Archive for goal setting

There’s hope after all

Posted in genre fiction, science fiction, Tokyo, writing with tags , , , , , , , on July 17, 2010 by katekanno

A blurry sign of encouragement.  I submitted two pieces to the Escape Pod flash fiction contest.

One of them made it through the first round. The other, at this moment, is in fourth place.  Regardless of whether I make it into the next one, it was a nice thing to wake up to. Even more impressive were the comments from members of the Escape Artists forum.  As a long-term participant of writers workshops, they are among the most insightful, focused critiques I’ve been lucky enough to receive.

I also got another rejection.  I’m getting tougher.

Tomorrow, I go to the Tokyo Writer’s workshop for one last meet up before the summer starts.

To be nitpicked is to be alive.

Creating a reading journal (a cozy catastrophe in progress)

Posted in lifehacking, Lists, literature, stationery lust, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by katekanno

Here I am in this noisy café, unable to concentrate thanks to a gaggle of chain-smoking obasans complaining mightily about absent friends and their sorely inadequate children.

It’s as good a time as any to update my blog.As I’ve been making my way through the notebook, I’ve been able to devise a my own version of a reading journal and thought I’d share.

Note: I don’t like to choose sections of my notebook for use beforehand: doing so wrecks the fun of writing in it, sort of like slogging carelessly into a pristine patch of snow takes away the magic, so I organize as I go along.

1. Orange is for Reading

This is the reading journal. A work in progress, but basically if the book is certain to contain a lot of words I’ve never heard of, I draw a line down the page. The inner side I use to write those words and the outer edge for quotations, thoughts, or questions.What I like about this system is that it’s an easy way for me to stay honest about what one blogger aptly called “the shit I know I don’t know.”

2. Beige is for Writing.

I don’t really have a system in place here. If I have a story idea or to expand on something in my reading journal, I scribble it down and slap on a tag. That way I can come back and grimace at my leisure.

3. White is for er… Japanese

The move back to Japan demands that I get my ass in gear and start studying the language again. I passed level one of the Japanese proficiency test back in 1997, but 12 years (five of them out of the country) is plenty of time to get rusty. Thus, I added a language section. I use it the same way I do the reading journal, except there’s A LOT more vocabulary space, and my thoughts are mainly awkward practice sentences.

4. Yellow is for Lists

For anything and everything. I’m especially fond of book lists, but they’re also wonderful writing prompts,  great for mining memory and personal experience — a tip from Barbara DeMarco Barrett’s Pen on Fire.

This is what the closed book looks like. I use tags from mujirushi. I love their muted colors. I love their notebooks, too. And their pens. And their lunch boxes, and…I’ll stop now.

That’s pretty much it. It works well so far, but I’m sure that I’ll be wringing my hands over a new class/system soon. How do you organize your notebooks/ reading journals?

Exploitation vs. Exploration

Posted in blogging, books, education, lifehacking, literature, multitasking, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by katekanno

Exploitation vs. Exploration.

Previously the former word brought to mind underpaid factory workers or at least those miserably lopsided friendships in junior high, whereas exploration has always drummed up that conscientious chap in the beat up Tee, making his open-minded, charitable way through a new place.  If exploitation was Saruman, hacking up the trees in Lord of the Rings, then exploration was Indiana Jones, knowledgeable, adaptable, and of course, heroic.

On a larger level, of course, this is still true. On a personal level, such thinking is the disaster that we inflict on both ourselves and the world.

How, you might ask, can trying new things, reading new authors, and meeting fabulous new people be a bad thing? It isn’t.
But my life, and I suspect the same is happening in those of many other people, is suffering from a glut of exploration, both physical and psychological. It’s what buries our living spaces in useless consumer junk, the books we don’t read, our time with mildly interesting pursuits and people we know only tangentially, and our brains with all of that digital information on which we, to use that ominously cutesy term coined by David Armano,  snack.

Take all of those indelicate act(s) of multitasking: What are they but pure exploration at the expense of exploitation? We listen to 30 new songs on Pandora while talking on the phone and attempting to cook that souffle via the step by step instructions that we’re watching on the Food Network. And we’re making a hash of it all, even the talking, which we’re reducing more and more to Malaprops, disjointed threads, and yes, grunts.

So this is the year I make a determined effort to exploit more and explore less. Exploit! Exploit! Exploit! I’m with you Saruman. But only when it comes to myself. Save the trees.

Because when you exploit on a personal level, you do save trees. Let’s take my book habit, because it’s come to me after spending five predominantly dull years in the world’s dullest town with nothing else to do but read like a maniac, how very rarely I’ve come away from a book feeling that I know it  to my satisfaction, that I have many of its ideas, characters, and underlying themes mastered, before I’m on to the next one. I’m not trying to beat myself up, or to argue that I’ve gained nothing for my efforts. But as a writer, I want to be better poised to use what’s in what I read both for inspiration and to strengthen my own abilities.

Exploitation project 1: The Reading Journal.

To this purpose I’ve been keeping a reading journal. I’ve been doing it for awhile, but haven’t really landed on a good system until now, my biggest problem being how to separate the writing I do for myself with notes or ideas taken from books. I’ve been using color coded tags from Mujirushi to separate pages of my own writing and the  journal, which is working out well so far. In the reading journal, I  draw a line down the page and note any words or concepts with which I’m unfamiliar, leaving random thoughts or quotes I want to keep on the other. Although I’m not a proponent of Gardner’s learning styles, which are finally, and thankfully being discredited, the act of writing things down rather than typing them up does seem to help me remember what I’ve read. It’s rote baby! There’s no magic trick or psychobabble that can make it any easier.

31/31 "The Judge's House" by Bram Stoker and OTR adaptation

Posted in books, ghost stories, Halloween, literature, old time radio, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2009 by katekanno

This is the first time since starting this blog that I’ve missed a day. Was sick two weeks ago. I think, as I’ve had a fever for the last three days, that it’s probably a mild case of flu. And as I haven’t been given license to lie around in bed and read to my heart’s content, I’ve taken advantage of it.

I was able to take good chunk out of Project Guiltpile, finishing The Magic Mountain and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided. More on those later when I’m a tad more lucid.

Today’s ghost story is “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker. This was one I didn’t care for: a first sentence introducing a protagonist named “Malcolm Malcolmsen” provides all the chilly foreshadowing of an Archie comic. There were rats, there were persnickety portraits, and a gloomy, old, unrentable house, but the end result was more meh-he-heh than Muh-hah-hah.

There’s a little more of the latter in this Old Time Radio adaptation from The Hall of Fantasy. This one is brought courtesy of Wait through the ten second ad, and you’ll get to it.

Now “He Who Follows Me”, also from the above is a spine tingling Scotch clog of a tale. You’ll never interpret footsteps in quite the same way again.

Commence Project Guiltpile and 31/31 "A Wicked Voice" by Vernon Lee (Violet Paget)

Posted in books, ghost stories, Halloween, lifehacking, literature, old time radio, psychogeography, Queer life with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2009 by katekanno

bookHere lies the monstrous list of books that distraction be damned I’m going to try to finish before leaving.

The tickets have been purchased. I have exactly two months.

20 books. It’s not all, but I’d better break my goal down into chunks. At the end of this tunnel is a long stay in Portland and several trips to among other places, Powell’s. We’ll start with this, but not necessarily go in order. I’m capricious when it comes to reading, which is partially how I got into this mess. This also doesn’t mean that I’ll not read other books while I’m at it. However, I will not buy anymore. Library’s okay.

1.The Magic Mountain

2.The Futurological Congress

3.The Untouchable

4.Let us Now Praise Famous Men

5.Titus Groan

6.The Trouble with Lichen



9.Great Expectations

10.Henderson the Rain King

11.Infinite Jest (I wouldn’t include this monster, except I’m 200 pages in already)

12.The Thirteenth Tale

13.Skeletons at the Feast



16.The Windup Girl

17.The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

18.Interviews with Fritz Lang

19. White Sands, Red Menace

20. Psychogeography

I’ve tried to take an eclectic sample to circumvent distraction, and will cross them off as I go. Here’s to absurd goals and the transitions that allow us to get a lead on them.

Let’s get back to ghosts.


Today’s story is another one with strong queer connections. Written by Vernon Lee a.k.a. Violet Paget, it tells the tale of an androgynously beautiful young vocalist who can seduce and kill with his voice. Lee was a strong proponent of women’s rights and could beat Vita Sackville West when it came to wearing men’s attire. Her supernatural fiction was regarded highly during its time along with her a book on eighteenth century Italian music. A recent volume of her stories was published in 1990 under the title

Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales.

What struck me instantly about “A Wicked Voice” was its energy. Not a hint of the stuffy about it.

In addition, here is an OTR story called “Weekend Vacation” that includes creepy motel, old woman, and her Lennie like son: “Monroe likes girlies! Pretty hair.” It’s pretty darned disturbed, but has a nice twist.

Some thoughts on writers' workshops and today's ghost story

Posted in books, genre wars, ghost stories, literature, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2009 by katekanno

IMG_1251I’ve been reading a lot about the value or lack of regarding creative writing workshops this year. Most focus on whether or not “writing can be taught” citing publications and famous coteries that existed at pricey and difficult to enter universities. Few mention workshops for those who lack funds, connections, or academic credentials.

I don’t know, but maybe skipping out on life for a few hours in order to attend to writing for writing’s sake shouldn’t be a mark of privilege.

I’m not slinging any nastiness toward people in MFA programs, if anything graduate success rates turn those who enter them without today’s prerequisites into brave individuals. It’s the encroachment of professionalization into every branch of the humanities that worries me more. Why are MFAs cited on the backs of more and more books? Why are some writing conferences even requiring them, as if you have to have a resume to create?

We used to be a culture of writers. Just look back at those letters written during the Civil War, or by your grandparents, and you’ll see that it wasn’t just the gilded who could turn a phrase.

And maybe when people participate in a writing group or sign up for NANOWRIMO, or scribble poetry in their notebooks, it’s just a matter of doing what comes naturally. Think about it. In a year when public rudeness is being both celebrated and lamented on a massive scale, shouldn’t we be happy that a few people are quietly trying to bring a little more integrity and accuracy to their self-expression?

That reason alone should be enough to show that yes, writing can be taught, not necessarily as a path to book contracts or publication, but to the communication skills we’re losing as a result of being time starved and painted in corporate happy face throughout most of our waking hours.

Therefore, if you are considering joining a writing group, don’ t think about publication or literary success. Understand instead that you will never have a better opportunity to see your work, and yourself through other people’s eyes. It isn’t therapy. It’s more honest than that. For a few hours each week you get to throw your own idiosyncratic and vulnerable self, your fumbling vowels, and screwed up punctuation before a group of total strangers and see how they land. Take it for what it is and relish it. It’s an increasingly rare opportunity.

On to today’s ghost story. Here is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest”. Originally part of the novel, “Guest” was published as a prequel after Stoker’s death. It’s a fantastic story and if you live in nearby, the Orange County Museum Contemporary Art sells mini bound versions of it in their gift shop for less than two dollars.

It’s free here.

Project Guiltpile: Unfinished behemoths

Posted in books, lifehacking, literature, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2009 by katekanno

Picture 8Guilt! Guilt, I say!

Since moving to this godforsaken place, I have developed a habit that has come back to dog ear me in the ass on the way out. I suppose it was only natural that having lived for so long in semi-claustrophobic Japan, I would find ways to welcome the spatial glut of North America.

I could use the term bibliophile, but for its recent twee and self-congratulatory associations. It’s more that I have a ridiculously inflated idea of how much I can read given a limited amount of time. With books you can always fool yourself, like those poor addled multi-taskers, that there’s no need to filter. It’s all relevant.

Well, I can still fool myself a little while longer. In California, there is little employment. Let’s rejoice about this for once and take advantage of the time. I’m going to make up a list of books I hope to take a chunk ou t of before leaving. I’ll update it each time I finish one on the list. Let’s see how far I can get.

First off, The Magic Mountain. I’m getting close to the end of this one. Why did I buy this? Well, as doomed climbers say about real mountains, it was there — and only a dollar.

But there’s another story. A few, quite a few years back, I worked with an elderly Swiss gentleman, very dour and ascetic, whom I always overheard praising the strength of the mighty cockroach in the next cubicle. Usually he did this to elderly Japanese salarymen, who in beginner’s English, would fumble over the “r” in roach, and blink at him in polite discomfort.
This gentleman, Hans, we’ll call him, once descended upon me in the lobby and asked if I’d ever read “Die Zauberberg,” which with my bad ears and undergrad German, translated as “The Clean Hill.”

“No,” he snapped, “The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.”

Now Mann I knew. I love Death in Venice, and even more so, Visconti’s adaptation of same with its garish colors and cackling plague infested minstrels. At that time, however, the only thing I knew about The Magic Mountain was that it was one of those reading rites of passage, 800 lurid pages of mottled lungs and five course meals served with sherry in fine crystal.

Hans, noting the hint of recognition in my face, went on with a sense of mission: “My father was a doctor up in Davos. He tended to many of those patients. I spent my entire boyhood there.”

He continued to tell me how as a boy, he would run about the sanatorium grounds, often disturbing the lavish meals of the patients, many of whom he recognized when reading Mann’s book.

Not reading The Magic Mountain would be a lost opportunity personally equivalent to Castorp’s lost years. Yet, as I do I find myself scouring the pages, and going over the features of every small or slightly youngish character to appear. I can’t help but expect that each time Herr Settembrini and Naphta break out into another religious and philosophical spat that they’ll be cut off by a gaunt, bespectacled boy, who will shake his head and tell them that none of it matters.

Only the cockroaches will survive.