The Boss Discovers a Gem of a Poem: Late Fragment, by Raymond Carver

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

The Boss Discovers a Gem of a Poem: Late Fragment, by Raymond Carver

Nope. Not about Springsteen. But imagine if it was? Bruce, if you’re out there and if you dislodge a poetical masterpiece (somewhat east of Glory Days) from the dregs of time, please share it with the world. Cuz that would be solid.

No but today, my boss sent me this gem* as she stumbled upon it whilst (or while, if you must not be cockney) conducting an unrelated poem search. Too much back story. Here it is:

LATE FRAGMENT
By Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Rumor has it (Rumor has it!) that this was Carver’s last writing. If you were to write just one last poem, what would it be? If you were to go out tomorrow but not know today but still somehow have the wherewithal to know, this is your last. What would you write? Would it be dark or joyful? Reminiscent or life-affirming or mad? Would you take it with you?

Why does Carver call his last words a fragment? Did he mean to go on? Is this only an excerpt of what Carver meant to be his unabridged last poem? Did he take that part with him? I like to think that.

Here is today’s literature know-how: Raymond Carver and John Cheever are not the same person. Though apparently, they were drinking buddies on several occasions. I say prove it! Show me the picture where the two men are linked arm in arm at the bar. Show me where their FB Timelines intersect.

From NYT, by Stephen King, Nov. 19, 2009

And until mid-1977, Raymond Carver was out of control. While teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he and John Cheever became drinking buddies. “He and I did nothing but drink,” Carver said of the fall semester of 1973. “I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.” Because Cheever had no car, Carver provided transportation on their twice-weekly booze runs. They liked to arrive at the liquor store just as the clerk was unlocking for the day. Cheever noted in his journal that Carver was “a very kind man.” He was also an irresponsible boozehound who habitually ran out on the check in restaurants, even though he must have known it was the waitress who had to pay the bill for such dine-and-dash customers. His wife, after all, often waited tables to support him.

If King can testify to it, I’m in.

It’s good to have writing buddies, and drinking buddies, and buddies who do both separately but never the twain shall meet. Writing can be a tainted virtue. Have faith and, if you don’t have your own Cheever to procrastinate with… well maybe you’re already one great step past them in your creativity! Right on.

Cheever, Carver, Tomato, Cathedral, let’s call the whole thing off.

LW

*Thanks to DN for the fragment.

Writing is Personal? Since when? (Writing Tip No. 7)

The Writing Part

Any writer throughout history will tell you this (yes, I’ve met and asked them all): writing is you and your soul on paper. Once you release your words, they are for public fare. Can you live with what you’ve written with no “take backsies” or rewrites? If you answered yes, then maybe your manuscript is ready to get out there. Maybe that is the key to knowing when you are finished with anything. When you can see your words there, as they stand; they represent you in many meaningful ways. No matter if you’re writing an autobiography or a brilliant fantasy of a world where ordinary people never have to choose between being Team Edward or Team Jacob—if you are writing that book, please let me be your story’s first eyes!—the quest is always the same. Love your words and your words will love you back. It’s a symbiotic relationship we often take for granted. But then again… they are only words.

But you own them! Make them go! Get your crazy eyes on and write how you feel and how it matters. Then throw out that scorned teen’s diary nonsense and start over. Extreme? I’m just guessing. Cuz that’s where I go at some beginnings. But your own bad or cliche* writing can give you perspective and help you move forward with your craft. Take a step back and ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Overall and in pieces. If it’s yours and perfect and you approve, set it free.

Or just keep a stack of thought and story-filled notebooks under your mattress and enjoy them all for you only. May whatever goal you seek for your work come true. And while we’re askin’ for stuff… may God bless ponies and bunny rabbits.

The Reading Part

I am reading Watership Down as an audible.com book. And please don’t tell me that listening to a book can not be claimed as reading a book. I won’t have that argument because it is silly. I’m still getting the story. At any rate, please, no spoilers either. I have never read it and so far as I can see early on, it is quite magnificent. If you are familiar, I am so rooting for Fiver. I mean, why wouldn’t you be? Wait, don’t answer that. We’ll talk again in a few weeks. But the main plot of the story is that a group of bunnies leave the comfort of their home in the meadow because of an unfounded prediction that the entire herd <?what’s a giant group of bunnies that live together called? a common probably.> common would perish. That’s abouts alls I knows and I don’ts know no mores. I said there’d be unecessary plurals at some point earlier today.

But I do need to pick up my kindle again. I tried a few books recently but they all sort of petered my interest quickly out. In fact, the last good novel I read was (semi-ironically) The Reader. It’s a brutally honest look into the heart and mind of a former female Nazi guard and her torrent love affair with a 15 year old. Unbelievable that I had never heard of this book before but it was an excellent read to say least and it would be a wonder if it is not banned. Though I do believe there is a large gap between banning a book and quietly accepting one. I have a feeling that the educational community does the latter and doesn’t really draw attention to the book by teaching it. Though if a student found it on his own, he’d probably be encouraged by the school system. I would hope, anyway. Clearly these are only speculations on a much broader subject. It’s also one I didn’t mean to stumble into. So, with that…

The Part That Talks More About The Picture

Very cool, right? Check more testimonials at “Why I Write.”

The Part Where It Ends For Now

Today, a friend of mine sent me a literary quote and it speaks for itself:

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. — Robert Frost

Fiction involves brain science. Brain science is not fiction. Repeat.

In a recent post, I was talking about the importance of nonfiction when it comes to balanced literacy programs vs. core knowledge. And if that means anything to you at all, you may also have heard about the piece that was in the Times on Saturday about how brain science is alive and well when it comes to reading. All hail brain science!

To begin, how many solid arguments do you suppose there are for advocating fiction in the classroom? Yeah. Hi. Only about a billion!

From NYT:

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

Did you know this? It’s fascinating that a certain part of our brain can detect what cinnamon smells like just by reading the word. How often do you suppose that word comes up in essays or nonfiction? OK, maybe the answer is a lot. Or if it is not found often outside of recipes, then there are bound to be tens of thousands of other descriptive words that any essayist may have in his arsenal. I think the general idea is that, in nonfiction, you can’t use a word like lavender in the same way that you can in a fictional tale. It would not be quite as magical and would stir up only connotations of its color (or smell, depending on context). And yes, soap is soap is soap. Do our brains really register that much of a difference if it’s real or imagined?

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Fall into the story. I’ve tried to understand what that means my whole life. Is there any equivalent to reading a novel? What it does to you or how it makes you feel; how it forms in you (at an early age) so many different ways in which you can view your own world. How you relate to others based on characters you once knew in books. How much of an influence stories were in our lives! If we are read the right ones, I suppose. Whichever those may be.

 … novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. … A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind ( [the] capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions )

It is true that when reading a straight narrative of who, what, where, why, and when, you aren’t often given the emotions behind the facts. And that’s probably how it should be. Students should learn from informative texts as EQUALLY as they do from their stories and their fantasies. Again, heh, I am respectfully (and I guess politically) on both sides of this. Why should one side outread the other? Can’t there be a fair and equal balance? I imagine the problem would come then between grades. If a student has different teachers as he/she progresses through K-12, who’s to say which texts are right for each level? Who is to say? Maybe there doesn’t have to be such a fuss about it after all. Maybe these are only idiosyncrasies in an otherwise scattered and non-centralized educational system. Can any one answer be right?

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Word to that.

-LW

*Interesting note: When you type the word “fiction” into Google Images, the first that pops up is Alice and her croquet racket (above).

Core Knowledge or Balanced Literacy, who’s to say?

I have been hearing rumbles of the “great comeback of nonfiction in today’s schools” for well over a year now. Is it just a crazy fad like Laverne and Shirley or “washing your hands,” or is it the real deal? Surely, I jest on all fronts. Nonfiction text has always been on the rise. What’s funny is that it was never down to begin with!

On Sunday, the NY Times reported that a recent study found that “second graders who were taught to read using the Core Knowledge program scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than did those in the comparison schools.”

What is the Core Knowledge program?

Here is a well written piece of it by the Core Knowledge Foundation’s curriculum page: Explicit identification of what children should learn at each grade level ensures a coherent approach to building knowledge across all grade levels.

That is pretty unapologetic and stringent. It sounds as if they are recommending that our students become drones! However, this next part redeems it.

Every child should learn the fundamentals of science, basic principles of government, important events in world history, essential elements of mathematics, widely acknowledged masterpieces of art and music from around the world, and stories and poems passed down from generation to generation.

I think that just about covers the gamut of nonfiction, don’t you? How teachers deliver the information and what that precise content is is what seems to be at the center of this. The Core Knowledge program strays from the popular guided reading techniques and seems to include very little in the way of teaching reading through fiction or fairy tales.

From NYT:

Reading nonfiction writing is the key component of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is based on the theory that children raised reading storybooks will lack the necessary background and vocabulary to understand history and science texts.

Disagree? I don’t think they are going as far as to say that we should be reading our babies and young children The Wall Street Journal every evening in order to instill a better early vocabulary and context for the world (although I’m pretty sure a nighttime rendition of WSJ might knock the wee ones out cold, bonus!). However, there is definitely a hint of the ludicrous suggestion, albeit never quite as bold.

Nonfiction texts have a place in American education today, absolutely. It is widely agreed that teen boys will prefer to read a harrowing story of a mountain climber’s survival or the true story of an Iraqi war veteran over such blather as Romeo and Juliet or The Great Gatsby. That’s all well and good. We should be pushing them toward the texts they love while using our other hand to nudge them toward the classics. We still need imagination in our lives and in our future. I’m on both sides of this. Ooh, how diplomatic.

Is it naive to think there can be one instructional reading program for all and all for one instructional reading program? Well, if that were the case then someone would have a monopoly on our youth’s minds. That in itself is dangerous enough to give me the willies. But here’s a thing about great nonfiction: it is great because it reads easy, like a book. It is captivating and it can move the reader to think differently or even act differently. That is an incredible power that should never be overlooked when discussing the issue. No matter what the text consists of, if it touches someone, it’s gold.

Setting up an LLC: Fun for you and fun for me!

The first L stands for Literary.

The second L stands for Love.

The C stands for Congratulate me! I’m an LLC! Congrats, says you, so what exactly does that mean? Well, in a nutshell it means that “Literary Wonderland” is now a legally recognized company in the state of <fill in where I am located here>. Literary Wonderland specializes in freelance writing and editorial services. The state recognizes this and any future company that tries to take the name “Literary Wonderland” for similar services is SOL. Sorry Charlie, you snooze you lose. But don’t give up just because I have the ultimate company name. Here are some FAQ’s for going forward with your own righteous entity!

WHY DO I NEED AN LLC?
Good question. If you are planning on branching out on your own and doing a lot of freelancing now or in the future, and if you want to register an original company name with the powers that be, AND if you want to be write off certain purchases that are necessities in your trade, an LLC is the way to go. Sure you can freelance on your own without the added worry of a fancy shmancy company name, but if you want to go the extra mile and make yourself more than just the average Joe looking for work, a company name, web presence, and LLC says to the world: Look at me! I’m serious and I’ve got skills! Holla! And then hire!

HOW DO I GET AN LLC?
It is actually very simple to set up an LLC online. In fact, all I did was to google “setting up an LLC” and a plethora of articles pop up. Duh. Anyone can figure that part out. Then, after you’ve read up on different avenues you can take—you can hire an attorney to set one up for you but why throw your money away?—you can easily find your Secretary of State’s Office website and follow some relatively moron-proof step-by-step instructions to form your limited liability corporation.

DOES IT COST AN ARM AND A LEG TO GET AN LLC?
Easy answer: no.
More detailed answer: Registering your company with the state is not going to bankrupt you by any means. However, if you are currently in a tough situation, it may mean cutting back on something else this month. Do you really need those $6 Starbuck coffees every morning?
My answer: In my situation, it cost $125 to register “Literary Wonderland” as an LLC. I thought that was fair. Then, I tacked on another $50 to get an official sealed certificate so I can frame it and smile at it when I’m feeling low. But you certainly don’t need to do that if you’d rather not. Once you pay the initial fee (which varies from state to state, but not by much), you receive PDFs that include your official company identification number for tax purposes.

IS THAT ALL?
Yup. On the state level, that’ll do ya. Keep in mind though that after you register your LLC with the state, you will then have to also register on the federal level. This is also extraordinarily easy to do and it is FREE. Praise the Lord!

DO I ABSOLUTELY NEED TO REGISTER WITH THE FEDS?
Yes. Like I said though, it’s easy and free. What’s your damage? Are you living off the grid somewhere, holed up in a bomb shelter with a cult and an arsenal just waiting for doomsday? Well if that’s the case brother, you’re biggest concern probably isn’t going to be starting your own freelance writing company. Please, rethink your life. Let the women and children go.

YOU’RE RIGHT, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WAS THINKING! THANK YOU, LITERARY WONDERLAND! I’M GOING TO START MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE!
Well now that’s just super. Glad to hear it. But don’t thank me. Thank the LLC.

-LW

Are your characters your own? (Writing Tip No. 5)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Son of a bitch, Langston, how the hell should I know? My whole life has been about pursuing the ever-elusive literary peach. I think that in recent months I have actually crawled much closer to the answer than ever before. But that still leaves me wilting here, contemplating inspirations. I’ve been writing like a freshly born madman for weeks. Some of it has been solid but most of it has been, um, not. I figure that’s okay because it is better to have written and lost than to not have written at all. Can I share a secret with you?

Yesterday, as my fingers were tapping away at some nonsensical jargon, I happened upon a new character. He just popped up unawares, completely out of the blue. He said, “Oh hello, I am in your story now.” What could I do but welcome him with open arms? Sometimes, as writers, we really have no choice in the matter. At any rate, he seems to be a nice man. He is an artist. He’s not well known and I doubt he ever will be but he has passion and he has style and (let’s not hold this against him, please!) he is French.

His name is Gustav Plonchet and if you steal him from me I swear I will hunt you down and I will murder your entire hard drive while you are sleeping! But here is the funny thing… I know very little of the art world. Truth be told, I wish I knew much more. But as I was writing this scene and Gustav, an amateur painter on the rise, forced himself upon me from virtually out of nowhere (as far as I could ascertain), I let him introduce himself for a bit before something inside me said, “What kind of a name is this?” I knew that he was 100% a figment of my imagination but his moniker sounded real. I actually believed that such a man could exist. His name, to me, sounded as if he was familiar, as if I may have met him on the street 8 or 15 years prior. Naturally, I had to Google him.

No!!

Listen – This is wrong. The rest of this story is extremely coherent and circumstantial. I regret not the fact that I took some time to research my own imaginary character; what I do regret, however, is that I took the time to research him mid-flow. I tweeted about this recently when I was busy thinking unrelated thoughts: Writing is hard. Distractions are easy. Make like a hard-at-work poet and re-verse it.

In a nutshell, don’t get distracted! No matter what! This is such hard advice to follow. Look at me! I’m proof. I am as addicted to the internerd as the next person. In everyday life, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But while you are writing, you should remain, as much as you possibly can, completely and utterly within yourself. Let your story and your characters be your guide. If, by some chance, you feel an irresistible urge to jump on the world wide whatever and go star gazing for nonsense, stow it away for some other day. It’s only going to lead you astray.

You understand.

What is the moral of the story? Here it is: Right smack in the middle of my scene, just after I had introduced this new character I called Gustav Plochet—I had given him a face and a height and a mustache and a few other idiosyncrasies—I decided to put down my pen (ie. minimize MS Word) and, just for shits and giggles, Google him. My train of thought was broken, the scene was broken, and I was taken out of it. In those regards, all was awry. HOWEVER… as it turns out, when I googled “Gustav Plonchet” the aliens in the machine asked me if I meant “Gustave Planche?” Ok, sure why not? So I clicked on that dude’s name and lo and effing behold… guess what? Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche was a literary and art critic in France during the early 19th century. Of course this is absolutely fascinating to me and I have to find out as much about this guy as I possibly can so I can inject part of him into my character. But as I’m doing this, as I’m learning about the real Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche, more and more time is going by and I’m starting to veer further and further away from whoever my own Gustav Plonchet was supposed to be! And the longer I am away from my story, the more I am learning about history—which is good! but not good for storytelling.

All good sense aside though, how cool is it that my Gustav is almost a real dude from like… history? Ha! Anyway, I thought that was pretty righteous. Who knows if, on some level, I knew that and my brain pulled it up as I was just type type typing away. Does it matter? I guess the point is that since all this happened, I have yet to go back to that scene. And that’s partially because I’m afraid that the real Gustave Planche may become my Gustav Plonchet. And is that ok? It’s kind of a mindfuck.

Long story short: save the internerd for the after party.

Write now. Write well. Write on.

-LW

Great books come from okay first drafts (Writing Tip No. 4)

I haven’t read a good book in awhile. I’m listening to Stephen King’s latest “11/22/63″ on my long commute to work every day. Does that count? I’ve just been so busy setting up my web site for my freelance writing/editorial business that may or may not be taking off soon. I’m also running like a madman (I’m training for a marathon), and most importantly, I’m writing my YA book. I gave myself a deadline to have the rough draft finished by March 10 in order to apply for a Work-In-Progress Grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) before the deadline. My current writing goal for this is to put down 2,000 words a day. I’m about 8,000 words behind since I set my goal a couple weeks ago. The words keep piling up day after day! It’s an insane amount of work to slam out in a very short amount of time that rivals the 1,666 words a day challenge of NaNoWriMo each November. I tried NaNoWriMo twice before. I got close both times. About halfway. That’s close, right?

I’m not too worried about the daily writing goal. I wish that my only job was writing. I’ll bet Stephen King laughs in the face of 2,000 words/day. Have you seen the hardcover version of “11/22/63″? You could kill a brontosaurus with it! That is, if you found some kind of rabbit hole in the back of a small town diner, stepped into it, went back in time carrying King’s latest novel, blew past the assassination of JFK all the way to the mesozoic, met a brontosaurs, raised the book and… oh my God, how could you do that? They’re so cute! What’s wrong with you? Gosh.

You may be wondering: how much of my new YA novel is actually good? Well… I’d say about half of it. That’s pretty good! When you’re writing a rough draft, I don’t think you should necessarily put too much emphasis on quality. Did he really just say that? Listen, if your first draft makes you want to puke and die, you might want to reconsider a few plot points. I’m not saying you should strive toward mediocrity (although look at how successful Stephenie Meyer is – oh snap!), but don’t dwell on making it perfect the first time out of the gates either. For me, a first draft is just about getting it down, pouring it out, and moving through the story. Occasionally, I do find myself editing a certain paragraph over and over again. When that happens I try my best to pull away from it, maybe highlight it first, save some notes on it for later. But move along, son. Nothing to see here.

It’s a good philosophy. Works for me, anyway. I once read an interview Tom Robbins (one of my favorite writers, but he hasn’t written anything in awhile has he? What’s up with that?). In the interview, Robbins said that when he writes, he has a general idea of where his story is going to go but he perfects every single sentence in the novel one by one. He writes the opening line, stares at it, re-writes it, re-writes-it, tweaks it, re-writes it again, makes it amazing, then moves on to his second sentence. He works this way through his entire book! I could never do that. I gotta just write, man. Robbins’ way seems like it would give me an ulcer by Chapter Two. But then again, read his opening line to Another Roadside Attraction: The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.

The man may be on to something.

In Protest of SOPA

Growing up, I never could have imagined we’d have virtually unlimited access to a virtually unlimited web of knowledge which is, for the most part, free. These days, I cannot imagine life without it.

In protest of SOPA, Literary Wonderland is standing behind WordPress, Wikipedia, Reddit, and many other sites in an internet-wide blackout protest today.

So SOPA, in the immortal, sage words of Gandalf the Grey, YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

LW signing off and going dark from 8:00am – 8:00pm.

At Any Rate – A Freshman Freelancer’s Opening Numbers

I played around with a freelance calculator today. It popped out the results I suppose I expected. It’s not easy bein’ green. You gotta work in order to be.

In Lynn Wasnak‘s helpful piece, How Much Should I Charge, she states “smart full-time freelance writers and editors annually gross $35,000 and up—sometimes up into the $150,000-200,000 range.” Granted, the article and pay chart that followed were based on the cost of living in 2005-2006*. Has that much changed in six years? I don’t suppose here in 2012, many freelancer writers are making over two-hundred grand. If you are, God bless you and keep up the good work! For the rest of us though, what are we looking at? What is a number that we are comfortable with, a number that will represent for us, not just a means of paying the mortgage, electricity, hot water and food but also with the all too vital feeling of self worth and satisfaction that we, as a species, so desperately need. How could you ever put a price on that?

I’m speaking rhetorically quite a bit here, of course. We each have our individual lifestyles to maintain. To each his own (and hers). Coming from a newbie’s perspective, I can tell you that I’d be happy with no less than a cool thirty million a year.

And the crowd goes wild with laughter!

Did you like that one? Ppbbtthh.

At any rate… <interjection: I just found this entry’s title> I am sure that learning about your billable hours and hourly rates is a learning process just as everything else. One thing’s for certain though: this new gig’s got class.

LW

*I am now realizing that there is a 2011 pay rate calculator on Waznak’s site. D’oh!