t getting efficient reviews from the four people I’d asked to read my stuff (one of which was my mom). A “Oh, it is good” hardly helps.

Many published authors have said that one must keep their stories secret until they’re completed and ready for the public eye. I feel like such a rookie, though, and I am desperate for criticism. There were several points in those chapters that I felt uncertain about and I had to know what was clear and what was confusing or illogical.

Having your work picked apart and studied by other people always feels like going through brain surgery without the pain killers and the medication that puts you to sleep. There is only the paralysis and the itching sensation of being wide awake. At the end of it all, I was glad the professor and my classmates ripped the chapters apart, because it wiped away my doubts and I returned to the dorms with several handy ideas. I felt invigorated! I also needed a strong cup of coffee.

(found on Tumblr)

(found on Tumblr)

 

Important things to remember during the workshop

Now that you’ve heard this anecdote, I’d like leave you with some thoughts I’ve gathered from these academic experiences.

Everyone sitting down in that classroom has a different kind of imagination, taste, depth, passion, many/few interests and (hopefully) a style of their own. (By the way, when I say ‘depth,’ I mean how far they might go in using metaphors, symbols, foreshadowing, et cetera, and if they have a moral or message in their pieces.) What you all got in common is that you’re learning. Sure, there might one or two writers who are absolutely amazing and you wonder why they’re not famous yet. Others might write predictably or stupidly. Regardless, everyone has the chance to improve and grow.

* Be fearless and even if you are afraid, run into the fire. Most great writers suffer a little in the process. And remember, even after your work is done and published, some will still complain about something or other. So you might as well do your best, turn in the script and see what happens.

* Listen to your peers. Respect that people have their opinions. Take some advice in consideration, dismiss some advice. It’s up to you to do what you will.

Don’t be a dick about it when you give out critiques and suggestions. Just don’t.

* Don’t become defensive or hurt. Remember that your peers aren’t in your head and they judged the piece by itself. If you failed to convey an idea or emotion, or whatever the fault might be, you have the chance to fix it later.

Whatever your literary taste might be, leave it out when you read someone else work. Whether science fiction or historical fiction or whatever genre isn’t your cup of tea, it doesn’t matter. Read the damn thing, write down what’s good, bad and ugly, and get over yourself.

If you’re a “grammar Nazi” like me, or if you do everything in your might to mix it up in your writing, please avoid growing irritated by the typical ‘porcelain skin,’ ‘cold as ice,’ the mistaken there-their-they’re (oh my God) and other details that might come up. I’ve seen this so many times. It’s funny how young writers think they’re so clever when they are just re-inventing an expression that has existed for centuries. It might seem petty, but as Sherlock Holmes once said, “To a great mind, nothing is little.” The details — or lack thereof, if you’re a minimalist (cool) — put your piece in a whole other light. My advice is that you take a deep breath and write some suggestions in the margins.

Participate! PARTICIPATE! Go to those sessions with something to say, and make sure to have both admiration and critique up your sleeve. Certain people hardly say a peep, which bugs me. I view workshops as literary discussion; the piece we’re talking about just happens to be done by an amateur. It doesn’t make it less substantial, though.

* Have fun in the workshop. Yes, you’re here to do a job, but you are in the same boat so try to be friends (or friendly) and relax.

Copies of the manuscript I gave to my peers.

Copies of the manuscript I gave to my peers.

Before I wrap this up, I would like say thank you to the good men and women who took time out of their busy day to read my stuff. Your advice helped me immensely, and thanks to you, this novel has moved forward much more smoothly and I’m still keeping some things in mind as my protagonist tackles her challenges. And thank you to those who continue in assisting me.

Well then. Back to the workbench.

The Animals in my backyard

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Written by a college student on her summer break (and who doesn’t have much else to do).

 

At 4:30 every morning, as the sun begins to rise, the birds break into song. They seem to feel the day approach even when clouds cover the sky. One morning I stirred awake briefly from the thunder growling and heard rain patting on the bedroom windows. My sleepy eyes observed the water pebbles running down the glass, noticing how peculiarly dark it felt outside. Then I squinted and returned to my hazy dreams, faintly hearing the birds’ muffled yet eager peeps and tweets. It is hardly a quiet suburban neighborhood with all these different singers performing in the trees and on the sidewalks.

We receive daily visits from the American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Yellow Warbler, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Cowbird, some swallows, Black-capped Chickadee and I think some others, but I’m not sure which. We’ve had one Red-winged Blackbird, an American crow and a Cooper’s Hawk coming by several times. I remember one afternoon when my parents and I were sitting in front of the house, we saw the hawk circle downward and suddenly swooping after a Robin. Not idea who won the battle; they flew away so quickly and out of sight, the predator close to his prey’s tail.

My drawing of a black-capped Chickadee.

My drawing of a black-capped Chickadee.

There is one Mourning Dove who’s been hanging out around our house since May. For some time, she lived in the rain gutter right by my brother’s window. She raised two kids there. Whenever we stuck our heads out the window to look at her, mommy dove and her little bird kids would freeze. They didn’t so much as twitch. I think she lives somewhere else now, but you can still hear her clearly when she sadly coos and hoos.

On a happier note, we got a humming bird couple eating from the red and yellow flowers. I have only seen Missus Hummy, but my mom and dad have been fortunately enough to spot Mister Hummy, too. Beautifully green, black head, sparkly red chest and smoothly waving his bottom tail to maintain balance.

Not every animal is a cutie, though. There is one hot-tempered small squirrel hanging out in our yard. I’ve nicknamed him Azog — after the pale Orc from The Hobbit, you know — because he has a serious Napoleon complex and sputters at everyone. He also looks different from the other squirrels; he is solid brown all over save from his belly and throat which are covered with white fur. For a small fellow he has managed to stretch his territory all around our yard, occupying all the trees and fighting and/or chasing other squirrels coming nearby. He sputters at birds and us, too. He’s tried to sneak into our house several times — we leave the backdoor open — and we’ve had to scare him off. Once he hopped to a tree, climbed to a branch above our heads, and he angrily looked at us and snarled at me and my brother. Crazy bastard. Plus, a few days ago after a harsh-winded storm had pulled through the neighborhood, we heard Azog having a fit when he realized one of his “highways” had blown off. Earlier we had watched him clean this longer branch hanging between two trees from its twigs and leaves. He had used it a lot to get around and it’s funny how the storm destroyed “his property” and how mad he got.

Finally, I want to tell you about Sparks, the baby deer that has used our neighbor’s yard as a daycare. Mama deer has left it there several times and a couple times in our yard, too, under a spruce. We haven’t seen him for a week now, but before she decided to leave him someplace else, we’d see Sparks almost daily since the end of May. He is so adorable and curious. We think the mama is pretty young, because sometimes she has appeared to have forgotten where she left her baby. Small deer don’t evaporate any smell. Cool, huh? That leaves the moms opportunity to go off on their own for a while, to eat or sleep or something, while the babies remain hidden and safe. Sparks has gotten up many times, though (impatient I can imagine) and explored the area.

"Sparks." Copyrights belong to the family Palm.

“Sparks.” Copyrights belong to the family Palm.

What creatures do you people have roaming outside your house? I don’t know about you, but I find it fascinating how animals go about their day like nobody’s business.

 

Father’s Day 2014: The Greatest Man I Know

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1995

1995

 

This wonderful man has taught me so much about love, friendship, work ethic, owning up to your mistakes and responsibilities, humor, morals, marriage, choosing your battles, and hundreds of other important life lessons. I’m proud to have such a kind, funny and compassionate dad. Happy Father’s Day!!

 

 

 

From the writer’s suburban home

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I write to you once again, my friends, after a long moment of silence.

I have purposely avoided watching or reading the news lately. I’ve focused a lot of my energy on writing (and been surprisingly productive). As a young journalist, it’s a lazy gesture on my part and as a citizen of the Earth, egocentric. For a while, though, I felt exhausted by work and by the troubles of my social life so I didn’t feel like listening to the stories outside the quiet suburbs. My summer has so far been largely filled by the sounds of peace: a vast range of bird songs, lawnmowers, hoses washing driveways, the clunks of garden shovels digging in dirt, sprinkle systems sizzling, that toddler Molly ringing the bell on her three-wheeler, and so on.

It’s been selfish of me to not show interest, but I can only take so much worldly bullshit. There’s too much bullshit. Think about it.

Young girls in Nigeria getting kidnapped. Planes crashing. The military controlling the government in Thailand, Egypt, and God knows where else. A psychotic, women-hating man stabbing his roommates and shooting innocent people on the streets. Murders and missing people being reported on Fox 2 News Detroit every single day.

General Motors recalling hoards of cars just because they wanted to save money on fixing the problems in the first place. They saved 50 cents per vehicle. My mother better not lose her job just because some morons made bad decisions. Anyway, my point is, why is it so damn hard for people to be kind and helpful to each other? And how hard is it to be honest and willing to act morally and responsible? This pointless cruelty and ignorance is so beyond me. 

And as you surely saw, even when I try to avoid the news, they still reach me. It is impossible to overlook facts, especially with a Twitter and Facebook account. I follow/like several news sources after all. I wish had some wisdom to contribute to this observation, other than the “can’t we just be friends?” attitude. I suppose the questions I previous asked are something to think about at least. Moving back home has once again forced me to consider how small I am compared to everything else in existence. I got little money and even less power to bring positive change on a large scale. I am only a writer with tales and poems to offer, and hopefully some neat messages regarding friendship, chivalry and curiosity.

Some favorite books.

Some favorite books.

Mother’s Day 2014: The hunter and my friend

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Happy Mother’s Day! This is a picture of my mom when she was training our dog Mascot. She taught him how to track and several other disciplines. I’m almost as old as she was here (23). Wish I could say I could hunt, like she already knew how to do then, too. Fun fact: she was five months pregnant with Simon when she shot her second bull moose; 8 pointer, I think.

I love this woman beyond belief, and I am so grateful to have such a great friend and role-model.

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October 1987

Why I’m Running the Boston Marathon Again

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authorajpalm:

BOSTON STRONG

Originally posted on TIME:

I never considered myself a runner, but five years ago my best friend Brad called to tell me he had cancer. Brad was always the fit one, and I decided running could be a way for me to support him and raise money for his cause, the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, which benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Before I knew it, I had signed up for my first marathon: the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The evening before the race my family walked down Boylston Street to scope out where they should stand during the marathon. We decided the area by the finish line would be too packed, and so they chose an area further back. When we passed the medical tent, my 14-year-old daughter said to me, “Dad, I hope you don’t end up here.”

The marathon was tough, but when I reached the 20-mile mark, I remember thinking to…

View original 692 more words

February gallery

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The art students of Central Michigan University displayed their talent at the gallery by the UC last month. It was quite the event when I arrived that Saturday afternoon for the reception. The main room and the sideshow were packed with people, plus when you crossed the hallway connecting the two rooms, you had to walk closely along the wall to leave space for people to pass (bit inconvenient since one of the snack bars stood there, too). I saw both students and folks of old and very young age. It was thrilling having little boys and girls observing the paintings and the sculptures, because I think it’s so important for them to see life beyond cartoon network and video games and plastic toys.

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“American Psycho” by Taylor Wattles

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“The Factory” by Kate Mielens

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“Boboli Gardens” by Kate Mielens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m curious to know whether the artist looked at a photograph or drew from real life or mustered the image by pure imagination. The details are both amusingly sloppy and elegant.

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painting by Katy McAllister (I shamefully didn’t write down the title for this one; I think it was along the lines: “The Last Shrine of the Fallen Empire.”)

 

 

 

This is a painting by my friend Katy, which I really love. As someone who knows her good taste for romance and who has read some of her writing, it comes as no surprise that she created something resembling a world that has long passed.

I particularly like the fog hovering throughout the landscape and how beautiful the water looks. I know from experience that drawing or painting water is on of the hardest things to recreate.

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“Dusk” by Larissa Parker and Chrissy Waggoner

Honestly want to find the artist and buy this deer painting from them (to hang in the living room of my future apartment). It’s amazing!

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“Natasha” by Janna VanderBand

 

In addition to my personal favorite paintings, I took pictures of some 3-dimensional art work.

Nowadays, it feels as though older photographs are art within themselves. These are of course creations of this modern world, but the message stands, I believe.

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“Mitzi” by Nikolai Westgare

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“Mitzi” by Nikolai Westgare (part 2)

 

I spent a good whole minute staring at this amusing Viking book, or whatever I should call it. I want to touch the pages really badly, but there was no sign granting me permission to touch or move the art so there I remained still, scared that the gallery police would cuff me and drag me outside if I caved. Then another admirer of the weird stuff snapped some pictures and stood there with me for a moment, staring as well. We made a pact to touch the pages together, which we did, and we laughed and we scurried from the crime scene.

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“Trudge” by Kathryn Hoffman

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“Hidden Demons” by Melissa Misley

 

 

 

Not sure what to say about this one other than that it’s frightening and intriguing.

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this slideshow. However, nothing beats the real experience. I advise you taking the initiative and visiting a gallery or museum, because the atmosphere, no matter which kind of art, does such a great job in removing a person from daily ordinance of work and schedules and shores. 

Novel in-progress (2): Alissa Nutting and the Inner Editors

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The fiction reading with ‪#‎AlissaNutting‬ was such a cool event! HILARIOUS writer! Good talk during the Q&A and I loved seeing my peers there. I don’t know every single one personally, but I recognized almost all the faces in the Barber room tonight. We’re like this tiny community of writers and poets here in Mount Pleasant. Pretty neat.

Unclean-Jobs-Cover

Alissa Nutting visited the college library the other day for a fiction reading and read a passage from her intriguing, controversial first novel Tampa. She also read one of her stories from the short story collective book Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls; this story (I think I understood) was about the toxic elements within a magazine publication and the editor who fell apart because of the business and her determination and ambition. I could be wrong. I have to go back and re-read that story at one point. Professor Doyle assigned our class to read “Dinner” from that book, and I still have issues grasping what the fuck that story is supposed to mean. Good story nonetheless.

Once Nutting had completed the obstacle course, she took some questions from the audience. I pride myself in being the first person to raise her hand.I asked, “Where do you get your stories from?” She said she got them from news articles and from cultural aspects (not her exact words, the latter, but something to that effect). She included an example: ‘One day, Dominoes announced that they were going to put a restaurant on the moon. I thought that was so great, because when I look at the moon, the one thing I think is missing is a Dominoes pizza place.’ So she wrote a story about a pizza place on the moon. Cool stuff.

The best part of that Q&A in the Barber room that evening was when someone (I think it was Gino) asked what she does about her self-doubt. Yes, there is no question whether a writer (or poet for that matter) ever has self-doubt. We do. I can tell from personal experience that once you spend enough time with yourself — and writing is rather an activity of solidarity — your mind will begin playing tricks on you. Nutting said her “inner editor” is a bald man who steps in when she least expects it and he waves his arms in flipper movements, like, “Not good, not good!”

GardenGnome

Road blocks and my Gnome

My self-doubt and inner editor is a fucking gnome. Not a cute garden gnome with a red hat and white beard; not at all nice like the one in that travel agent commercial that shouts, “Smell the roses!” No, he’s a mean bastard and looks a lot like the garden gnomes from Harry Potter, resembling a stupid potato with arms and legs; sometimes he wears a dark wool cap. His hobby is to crawl on my shoulder whenever I get writer’s block and to hiss in my ear, “You suuuuuuuuuck~!”

It was especially bad once I finished chapter three and realized I had no idea how to kick the plot into gear; I had only evolved some key moments of the book. So I stepped back for a while and revised what I’d written so far. That whole time, my Gnome hissed, “Your story is too complicated. It’s boring. No one is going to want to read it. That Francesca character is such a bitch, I hate her. Why are you wasting your time with this? HOW MANY times have you revised the first chapter? Like ten times. What~ does~ that~ tell~ you~? Get a real job.” Eventually, as I always do, I flicked him off my shoulder and shook off the insults like a dog shakes off water from his fur.

I’ve struggled with my novel for over two weeks and it wasn’t until Monday when I finally knocked down that particularly thick wall. Right before I went to sleep that night, I lied down in my bed, closed my eyes and walked straight into my mind palace (you win brownie points if you get that reference). Pretty awesome journey I traveled as a result, because as I answered certain questions and filled some extremely deep plot holes, the characters showed me where the story would go. It might seem insane to you that I simply lied there and daydreamed for over an hour, but slowing down and thinking does wonders.

I might have lost sleep because of it, working on the novel that is, but sleep is for the weak anyway. This week I’ve found it so annoying that I need to sleep in the first place. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t mind staying awake as long as I pleased so I could spend those eight hours writing instead. Anyhow, now that I’ve sorted out the foundation of the story, I might be able to finish the entire draft by May as planned.

Spring Break ’14

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Boys get trucks and naked chicks on their birthday cards. Girls get glitter and flowers on theirs. Most of the staff at Bath&Body Works refers to the female customers as “dear” or “miss” (which I adore). The woman behind the cash register fan-girled with me about Benedict Cumberbatch when I paid for ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’… 

If I had money I could spare, I’d get a ticket to London, or someplace warm. I feel especially strongly about the latter today, because it’s snowing AGAIN. For cough! Just as it was getting warmer outside — funny how 40 degree weather feels warm; as though we’re slowly waking up from a frostbite coma. Before yet another winter storm hit, it really felt like spring break.

1) “On the way home” – Birds and job hunting

I had an internship interview in Cass City, almost two hours away from school and fortunately only a little off the usual route home. I dreaded having to leave my brother waiting in the car in the meantime, let alone visiting a random small town I had never heard of. As a side-note, Simon said that small towns creeped him out so that didn’t make me feel better. This was an internship at Cass City Chronicle, a weekly newspaper, and they could only afford to hire one person. As far as I knew, I was going against seven people. I walked into their office fully aware that this was the first job interview that actually mattered to me.

Long story short, the editor liked me and I did well, but someone was better, I guess (Isn’t that always the case?) and he let me know in an e-mail two days later that they’d hired this person instead.

Additionally two days later, my teacher and mentor Tracy announced that the Society of Professional Journalist had acknowledged our organic reporting project and awarded it “Mark of Excellence Award regional winner.” We’re going to attend a conference in April at Ohio State University, which I look forward to! It feels as though almost everyone I meet from the journalism department at CMU talks how import it is to NETWORK, and now I get so see what that is all about.

MARK OF EXCELLENCEWhile we were on the road, Simon and I saw a lot of cool birds (bet they’re pissed now that it’s gotten so cold again): Many flocks of black, emerald-shimmering European Starlings sat in groups along the pavement, which made me nervous; I slowed down a little every time they lifted from the ground so I wouldn’t hit them mid-flight. You know, I’m talking about those birds that fly in formation, like a moving cloud gently and calmly drifting in the sky.

We saw a sharp-shinned hawk and a family of female ring-necked pheasants picking on the earth in a field. Some rock pigeons hung out on a power line over the bridge when we arrived in Bay City. The river looked frozen solid and was covered with untouched slow; the sight of that could fool you, because if it wasn’t for the bridge, you could have thought there was no river at all, that it was part of the landscape. We saw some raven, too, or crows, not sure which.

My mom and I like to bird-watch, in case you’re wondering. We get many feathered visitors during the summer, plus a bat that lives in the neighbor’s attic; I think they like our pool. The bat, Bruce, passes through to take some sips from the pool when it’s hot. The Canadian Geese and Northern Shovelers certainly love to swim in it. I know only a few by name actually; I had to look up some names here.

European Starling (nestwatch.org)

European Starling (nestwatch.org)

2) “Couch potato” – Movies, movies…

Other than celebrating a friend’s birthday, doing some much-needed shopping and having a (“serious”) movie night that lasted till 2 in the morning (‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’), I’ve been very lazy. I have one homework and a row of scholarships to handle, but since yesterday, I’ve been swimming in a spiral of procrastination.

I’ve watched ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and three episodes of the BBC show ‘House of Cards’, I’ve finished a book called Songs for the New Depression, spent more time on Tumblr and YouTube than I care to admit, and it’s not getting any better. I brought all three ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies to my room this morning. I’m doomed.

Favorite from tumblr (theclassicreader); sums up the essence of my spring break. Wine and martinis and large meals of culture.

Favorite from tumblr (theclassicreader); sums up the essence of my spring break. Wine and martinis and large meals of culture.

The most productive things I’ve done so far are cleaning my room (there was a mountain of crap hidden in the corner behind my armchair), revising the three chapters from my novel (they’re good for now), and catching up with the family (I haven’t been home for three weeks). My other brother Kris is now one of the managers at Five Guys; that’s pretty. I’ve started calling him “BOSS” any chance I get.

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