Tag Archives: criticism

Question of the month

Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?

You may think you have nothing to say but, did you ever consider the sheer miracle of your birth, your existence, your identity? Contemplate for a moment — when a specific sperm penetrated a specific egg you were conceived and began to grow. If for some reason your parents had not had intimate relations at that fateful moment you would not exist.
Now take it back a generation — if one of your grandmothers had had a headache and said “not tonight dear”, either your father or your mother would not have been conceived and would not exist. If one or the other of your parents had not been conceived you would not exist either. This thread of conception goes all the way back to the beginning of time and if it had been broken at any point along the way you would not be. Talk about unique.
I have two dogs who are about as different as possible. One is a beautiful specimen, a Russian blue bull terrier, 50 pounds, with nicely defined muscles. She is a princess and knows that she is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. She poses a lot and allows her admirers to enjoy the view when she is around. My other dog is full sized, 45 pounds, with practically no legs at all, they are so short. She is a clown, a cross between a lab and corgi, with floppy ears and a tail. She looks like she should have a round red rubber nose and oversized shoes on her feet. If my dogs could write, their stories would be interesting each in its own way.
Whether you are a beautiful princess, a clown, or a mere human being you are the result of a million years of selective or chance breading, have a unique story to tell, and an obligation to tell it. It is one of a kind never to be duplicated.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Question of the Month

How can I overcome writer’s block?
When I stare at my computer screen and no thoughts come to mind I look for excuses to do other things. The refrigerator needs cleaning, the rugs need vacuuming, the tarnished silver suddenly needs polishing even though I do not plan to use it anytime soon. These excuses work for awhile but basically I hate housework and feel guilty when my computer is idle.
Yet the committee that lives in my brain picks apart every thought that crosses my mind as stupid, ridiculous, trite or “It’s been done before.” My wastebasket overflows with discarded false starts and no new stories or essays present themselves. I have a big dose of writer’s block but what should I do?
It happens to every writer at one time or another, and each deals with the dry spell differently. Sometimes I succumb and stare off into space for long stretches of time. Other times I force myself to write through the block and type whatever comes to mind no matter how disjointed, ridiculous or fragmentary it may seem. I might explore the voices of the committee — play word games with their objections, or name their personalities. If I take their criticism to the extreme the objections will eventually have no more emotional punch.
My old standby — a CD of classical music — preferably Mozart, a fire in the fire place, and Emily Dickinson usually puts me into a reverie where images float through my mind and coalesce into usable ideas before very long. If that doesn’t work a leisurely walk in the snow, rain, sunshine or breezy afternoon could jog my creative juices. It might take a change of scenery — a visit to some awe inspiring place: the overlook at the Perrine Bridge, the viewing area beside the Bruneau Canyon, Shoshone Falls, or the Stanley Basin. A drive in the country, mountains, a visit to a ghost town. Where is your favorite gazing spot? Your favorite exploring place? Your favorite get-away?
There are many books available with writing prompts or sparks — exercises guaranteed to budge even the most stubborn case of writers block into action. One of my favorites is THE VIRGINIA WOOLF WRITER’S WORKSHOP.
Another trick I often use when I get stuck is to take a short piece by one of the old masters and write a story doing exactly what he/she did only set in my own town, current day and use my own characters. Usually before I am finished with the first page I have shed the writing blues and am off on another venture. Try it. It is amazing how well that trick works.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Three writers with stories to tell

Check out this review by Judi Baxter.  Article reprinted courtesy of the Times-News, www.magicvalley.com

BOOKCHAT: Three ‘writers with stories to tell’

It is always thrilling to hold a treasured book in my hands – rediscovering a childhood favorite, inhaling the scent of an old, leather-bound tome, perusing glorious pictures from a beloved illustrator or gently opening a much-anticipated title for the first time.

The thrill was certainly there when I received a copy of “Voices From The Snake River Plain,” the collection of essays, short stories and poetry from three talented local writers, Bonnie Dodge, Dixie Thomas Reale and Patricia Santos Marcantonio.

The lawn mowing, leaf raking and sidewalk sweeping went by the wayside as I sat on my deck and immersed myself in their worlds. I laughed, sighed, held my breath for a few moments and even cried while reading of families and friends, journeys and jealousies.

Marcantonio’s “The Hitch,” an engaging short story about a camping trip gone bad, left me giggling and nodding my head in agreement: Been there, done that! Forget the spectacular Stanley Basin scenery, mountain air and sparkling Salmon River; a lost trailer hitch leads to pointed fingers, heated words and thoughts of divorce. But her wise old character, Earl, quickly snaps everything back into focus: “Earl pulled up his welding mask. ‘You folks should have a good time once this is fixed. You can hike the trails, cook over a campfire, fish a bit. See the stars together. That’s the only way to see the stars, with someone you love so you know you aren’t dreaming.'” Beautiful!

In the chapter “Remembrances,” Reale captured my heart with “Mush.” Anyone who grew up having to eat oatmeal-the-texture-of-wallpaper-paste for breakfast every morning will immediately identify with the feisty, stubborn little girl. Her mother said she would eat it. Period. She was determined not to. Period. It became a royal battle of wills and more than a little ingenuity on young Dixie’s part: feeding it to the dog, tossing it out the window, dribbling large spoonfuls around her bowl. Since she didn’t have to eat the slopped part, that maneuver became her answer:

“I decorated the room. The entire bowl was drizzled and splattered one spoonful at a time across the mahogany tabletop, the wall, the bench and onto the floor. There was so much of it that gray puddles ran into one another making small lakes. Once Mama saw the mess she scraped it back into the dish and slung it in front of me. Now it was cold and slimy, had a faint flavor of English wood oil, and smelled a bit like floor polish. ‘You will eat this,’ she said.”

At this point, I was chuckling, but it was nothing compared with the laugher that erupted when I came to her final solution. What a creative little girl!

After reading Dodge’s “Surviving the Storm,” set a few days after the attack on the World Trade Center, I barely moved for many long minutes, reflecting on her words, recalling the overwhelming feelings of those haunting days as our nation sat in stultified silence and pain.

The women debate their plans to attend a bookfest in Boise and a trip to Idaho City for their annual mini-retreat, struggling with their own fears and doubts about leaving home and families so soon. “It’s what they want,” writes Dodge. “They want to terrorize us into inaction. I think we should go.” And so they do.

They spend hours exploring the former mining town, picking wildflowers, spontaneously attending a Catholic Mass, sharing homemade peach cobbler at Trudy’s Diner.

Dodge writes: “Heading for the car, we stop when we see an area of the cemetery marked with weathered boards, each etched with only one word: Unknown. Like rubber bands, we’re snapped back into reality as we think of the many new graves in New York City, some of which will soon be marked: Unknown. We exchange glances and, unembarrassed by our tears, embrace, holding onto each other longer than usual.

“We pass tissues like candy. Our hearts hurt. We have no words, no stories to define our nation’s massive devastation. As we travel the road that will take us back to our families, smiles chase away sadness and the desperate need to be home … Even in this troubled time, when our nation is stunned and nothing much is moving, we are. Because we’re still writers with stories to tell.”

And our lives are richer because these three writers have gathered and shared those stories with us.

Judi Baxter owned and operated Judi’s Bookstore in downtown Twin Falls from 1978 to 1992. From 2000 to 2004 she wrote a twice-weekly column for Publisher’s Weekly’s online edition called “Reviews in the News.”

Posted in Books-and-literature, Entertainment on Friday, October 23, 2009 1:00 am Updated: 6:30 pm.

August question of the month

GOOD CRITICISM VERSES BAD — How can you tell the difference?
Like most writers I welcome constructive criticism designed to improve my writing and make my stories come alive. I belong to a critique group that has helped my writing enormously. However, I frankly resent snide comments offered by jealous people who wish they’d written the story but didn’t and comfort themselves by tearing it apart.
How can we writers tell the difference? And how should we handle unwelcome hurtful comments so they do not make us feel bad? First accept that there are people who wish you well and others who want to hurt you. Then ask yourself, did you request the advice or is it uninvited? Is the person offering the criticism another writer or a want-to-be writer? What is the intention of the person offering the advice? If the advice is useful, use it. If it is just mean-spirited nastiness take a lesson from my daughter Egypt.
She is a professional dancer, standup comedian, actress and film maker who has lived and performed in both New York and Los Angeles. Egypt was home for a visit several years ago when the Alvin Ailey Dancers were performing at the local college. She’d studied dance with Alvin Ailey in New York and wanted to go to the ballet and say “hello” to some of her old friends. She dressed appropriately for a night at the ballet. She is very photogenic and looked beautiful in fancy hairdo, black dress, heels and shawl.
During intermission a young woman, wearing worn sweat shirt, pants and old sneakers sauntered up, bumped into her with her shoulder and taunted, “You’re kinda overdressed aren’t you, Honey?”
Egypt fixed the woman with a cold, haughty and distasteful stare as if she had just stepped in something disgusting and said. “You have no idea who you are talking to, Do you?”
The woman’s posture sagged instantly and crumbled in upon itself. She was visibly ashamed of herself and mumbled, “No.” She slunk off to a corner where I am sure she felt bad for the rest of the evening.
“Wow. How did you do that?” I asked. “If somebody had said that to me I would have been embarrassed and felt awkward all night thinking maybe I was overdressed.”
“Well she doesn’t know who she is talking to. For all she knows I could be a member of the dance troupe. She has no business talking to someone she doesn’t know like that. She’s the one who should feel bad for being rude, not me. I’ll bet she never does that again,” my daughter said.
I agree — that woman will think twice before she approaches another stranger with an unsolicited comment founded in jealousy.
So how do we as writers recognize comments motivated by jealousy and ignore them or turn them back on the person with the bad intentions so that he or she thinks twice before acting ignorant to someone else? I’ve always found that if an unsolicited comment pushes an emotional button, makes me feel small, hurts my feelings or seems to put me down it probably is motivated by less than good intentions. Although I am not always successful I try to ignore the mean comments because above all a writer has to believe in his/her own writing and constant suppressive criticism can wear away at one’s self esteem and the writing suffers.
Dixie Thomas Reale