Thoughts and Inspiration for Creative Writers

-from Chrysalis Editorial

Links: Oulipo, Paris, and Bad Writing Advice

Posted on | January 29, 2013 | 8 Comments

Here’s a quick list of links to recent publishing and writing-related articles that we enjoyed:

(Also…see the comments below and join in the discussion.  How do you get past those wasted minutes?)

Jeffrey Eugenides’s Advice to Young Writers

“To die your whole life. Despite the morbidity, I can’t think of a better definition of the writing life. There’s something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It’s a difficult balance.”


How the Creative Response of Artists and Activists Can Transform the World

“For me, creative response is the antidote to the individualism, consumerism and cynicism that now define our culture.”


The End of Oulipo? An Attempt at Exhausting a Movement

“Whatever one’s methods, avant-garde art must stage a continual intervention in the status quo if it is to resist being co-opted, and defused, by the mainstream.”


Punk in the University


Bad Writing Advice From Famous Authors


Top 10 Philosophers’ Novels


Poetry and Paris


Stephen King on Imagery

Posted on | December 5, 2012 | No Comments

“If I can say anything important to writers who are still learning the craft of fiction, it’s this: imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind. To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.”

Read the full article:

Confessions: Fact or Fiction? for Free!

Posted on | October 31, 2012 | No Comments

A priest sleeps with a parishioner…a boy loses faith in his father…a little girl ruins her cousin’s marriage…a man is imprisoned with Frog Woman…a married woman thinks she’s a slut. 22 authors confess. Find out more! Amazon will be offering Confessions: Fact or Fiction? for free from Nov 2 – Nov 5! Be sure to check it out here:

Links: David Foster Wallace, writer’s block, the suffering artist, and more

Posted on | September 26, 2012 | No Comments


Are bloggers killing literary criticism?

Writers and The New Happiness.

David Foster Wallace and writing for approval.

An interview with Bret Easton Ellis.

Life advice from Faulkner.

The psychology of writer’s block.

The myth of the suffering artist.

Notable writers’ letters.

Links: EBM’s, philosophical novels, literary tumblrs, and more

Posted on | September 19, 2012 | 1 Comment

Local News

Writers Room DC will open in Tenleytown in mid-October.

Politics & Prose has an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) named Opus.


Why Rob Horning doesn’t like the word literary.

Brian Dillon on Roland Barthes and education.

David Winters on self-consciously “philosophical” novels.

MRI reveals brain’s response to reading.

Your guide to literary tumblrs.

Favorite snacks of the great writers, and the writer’s food pyramid.

D.T. Max highlights David Foster Wallace’s annotation on a copy of “Good Old Neon.”

When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue.”


Three Steps to Improve Your Writing

Posted on | July 26, 2012 | 1 Comment

We all have bad habits. Some people bite their nails, some leave dirty dishes in the sink, and some forget to foreshadow significant events in their novels.

Of course, we all have ways of coping and working to better ourselves, right? The dirty dishes can just start going into the dishwasher. People can start chewing toothpicks rather than their fingernails. Novelists can what? If you’ve ever felt simply stumped as to how to begin catching yourself at your own game when it comes to writing, here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Blogger Roz Morris suggests that, for those pesky words that just get stuck in your head and end up showing up over and over again in your writing, try plugging pages into a Wordle. Wordles are easy to use (and, best of all, free!) and can help you spot moments of unintended repetition you might be missing even after editing and reading the work aloud.
  2. For those writers who find themselves trapped at that most dreaded of traffic jams in life Writer’s Block — blogger Jeanine Henning suggests that you Get Out and Get Weird! Author Alice Mattison once said that when a scene became difficult for her in writing The Book Borrower, she had to abandon (temporarily) her computer, switch to her typewriter and had to write it in a different room. Sometimes I think the things we write are located in the air above us. But sometimes, for some reason, there’s a column of air somewhere else that we have to get under in order to receive a piece of writing. In other words, don’t be afraid to stand up, do the hokey-pokey-and-shake-yourself-about, and get into a change of scenery, change of mind, and change of air. (The rest of Mattison’s explanation can be found with Glimmer Train in their 2010 Close-Up: Approaches to Writing on page 2.)
  3. And for those of you who feel as though your plot is dragging or a character is suddenly acting strangely, why not go for this classic exercise: try writing in the style of another author. Of course, the key to this exercise is to go for an author whose style is truly different from yours, perhaps even a style you don’t particularly care for. Here are a few go-to’s of mine: James Sallis’ Drive; James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson; and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

What are your favorite writing tips? What advice has made all the difference to you in your writing life?

Contributed by K.C. Mead, Editorial Assistant, Chrysalis Editorial

Writers’ New Interest in Pinterest

Posted on | July 20, 2012 | 3 Comments

pinterest-logoI resisted joining Pinterest for a while. By the time I finally created my account, pinning was a frequent part of most of my friends’ vocabulary, and I could hardly sign onto Facebook without seeing at least one link to Pinterest on my newsfeed.  Only a few months later, I already have 12 Boards and 1,056 Pins.  Wait- sorry, 1,067 Pins.  I just checked, and there were a few new ones on my home page.

Pinterest describes itself as a virtual pinboard that allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.  Users can create boards for different categories of pictures, then pictures from others’ boards.  Each pin is connected to a link taking you to the website where the picture originally came from.  It seems that most people use Pinterest for do-it-yourself crafts, new recipes, wedding ideas, and work out inspiration.  Few realize how Pinterest is connected to the book world, and as a recent article from Writer’s Digest points out, Pinterest has just as much to offer the writer and reader in us as it does the chef or athlete.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pinterest yet, it might just seem like yet another social network to keep up with.  I can hear your sighs, and I can’t entirely blame you.  But Pinterest isn’t like every other website out there, and its uniqueness is part of the reason, according to this article, that Pinterest is now the third most popular social media network, behind only Facebook and Twitter.

There’s an entire category on Pinterest dedicated to Film, Music & Books; but searching for new titles isn’t the only way readers can use Pinterest, and pinning your book isn’t the only thing an author can do to promote it.  In March Writer’s Digest published an article on how authors can creatively use Pinterest to connect with their readers on a whole new level.  I hadn’t thought of Pinterest as something related to the publishing industry.  Although, the more I think about it, the more I realize how many unique opportunities Pinterest truly provides.

Pinterest is all about pictures, and a website with thousands of pictures has got to be a hotbed of inspiration for any artist. You can use Pinterest to arrange images of your imaginary world: settings, houses, clothing, even people.  Having concrete images for your world can help you remain consistent throughout the story and make it easier to describe minute details you may not have otherwise considered.

If you’ve already completed and published a book (lucky you!), you can use Pinterest to help promote it and connect in new ways with your readers.  Fans will love looking at the images of clothing, buildings, scenes, and characters, helping them become even more immersed in the story and more familiar with the characters.

For example, check out Alma Katsu.  (We recommended her books, The Taker and The Reckoning, in our Summer Reads blog post.)  Her Pinterest site features a board for each of her books, illustrating clothing from the time period, paintings and music that inspired her while she was writing, and even “the official Taker wine, chosen by the wine tasters at One More Page Books.

Or look at Meg Cabot, the author of over 20 successful books including the Princess Diaries series.  Cabot’s boards include Places that appear in my books and Characters’ Style.  There’s also a board with pictures she drew as a teenager, which later inspired The Abandon series, and two boards dedicated to the life of a specific character, Heather Wells.

So give it a try, but I have to warn you: it’s addictive.

Sarah Crain, Editorial Assistant,

Beyond the Ties of Blood: Review by Herta B. Feely

Posted on | July 17, 2012 | 4 Comments

9781605983288_300X300Florencia Mallon

Pegasus Books

371 pp.

The disappearance, torture and execution of thousands of Chileans after General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973 is a modern-day tragedy of immense proportions. It is said that in remembering the victims of the tragedy, we honor them. And I agree. To that end, a few books have been written, a few documentaries and films made. But there is room for many more.

Florencia Mallon’s  new novel, Beyond the Ties of Blood, is the latest book to honor those victims with its fictional depiction of a tragedy very similar to what many Chileans endured in real life. It’s the story of a young woman, Eugenia Aldunate, who falls in love with a charismatic leftist leader, Manuel Bronstein, at the University of Santiago. After the 1973 coup d’etat, Eugenia is arrested, imprisoned and tortured for months. It doesn’t matter that she herself had not been active in the efforts of the left, that she had been politically apathetic. She is forced to witness the torture of her lover, Manuel, one of the many who disappeared and was murdered in the 1970s. Though ultimately released, a pregnant Eugenia is left with scars, both physical and emotional.

The novel then fast-forwards 20 years: Eugenia has been living in exile in the United States  with her daughter, Laura, and is asked to return to Chile to testify in Manuel’s murder before the Truth Commission in Santiago. She must relive events from the moment she met Manuel to the present, and so do we, as readers, through multiple points of view.

In addition to recalling events through the perspectives of Eugenia and Manuel, told in sequential sections, Mallon also tells the story from the point of view of Manuel’s Jewish mother; the mother’s friend, who is a native Mapuche; Eugenia’s lesbian sister; and several others. This might sound like a bit much, but these multifaceted perspectives are layered with incidents of prejudicial behaviors that we still find in society today, where biases shift with the changing circumstances. Multiple points of view also underscore the universality of what happened in Chile in the 1970s and remind us how intolerance wreaks havoc and destruction on its victims, not just in Chile but throughout the world, no matter what the bias.

One truth that Mallon depicts well is that havoc doesn’t end with the victims. Eugenia and Manuel’s horror and tragedy ripples out and affects dozens of others: their family, friends and allies. They all suffer the tragedy of losing someone to political imprisonment, torture, disappearance and murder. And their suffering doesn’t end at the moment of the victim’s death — it extends for years and sometimes generations beyond the event. Laura, for example, does not know her father, and never will.

Throughout the novel, Mallon’s prose fluctuates between the violent and the lyrical. She recounts one of Eugenia’s experiences with violence shortly after the coup: The thought that she must get up had not even completely formed in her head before she felt a fist hit her face and she was down on the floor. Later in the novel, Mallon’s lyricism is evident, where a change in setting is also a welcome relief for the reader from her depictions of the sadistic brutality that existed during Chile’s Pinochet years: But in the countryside the wheat nursed its spiky golden crown, turning eagerly toward the light, while potato plants hugged the sides of the rolling hills and sent out blue and white flowers that trumpeted the approaching harvest.

Though ultimately I enjoyed and appreciated Beyond the Ties of Blood,I found the first 100 pages problematic and a bit disappointing because of issues with structure, plot and point of view. The beginning of the novel, told through Eugenia’s eyes, represents a constant shifting in time and place, and much of the story is told rather than shown. It seems that the author felt a need to establish the basic parameters early in the story and introduce us to many of the book’s characters, even though much of this is revisited in greater detail later. And then, when Mallon shifts from Eugenia’s point of view to Manuel’s, she ends up repeating much of the story without significantly furthering the plot. It wasn’t until the end of Manuel’s section, on page 108, that I became invested in the story and its outcome.

Because of the subject matter terrain with which I’m familiar, I want to say unequivocally that I loved this book. But I can’t say that. I can say, however, that Mallon not only does an admirable job on a tough topic, but she adds to the oeuvre of writing on Chile’s regrettable past, writing that is essential to proving wrong the adage about victors being the ones to write history; writing that is critical to honor the lives of those who perished, and to ease the pain of their families, friends and descendants.


Become a Washington Independent Review of Books member…it’s free…and you’ll have access to hundreds of book reviews, author interviews and other articles about books and writing.

You can buy Beyond the Ties of Blood in ebook and hardcover on Amazon.

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Posted on | July 12, 2012 | No Comments

We know how fresh and original is each man, even the slowest and dullest. If we come at him right, talk him along, and give him his head, and at last say, What do you want?…every man will speak his dream. And when a man talks from his heart, in his moment of truth, he speaks poetry.

Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing



I don’t know how many of you out there have read Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing but if you haven’t, you absolutely must pick up a copy. I’m rereading mine right now and it never ceases to both touch and inspire me.

Throughout the book, Bradbury discusses these primary writing necessities: zest/excitement, honesty/gusto, and a disregard of finances. He explains that in order to nourish one’s Muse, in order to fully utilize our rich and original storehouses of information, ideas, and word associations, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be silenced or closed off to certain topics simply because others laugh or judge them to be un-publishable.

Bradbury lived this belief, writing about everything from dark circus rides to dinosaurs (and then a few more dinosaurs) though these were not always the most lucrative stories he could have written (thank goodness for Weird Tales!).

Meditating on this advice and on his focus upon self-discovery through honesty in writing, an honesty that cannot come from tailoring every thought and idea toward the desires of a magazine or book publisher, I have come to wonder:

How can we stretch our moments of truth into whole stories of truth? What does it mean to discover or unveil truths in works of fiction? How can we celebrate the freshness and originality of each person, as Bradbury wrote, while maintaining the sadism Kurt Vonnegut said was necessary for every fiction writer to have when approaching characters, plots, and conflicts? And, of course, how can I survive financially just on my writing, get my writing published, without selling my Muse down the river?

What do you think? Have you ever felt as though you were being forced to tell a story a certain way or to not tell a certain story at all? Or have you ever written a story that jolted you sitting back in your desk chair in awe of your own rush of artistic, beautiful (perhaps even painful) honesty? That’s happened to me a few times, and what a rush, what a thrill! It’s one of the reasons I’ll always go back for more, go back and write again, listen to the spirit of Ray Bradbury whispering in my ear.

Contributed by K.C. Mead, Editorial Assistant, Chrysalis Editorial

To Agent or Not to Agent?

Posted on | July 5, 2012 | 1 Comment

It is true that today more and more authors are jumping on the self-publishing train. However, there remains a vast body of writers out there still longing to attract the attention of the Big Six or land a deal with one of the many smaller presses out there. After all, there’s just something especially delicious about knowing you’ve made it through the traditional filtration system, to have someone choose your work among all the other lovely shells along the shoreline.

Writer’s Relief agrees, most of the authors who come to them for aid or advice dream of being among the small percentage of authors who publish their book with traditional publishing houses, like Penguin, Random House, or Hachette. Of course, the question becomes, how do you go about achieving this?

Well, Writer’s Relief and I agree on this point as well—your best bet for success in this arena is to hire yourself a literary agent.

Although it’s certainly possible to find a home for your manuscript without the aid of an agent, there are plenty of publishing houses (the Big Six especially) who will not even accept a submission if it doesn’t come from an agent. Beyond this, of course, is the simple fact that agents are good for a great deal more than simply garnering publisher interest. To quote from Writer’s Relief, here are just a few reasons why an agent is a fantastic tool for writers, no matter what stage you’re at in your career:

  • Literary agents are key for getting your “Foot in the Door.“  If you’re shooting for that pie-in-the-sky contract, an agent is the first, best step in getting you there. (Besides a killer manuscript, of course!)
  • Agents already have their own mental Rolodex of editors they keep in mind as they read and work to pitch your manuscript, in other words, agents can be much more effective at finding and contacting those particular editors who will be most interested in your work than you likely will be.
  • Money, money, money! Most agents don’t get paid if you don’t, so you know once you’ve turned your work over to a reputable literary agent that they are going to have the time, impetus, and know-how to not only negotiate with publishers for the best contract possible but will also take care of things authors often don’t think about such as tactfully interven[ing] if the art department puts a naked centaur on your story about 19th-century Harlem.
    • Beyond this, it’s been reported that some publishing houses are known to pay out smaller advances to writers who don’t have agents to go to bat for them, which may be due, at least in part, to the fact that many publishing houses simply won’t take work as seriously if it doesn’t come agent-approved and represented.


Thus, for those of us still dreaming of the day that Random House comes knocking on our door for our latest masterpiece, finding a good literary agent is a must-do!

What have your experiences been? Do you have a literary agent? Do you want one?

(Writer’s Relief blog:

Contributed by K.C. Mead, Editorial Assistant, Chrysalis Editorial

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