About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection, I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way, I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts below. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

The schedule of visiting bloggers is:

January 25

On Place: Miriam Vaswani

February 8

On Place: Constance Renfrow

February 15

On Place: Emily Pinkerton

February 22

On Place: Marlena Chertock

February 29

On Place: Jacquelyn Bengfort

March 7

On Place: Katherine Young

March 14

On Place: Madeline Dyer

March 21

On Place: Cameron Gearen

March 28

On Place: Rachel Cupelo

April 1

On Place: J. D. Smith

Dear Robot Blog Hop

BookCoverImageLike most authors, my desire to write books comes from my love of reading them. My library is stuffed with novels and poetry collections, and books crowd my stairs and hide in my closets. As a child, I read as many as five books a day during the summer, not just to win gift certificates at my local library, but because nothing outside seemed as exciting as the worlds in print.

When people ask me why I put anthologies together, the answer lies in those pages. I know what collections I’m desperate to read, and if they don’t already exist, I compile them. For example, after I tried online dating, I created an anthology of true stories called Answers I’ll Accept so that I could ready other people’s good and bad experiences; after a night of yearning for an adult fairy tale to read before bed, I created Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Magical Fiction for Adults.

Dear Robot was no exception. I was driving to work in the morning when the idea came to me: I want to read an anthology of epistolary science fiction. I knew there were science fiction collections, and I knew there were epistolary collections, but I had never heard of an epistolary science fiction collection before.

But you shouldn’t, I told myself. Remember how much work the last one was? Remember the number of times you told your now-husband that you would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS do another anthology ever again?

Then, as I pulled into the college parking lot, the title came to me.

Dear Robot.

Now that was a book I had to read.

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During the Dear Robot blog hop, which starts on Monday, November 30th and runs until Friday, December 4th, Dear Robot contributors will be posting their own inspiration stories on their blogs. Anyone who comments on either this blog post or any contributor’s blog hop post from now until the end of the day on Friday will be automatically entered in a drawing to win one of five copies of the anthology (please be sure to leave your email address in a way that cannot be spammed, for example: name (at) gmail dot com).

We are also running a Goodreads Giveaway from now until December 10th.

The list of participating authors are as follows:

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
 
Friday

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Don’t forget to comment below for a chance to win!

Prompt Inspiration

A lot of my fellow writers ask me what I do when I get the dreaded disease that affects almost all writers at some point in their lives: writer’s block. Lucky for me I’ve only had writer’s block about two times in my life, but I was so ill-practiced at handling those times that I pretty much had the writing equivalent of an emotional breakdown. I cried to my boyfriend that I’d never be able to write ever again, and stared at my computer screen in despair for two weeks before inspiration struck. I started looking for alternate career paths and applying to part time jobs on craigslist. I drank…a lot.

Not my best moments.

But there’s a good reason I almost never get writer’s block, and it’s the same reason I’m bad at handling it when it comes: I am always trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to take preventative steps against running out of inspiration. So when I do get true writer’s block, it’s more of an emotional need to recharge than it is out of a lack of ideas, a response to my I-love-writing-I’m-just-going-to-do-it-every-second-and-not-take-any-breaks lifestyle.

I am a very fast writer. If you don’t believe me, here’s an anecdote: during my 2.5 years at Hopkins (while working full time) I rewrote my novel Cairo in White several times, wrote my YA fantasy novel Dreamweaver Road (and its sequel, coming later this year), wrote a novella called Three on the Bank (coming out this summer from Storylandia!), wrote a second novel and a second novelette currently under revision, wrote about two books worth of short stories, and wrote a chapbook of poems.

In order to keep my brain constantly full of ideas, I do a combination of the following:

Prompts

I love prompts. I think that a lot of writers sink into a very repetitive set of ideas, themes, motifs, and settings, but using a prompt and forcing yourself to write about something completely new can put you outside of your comfort zone (in a good way!). One of my favorite sites is Prompt & Circumstance, run by two of my favorite people in the world, Shenan Prestwich and Brandi Dawn Henderson. I’ve written a short story about a chicken and a dragon, a poem about blueberry pie, and most recently, a four part story about a strange photograph found in a grandmother’s closet. I find that my prompt pieces tend to be funnier and more lighthearted than my more serious fiction writing, because I allow myself the space to really enjoy whatever comes out of the process.

Exploration

I live about twenty minutes from the heart of Washington, DC, so one of my favorite things to do is venture into the city and see something new that I’ve never seen before. Almost every time I go somewhere, I get inspired to write a new poem or story or even novel. Meridian Park. The Air and Space Museum. Dupont Circle.

Conversation

Just because everyone thinks writers are homebodies who never talk to anyone but their cats DOES NOT MEAN WE SHOULD FOLLOW THAT STEREOTYPE. Go outside! Eavesdrop. Have a conversation with your barista. Not only will you improve your dialogue, but you might hear an interesting story.

Idea Journal

I don’t think I need to say a lot about this, because every writer has been told to (or forced to) keep an idea journal. I’m not sure how many of us actually do it, but it helps! Stick newspaper clippings in it. Jot down notes from the above experiences. Sketch a picture. Later, when you’re blocked, you can fall back on your journal to help you out of a rut. Plus, it’s fun to play kindergartener and paste a collage every once in a while.

Other Art Forms

In addition to exploring outdoor and intellectual DC, I’ve been to most of this city’s wonderful art museums. Reading is so important for writers, but other art forms can be just as influential. Watch movies. Listen to music (especially music you would not normally listen to!). Take a ceramics class. Then use those artists’ work to inspire your own.

Random Knowledge

My first novel took place in Egypt, and along the way I took Arabic and visited Cairo. Though taking a class in beading or cooking homemade pasta or gardening may seem useless now, later on, you’ll find one of your characters is a gardener or cooks a romantic pasta dish for his or her significant other before being jilted at the altar.

Movement

See the above warning against being antisocial, and apply that here too. Writers do not need to sit in front of their computers all day, and in fact, doing so can just perpetuate writer’s block! Move around. Go on a walk. Peek into people’s backyards. Take a yoga class (this will help with your writer’s block stress immensely).

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Like a car running on empty, you can’t expect your brain to spit out wonderful ideas every day if you don’t give it anything to use. Put inspiration in, and it will come out later as an idea for a piece just when you need it most.

Now, if none of these methods work, you’re probably not suffering from a lack of ideas. Instead, you’re suffering from your own overzealousness, your own pressure to constantly create. Like me, you’ll have to learn how to slow down and give yourself the room to breathe, to think and consider and read and relax, before you go back to that killer YA novel idea you’re convinced will be the next Twilight. Trust me, both your mind and body will thank you for it.

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For all you writers reading this post: please comment with your own ideas!

Writing Process Blog Hop

The wonderful Leslie Pietrzyk, who blogs on her site Work-in-Progress (www.workinprogressinprogress.com), tagged me in the writing process hop going around on a lot of authors’ sites. Here is an excerpt from her answer about how her writing process works:

“Slowly, obsessively, painfully, stoically. Grind out a draft (computer). Set it aside and fret: genius or fraud? (this is when I get to drink). Rewrite (on computer). Repeat (on paper). Repeat (read out loud). Multiply by as many times as needed. Give up and declare it finished. (I also get to drink here).”

And here are my answers to the four questions:

1. What am I working on?

I am in the process of editing (and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with) a book that was supposed to be a long novel but came out as a short novel/novella. Over the past month, I have committed every horrendous writing error found in most of my work:
• Not knowing the plot until the end
• Having way too many point of view characters
• Trying to write a long novel, but actually writing a novella, novelette, short story, or some other equally not-sellable piece of fiction (keep in mind the piece still has way too many POV characters)
• Switching not only between POV’s, but also between times and places for every single chapter
The book (or whatever it is) takes place in the Maldives, which, by the way, I have never been to, and my characters speak Dhivehi, which I do not speak. As you can tell, I seem to like to torture myself with as difficult a structure as possible—I get bored otherwise!

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, my work is hard to classify in the first place, let alone compare. I mainly write literary fiction, but that fiction could take the form of a young adult trilogy with witches and dragons (Dreamweaver Road), a multicultural novel (Cairo in White), a book of short stories (Three on the Bank and Other Stories, which is a finalist for the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award), or pretty much any other genre my brain spits out. I also write a lot of poetry, mostly about travel, but also sometimes about failed relationships, flying in dreams, or robots. I just hope that if readers like my writing style, they’ll follow me down whatever paths my writing leads us to.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Like most writers, I have a very active imagination and spend a lot of time just spacing out as my mind races from thought to thought to thought. I also have a lot of energy, as you can tell from my answer to question #2—there’s a reason my friend Ryan Nolan at Hopkins nicknamed me “Sunny” during our first semester. I write because I have to, because if I held all of my ideas and characters and voices and images and poetic lines inside my brain, I would probably explode. If I go even a day without writing, I feel anxious and overloaded. Some people run their energy off, other people paint or dance—I write. And in particular I write literary fiction because it is the closest I can come to writing both prose and poetry, and writing about topics I’m interested in, like gender or race or class and their intersectionality (I was a Women’s Studies major during undergrad, after all).

4. How does your writing process work?

Like Kerouac as he cranked out his first draft of On the Road (but much less famously), I write the entire drafts of most of my novels in just a few weeks. I get in a very creative phase where I have a wonderful image or character or idea and just run with it, accumulating page after page every morning and night until the entire draft is done, and I eat/breathe/sleep my novel. Dreamweaver Road took me ten days; my current short novel took just over a month. Cairo in White was pretty much the only exception to this rule, with edits and rewrites lasting about six years, but I hope I never have to go through that again! I am pretty terrible at editing, and usually end up starting from scratch if I don’t like my original draft instead of revising it.

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Since all of my writer friends are apparently flakier than everyone else’s writer friends, only one of them agreed to do this blog hop out of two rounds of requests. I guess that means her blog post will be six times as good! Look for this interesting writer’s blog post during the week of May 12:

Carrie Russell is the author of the novel Drowning Cactus. Carrie studied literature and writing at Columbia and Oxford. She also has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She has worked at a number of nonprofit environmental organizations and still practices law when she can’t resist a cause. Her blog address is http://carrierussellbooks.wordpress.com/.