Tag Archives: Writing

Writing in the Rain

Rio de FlagI may not be jumping around like Gene Kelly in the rain (writing while dancing is ill-advised, and I would know, because I’ve lost four laptops that way). But I do like writing when it rains.

Growing up, I usually had plenty of free time during summer and Arizona’s monsoon season. In college, I took summer classes during the rainy months, and spent a lot of time indoors next to a window, writing. I associate rain with writing, and I enjoy desert rainstorms. The temperature drops, and the moisture makes everything smell more vibrant, the pine trees and shrubs and soil. Even an overcast sky makes me want to write, even if what I end up writing is terrible.

It’s safe to stay inside when it rains. Overcast skies mean lightning. In the Midwest, rain can sometimes mean tornadoes and flooding, and in Arizona the monsoons always accompany flash flooding, to the point that Arizona even passed a so-called Stupid Motorist Law, which requires drivers who enter flooded areas to pay for the cost of being rescued. I can’t write about rain like it’s a benevolent god when the opposite is equally true. Rain can destroy. But having grown up in a state that, in a few years, will have no water at all has made me appreciate the rain in all its destructive beauty. Noah had the better apocalypse. Drought is not the end I would choose, but it’s what I’ve been dealt.

Rain also feels safer to me, somehow. A swollen, grey-haired overcast sky stretching from horizon to horizon feels like a second roof over the roof over my head. I can hide behind rain curtains, like I’m waiting to go on stage and give a speech or monologue or stand-up routine. It precipitates anticipation, motivates me to prepare for something, but I never find out what. So I prepare by writing, and after the clouds dissipate, I wait for it to rain again.

-jk

Welcome to the University of Hell; Here’s Your Parking Pass

ParkingOn behalf of Satan and his minions and CEOs and several charitable people who donated buildings to us, we would like to welcome you, personally, to the University of Hell.

You’ll find your freshman orientation packets in your complimentary tote bag, along with two coupons for two free meals in the Hell Union. The cost of the tote bag and coupons will be included in your student fees, which will be calculated in total for you at the beginning of Finals Week. You will also find information about parking, which will become much easier with our new Henry Kissinger Bill Gates Memorial Super Tennis Parking Lot, located on south-east campus near the Ninth Circle Dorm. This year, parking passes are $786, which will also be included in your student fees. For those who don’t have a car, you’ll be glad to help pay for the parking passes of your fellow peers, or else.

The University of Hell is honored to serve our new students. Our Beelzebub Administration Center is located in the middle of campus, at the suggestion of UH graduate Jeremy Bentham, and our administrators are always open for questions, suggestions, and even concerns during their office hours from 3:00 AM to 3:15 AM every fifth Tuesday of the month. Feel free to direct all questions regarding student fees, parking, jobs, recreation, and housing to one of our 4,000 departmental administration management directors (we call them the DAMD for short). You’ll be paying for their salaries and Satan’s swimming pool of virgins’ blood with your student fees, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of their time.

Please feel free to tour our new Adam Smith Institute for Pharmaceutical Studies, or the recently constructed Brett Favre School of English Literature and Mass Entertainment, or our Walt Disney School of Criminal Justice and Gender Studies located next to the Pit of Eternal Fire, where football practice is held.

If any of our guests today find a lack of toilet paper, please do not be alarmed. We are working on a new system in which students pay for the necessary quantity of toilet paper with their student ID cards, and their student accounts are then charged for the toilet paper they use on the spot. If students lose their ID card for any reason and are unable to pay for toilet paper, they will be reminded that it is useful to carry their class syllabi with them at all times in the event of an emergency.

The University of Hell values you. Ever since its founding by Satan, who received his Hotel and Restaurant Management degree from Yale, UH has prided itself in the quantity of its students. We are here to help you help us, and we want to help you in doing so.

From all of us here at Hell, welcome to higher education.

-jk

Playlist For a Novel

Flagstaff Mars HillI’m writing a novel this summer, or at least until the semester starts. Without divulging too much, it’s a crime novel, which is a return to my literary roots. I grew up reading detective fiction by Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, and others. The novel is (unsurprisingly) set in Flagstaff, Arizona, and mixes fictional and historic criminal cases.

Like most writers, I listen to music when I write. It blocks out distractions and helps put me into whatever mood I need to be in to write, which for me changes from story to story. I try to create a certain atmosphere for myself when I write, something that suits the tone, plot, characters, and setting I’m writing about. For most short stories and essays, I listen to one or two tracks on repeat, usually folk music or classical. A novel, though, is different. I need numerous moods for the story’s numerous characters. So I created a playlist catered to the overlapping atmospheres I want to write in.

The songs in this playlist work together eclectically. Some songs suit a specific character (“The Boxer” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”) while others suit the plot (“No Man Knows My Destiny” and “Runaway”). For a crime novel, I want mostly minor keys and acoustic sounds, with strategically surreal lyrics (crimey music, in other words). More than anything, I want to feel immersed into the fictional world I’m working in, a sense of a world that is closed in, identifiable, and aesthetically comprehensive.

My novel playlist is as follows:

“19th Nervous Breakdown” by The Rolling Stones

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” by Father John Misty

La Llorona” by Sofia Rei

“When I’m Small” by Phantogram

“Sorcerer” by Junction

“The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin

“Tam Lin” by Fairport Convention

Bye Bye Macadam” by Rone

“The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel

“Runaway” by Nice as F*#k

“Seeds” by Moses Sumney

“No Many Knows My Destiny” by Ryan Biter

“El Mayoral” by Sofia Rei

“Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family

How It Went Down” by Dark Dark Dark

“Man On the Moon” by Moses Sumney

You can find most of the music I’m listening to in this playlist. What music do you listen to while writing? Let me know in the comments. I’m always open to new tunes.

-jk

 

Open Letter From the Militant Pacifists of America

PeaceIn light of America’s 154 mass shootings since January of this year (in which four or more people were shot), we in the Militant Pacifists of America would like to openly express our adamant distaste for violence in all its forms. As pacifists, we want peace in every aspect of life, and seeing as that is less and less likely with each passing mass shooting, we are breaking from our flagship organization, the Flaccid Pacifists of America, and are starting a new party. It’s time to take pacifism seriously, and we mean dead seriously.

Jesus once said that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. But Jesus died by the cross, and it is our belief that dying by a sword is much better than crucifixion.

Obviously, other pacifists have made great strides in violently opposing violence. For example, we praise Bernie Sanders for being one of two senators to vote against new sanctions against Russia and Iran, and we are even more grateful for Sanders for, as implied in a recent New York Times article, providing the pacifist rhetoric for yet another gun-involved shooting implemented by an angry man. In truth, we think that Sanders does not go far enough with his militantly pacifist rhetoric. He refuses to do what all democratic socialists secretly want, which is to first make people aimlessly enraged about what the NRA calls the “gun-hating political elites” and “radical billionaires” and then arm said people with assault rifles to protect them from those elites and billionaires. By not living by the sword, Sanders is much easier to crucify.

We in the MPA advocate militant peacefulness. We want to move on from our history of chanting “Give Peace a Chance” while aligning our chakras and stuffing roses in mailboxes, and instead want to incite mob violence against people who advocate violence (excluding ourselves, of course). Early pacifism was about advancing alternatives to the military-industrial complex and critiquing state-sanctioned forms of violence like police militarization, removal of medical insurance for the victims of various shootings, and of course Sarah Palin, but now we’d like to take a page from the NRA: directionless rage.

Our official stance to advance peace, love, and solidarity among all peoples is to heavily arm those people and tell them that love is tough. We’re starting a war for peace. If people won’t give peace a chance, we’ll have to force them to. Had they lived a little longer, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Emile Arnaud would have seen that while there obviously is no just war, if we have to go to war to show how unjust it is, that’s okay too. We pacifists are tired of being crucified and stabbed by swords. We want in on the action and, of course, the millions of dollars the NRA spends during any given campaign season to keep everyone armed and angry.

Peace, love, and ammunition!

-jk

The Place-Based Writer Goes Places

Moscow Idaho“I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can’t read them. I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment.” –John Steinbeck, Travels With Charlie

I’ve been on the road since June 4. I’ve traveled from Nebraska to South Dakota to Montana to Idaho to other parts of Idaho, and I will soon be on my way to another part of Idaho, then Utah, then Arizona. I’ve stayed in a lot of places, and seen a lot of places, and have plenty to write about. The problem is that writing on the road is difficult. Even John Steinbeck, known for writing about people (and dogs) traveling from point A to point B, knew that he had to let his stories stew. I’ve never had that kind of patience. I want to write the moment I get an idea.

I’ve often been accused of being a place-based writer. This makes sense, I suppose, because I place myself in bars with my laptop, then place large quantities of alcohol into my mouth, then place my fingers on the keys and type until I forget which place I’m in. But I also enjoy describing places. Setting is crucial for my stories, because most of my recent writing has focused on historical situations. Most of my stories cannot take place elsewhere, and taking place is an apt description of most of my plots. Setting, time and place, has more influence over my characters than I do, sometimes.

Right now, I wish I could write about the places I’ve seen, notably Moscow, Idaho,where I will live for three years starting in August, where I will hopefully get an MFA in creative writing. The town is small but quirky, surrounded by hills and distant mountains. There is a bagel shop that serves beer and a video rental stores on the same street. I drove into Moscow through a rain storm and misty curving roads, past industrial bridges and tall, deep green patches of forest and small, isolated towns. The campus is old and maintains most of its original architecture. It is a patchwork quilt of red bricks and green vegetation. Under overcast skies and in silvery clouds of mist, the town is surreal, even spooky. It’s the ideal place for a writer.

Not that I need an ideal place. I don’t want to be so tied to place that I need somewhere specific to be comfortable, to be myself. But I will admit that, as far as places go, Moscow looks like a lovely place to spend three years writing about all the other places I wish I was in.

-jk

All the Great Writers I Don’t Want to Be

Stay in Designated AreaNaturally, writers compare authors’ works to one another. This is useful in workshops, reviews, and literary criticism, and I think it’s inevitable. Writer friends of mine draw inspiration from Ernest Hemingway, others from Cormac McCarthy, and others from detective fiction, and I can see this inspiration in their writing, not as plagiarism but as influence.

More and more, stories I’ve written have been compared to writers I have never read. At a recent conference reading, my nonfiction was compared to Stephen Wright and George Saunders, and I had to embarrassingly admit that I was unfamiliar with their work. Multiple friends, whose opinions I love and respect, have compared my prose to that of David Foster Wallace, another I have never read.

To my surprise, nothing I’ve written has ever been compared to those who inspire me. Maybe that’s a good thing. I know the writers I love, but peers haven’t identified that influence, even when I’ve quite consciously imitated their styles.

My earliest literary influence was Douglas Adams, whom I read in middle school and spent the next four years mildly stealing from. I’ve also been inspired by Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Lately, I’ve found inspiration in short story collections like Monique Proulx’s Aurora Montrealis, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and Pamela Painter’s The Long and Short of It. I also draw inspiration from John Steinbeck and David Eagleman, who blend science, philosophy, and fiction, and the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape from a Leper Colony never ceases to inspire me, and neither does Amin Maalouf’s The Crusades Through Arab Eyes.

It’s not that I want to be compared to these writers. Such a request would be too pretentiously egocentric, even for the pretentious ego-driven beast I so obviously am. But I am surprised.

I’m also distraught by the frequency with which my work is compared to David Foster Wallace. I don’t want to be compared to yet another depressed white male author who died by suicide, because it’s too close to home for me. What will I get from a writer I’m apparently so similar to? If I read Infinite Jest and hate it, what will that say about my own writing? Even worse, what if I love it without question? I want what I read to challenge my style, not reinforce it.

Was David Foster Wallace a perfectionist like me? Did he worry that he would die without making an impact, like me? Did he secretly resent himself for being a writer because such a profession requires both ego and humility, both of which are difficult for an introverted perfectionist to simultaneously possess, like me? I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

I also don’t want the comparisons to stop, because I want my friends and colleagues to be honest about my work. But so many comparisons to a writer that some of my heroes love and others hate has made me want to avoid reading anything by DFW. I can’t change what others see in my writing, but I know what writing I find pleasure in, and so far I find the most pleasure in being surprised. Maybe I’ll sit down and chug through Infinite Jest, but it won’t be anytime soon.

-jk

List: 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Umbrella Brick Wall 2.JPGApril is National Poetry Month, so here is a nifty list of things to do to celebrate poetry, nationally.

  1. Read a poem every day.
  2. Write a poem every day.
  3. Go to a poetry reading.
  4. Stick a poem in your pocket.
  5. Having already exhausted the ways people traditionally celebrate Poetry Day after four activities, think briefly about going back to prose, then read more poems or something.
  6. Write a poem and tape it to your office window so people outside can enjoy it.
  7. Read poetry you found on a sign or a movie poster.
  8. Take down your window poem after somebody complains to your boss, then passive aggressively write sequel poems to it.
  9. Try to write a haiku in under 140 characters.
  10. Realize that writing twitter haiku is too hard, and instead tweet a picture of your haiku written on a page in your moleskine notebook.
  11. Write poetry on the sidewalk in chalk before vindictive bicyclists run you down while humming the music from Jaws.
  12. Submit your poetry to journals until those $3 Submittable fees match the amount you spend on wine per week.
  13. Speaking of wine, Holy Week is in April, so you could write a poetry suite using Catholic imagery to talk about your feelings even though you are not Catholic and you have no feelings.
  14. On Good Friday, write another poem that pretentiously uses commas to somehow represent the nails in crucifixion.
  15. Realize that fourteen people online have misinterpreted your religious poem and want to know why you are taking away their right to choose.
  16. By Easter, lose fourteen of your Facebook friends over that one poem you posted.
  17. Share your favorite poems online, checking seven times to make sure you spelled each poets’ name correctly, because you really only read their work during April, even though you insist on how much their work means to you the rest of the year.
  18. Read early drafts of poems you wrote three National Poetry Months ago and die a little inside after counting the number of times you used a flower metaphor.
  19. Go to an open mic night and sit through four harmonica soloists before the poets get on stage.
  20. Research poets whose work you have never read. Chances are high that there are at least several.
  21. Go to a reading of new or recently published poets. They could use the moral support, especially if they’re grad student poets.
  22. Buy a new collection of poetry, then make time to read only half of it.
  23. Read poets recommended by your friends.
  24. Read poets recommended by your enemies.
  25. Write poetry in a coffee shop.
  26. Realize that “writing poetry in a coffee shop” requires four hours of sipping a latte and people-watching before writing down any words.
  27. Revise the thirteen poems you wrote in the past twenty-seven days and call it a statistical success.
  28. Find the good poem out of the thirteen you’ve written (the chosen Messiah of your poems) and revise it again.
  29. Select the Messiah poem as the best of your poems and post it on your blog on the last day of April, then take it down after worrying about its quality, then resurrect it back onto your blog three hours later.
  30. Relax. Poetry is about a lot of things, but first and foremost, it’s about paying attention to the small details around you. You could sporadically write many poems, but you need things to write about: the way your shirt smells like smoke the morning after a campfire, the way the smell clings to you as you listen to the seesaw of traffic over the hill. Or something like that.

-jk