Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Dog Ate My Homecoming

This is a true story. I swear. I know the people it happened to.

It has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with how truth trumps fiction every time.

Plus, it makes me laugh.


A few years ago, my BFF's husband was stationed in Iraq with a guy whose wife, back home in Michigan, became good friends with my BFF.

When the other woman's husband was scheduled to come home on leave, she wanted to do something "special" for her man. So she decided to go to -- you know -- an "adult" store and get something to make his homecoming... memorable. She, however, wasn't the sort who frequents stores like that and didn't want to go by herself. (Incidentally, neither BFF nor I are Adult Store denizens either. In case you were wondering...)

Anyway --

BFF said she'd accompany the woman on her shopping trip, lending support, though perhaps not of the moral variety.

Once in the doors, the woman had great fun buying... stuff.

Condoms and flavored oils and edible underwear and... stuff.

She brought all her new purchases home and put them in a brown paper bag in her bedroom to keep them away from the prying eyes of her kid.
I ate what?!


Where her dog discovered it and thought the canine equivalent of: YAY! COOL NEW FLAVORS AND SMELLS I'VE NEVER SMELLED! 

And promptly ate *everything.*

Upon discovery of the doggy snacker, the woman called BFF freaking out, wondering if Mr. Dogness could be in any danger from what he ate because there was No. Way. In. Hell she was going to call the vet and tell him what the dog had ingested. 

I laughed so hard I hurt myself.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In Praise of the Unmediated, Unscripted Life

This weekend, one of my best friends and I attended a Bon Jovi concert, which was (of course) extravagantly fantastic.

On what do I base this pronouncement, you may ask? Consider:

It's one thing to be a hot 20-something band playing to a crowd of hot 20-something fans, getting them fired up, calling out, and caught up in the music. I mean, honestly -- when I was 20, I'd endanger my car speakers if a song played on the radio that I *sort of* liked.

It's another thing entirely to be a hot 50-year old (if only all men aged half so well...) headlining a band of your contemporaries (good LORD, Tico Torres turns 60 this year! Drumming does a body good!) playing to a crowd, many, if not most, of whom remember when MTV banned the music video for "Living in Sin" because it was too racy.

The original high school and college-aged fans have grown up. They now have kids of their own. Grandkids. Mortgages. Medical issues. Responsibilities. Bed times. It can take a Herculean effort to get them off the couch and out of the house. Imagine trying to get them out of their seats and on their feet for almost three hours!

Yet that's exactly what Jon and the band did. From eight o'clock till eleven, they had me and 20,000 of my closest friends standing, rocking along with them while they performed songs from the past 30 years right up through the present, from "Runaway" to "Amen." It was a testament to how the band, like a fine wine, has only improved with time.

It was also a study in How Times Have Changed and a rather sad testimony to how we have allowed technology to rob us of yet another Great Experience.

I, in center floor seats, saw this:

Photo © 2013 David Bergman / www.BonJovi.com/prints -- Bon Jovi at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH on March 10, 2013.

But, in a living example of what the University of Iowa's professor Brooks Landon terms "our increasingly mediated society," the vast majority of the concertgoers experienced the entire live event vicariously through the lens of a 4" screen. Most of the people around me saw something more like this:

We're trading experience for pixels, distancing ourselves from what we're trying to embrace. Perhaps even more distressing, in doing so, our attempt to capture something cripples our ability to live in the moment and fully experience it.

We aren't the only ones to pay the price when we choose to fill memory cards rather than our actual memories.  A friend with different musical tastes than I recently attended a Clint Black concert with her husband. Several times during the course of the event, Clint stopped the concert and kindly asked the audience members to put their cell phones on "airplane" mode, because the electronic feedback was killing his ears.

So it has come to this. We literally script our lives, preferring to upload them in bite-sized set pieces online in order to pander to the random viewer and furiously thumb-texting people who are not present, rather than commit to the moment and engage with those who share it.

Experiencing a live event through the screen of a phone is as satisfying as licking an ice-cream cone with a sock on your tongue.

Two hours and forty-five minutes into last night's concert, in the early notes of the final song, the phone battery of the woman standing next to me died. She was terribly upset, briefly grumbling to her friend (who continued recording), before putting her phone away and resigning herself to finishing out the night phone-free. Soon, however, she was singing and dancing along with the rest of us who were unencumbered by recording devices -- the first time all evening she connected with the band instead of with the gadget in her hand.

In 1989, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora distanced themselves from amplified, production-heavy sound and played an all-acoustic set for the MTV Video Music Awards. Six months later, MTV unveiled their award-winning "MTV Unplugged" show, which has remained popular ever since.

Why not do the same?

Unplug yourself. Turn your phone off. For a few blissful hours, take a technology sabbatical. Dare to not record a thing. Revel in your freedom from Facebook, Twitter, and texting. Cut the power cord.  Remind yourself that this moment -- THIS moment -- will never come again. Take a break from mediating, editing, and uploading. Stop scripting your life and just *live* it. Then, get ready to rock!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

When Chickens Fly

Or: "Can You See the Chicken In This Picture?"

On several recent occasions, I've had the opportunity to get involved with people who, for one reason or another, didn't think very highly of their writing abilities.

Some were motivated to improve their writing. Others were more fatalistic about the merits of their words.

I believe that everyone has something to say. I enjoy working with writers of all skill levels, helping them to see beyond their (often self-imposed) limitations.

I wish every writer who bemoaned his or her ability could meet one of my chickens...

One day, with great fanfare and fluttering of wings, a hen flew up to the top of the laying house. A little while later, she set her sights higher and made it to the top of the chicken house.

She looked down on the lesser poultry beneath her, and contemplated re-joining them for some time. Then, she looked up.

The tree branch above her head must have looked inviting. It took some doing (and no small amount of cackling theatrics), but she finally made it.

Then, she headed even higher.

The first day she made her foray above the ground, she strutted back and forth for over an hour before flying back to the chicken run.

Now, chickens aren't known for their flying abilities. In the same vein, some people believe that getting their thoughts down on paper is an impossible dream. I disagree. I believe that if you can speak -- or even think coherently -- about a thing, you can write about it. Sometimes the best prescription for doing a thing is not knowing that it's beyond you.

Some might point out that my chicken never progressed from where she started. But that argument misses the point entirely. She chose to return. She came down from the tree in her own time, on her own terms. But she now knows that, if she wants to, she can fly.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Q & A With Los Angeles Review Fiction Editor Yi Shun Lai

Last July, I had the pleasure of introducing my readers to Yi Shun Lai (See "It's A Living: Q & A on Making Money as a Writer"). 

Yi Shun Lai (http://www.thegooddirt.org) has been a writer and editor for over 15 years. She's written or edited for The Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the J. Peterman catalog, and Audubon magazine, among others. She makes her living writing corporate copy and executing content strategy.

Yi Shun writes literary essays and short fiction and is the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review

She is currently earning her MFA at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. She tweets as @GoodDirt.

I am grateful Yi Shun graciously agreed to return and answer a few questions demystifying the fiction editor's role.

Q:   What is the most common misconception about your role as a fiction editor?

A: That I live to reject people. Seriously. I like to read and acquire and publish fiction. That's why I'm here.

Q: What do you consider the best part of an editor's job?

A: Discovering new styles, new ways of expression, new and innovative ways of telling a story. (I don't necessarily mean that experimental fiction is my shtick. I mean that words have infinite possibilities.)

Q:  What's the toughest part of an editor's job?

A: Working with an author to revise a piece. Sometimes you get work that you want to accept, but that isn't quite right as-is. There's a huge amount of humility, and a little bit of embarrassment, involved in asking a writer to revise his or her work to fit your aesthetic. Fortunately, every writer I've worked with has been gracious and grateful for suggested changes. If we're suggesting changes, the intent is to make the work better.

Q:   What specific advice do you have for authors to improve their chances for getting their submissions accepted?

A: Please, please, read the fricken publication before you submit. When I was at the Atlantic as a fiction intern I got stories about foot fetishes. Three of them over my eight-week tenure. Okay, really???

And get someone else to look at the thing before you submit. Critique groups are incredible things. So are second readers. Use them.

Q:  If you could permanently eradicate one submission error you see all the time that most pushes your This Irks Me button, what would it be?

A:  Papyrus font. Seriously, folks: Times Roman or Courier. Don't be fancy-pants, m'kay? I can't read fancy-pants. Also, we usually have a few submissions that exceed our 4,000-word limit. Don't do this. It's in the guidelines for a reason.

Q:  In general, how far do you have to read in a submission before you realize you love it and want to acquire it?

A: All the way through. I once got to the penultimate paragraph of something, only to have it fall apart in the last paragraph. Horrors! The same is not true for deciding something's just not for us.

Q:  Why do you feel a writer should publish his or her work in periodicals like the Los Angeles Review?

A: Platform. Everyone says it, no one knows what it means. It means that when I google you, you pop up someplace. It means you have legitimacy, street cred, a background. It means you care enough to support the arts and contribute to them.

You publish in literary magazines because you think your work deserves to be seen. And when you publish, that means someone else thought your work deserved to be seen, too. That's pretty powerful stuff.

More practically, the stuff in literary magazines is good work that sometimes never gets seen anywhere else. That's why we're here.

Q:  You write as well as edit. What has being an editor taught you about your writing?

A: Mostly, that you learn from everything you read. That is, I learn from other writers. That could be something as broad as pushing the boundaries in story-telling, or it could mean something as specific as word choice.

Q:  What are some things you would like to see more of in your submissions in-box?

A: My submissions in-box is pretty great as it is. We have a really lovely mix of male and female submitters, and we have some great minority literature and viewpoints. But I'm always looking for LGBT and minority stories, and work that isn't young adult but that revisits that time in our lives. I'm a softie for the teen years, for some reason.

Q:  If people wish to submit fiction to the LAR, what is the best way to go about it?

A: Once you've familiarized yourself with our publication, go to our submissions page and follow the directions. I'm always looking forward to reading something amazing.