The Mark Blog

Writers' Reel: How To Not Write About Women, A Guide For Men


"Imagine you are the object of your own poem."

Today on The Mark Blog is a PSA brought to you by Jade Sylvan on how to not write about women, a guide for men.


Well, this is it: the final blog post, the report on the Final Review, the last duty of The Mark Program.  And what a wonderful Mark Program it has been.  I still can’t believe that it’s ending. 

Last week we met with Libby, Antoine, and Rob for the Final Review.  What made an impression on me throughout the meeting was the vast quantity of kindness and generosity.  This feeling has stayed with me as I have reflected on the experience. All three treated my work and effort with respect, and I feel tremendous gratitude for The Mark experience.  They could have rushed through the process (it is summer, vacation time, after all), but, luckily for me, their responses and feedback were thoughtful and thorough, offering me specific suggestions.
Bottom line, the manuscript isn’t there yet.  It’s getting closer, but it’s still not there.  I anticipated this verdict.  After submitting it, I sat down over a couple of days and read the PDF file I had submitted.  I made notes for changes—both on a grand and small scale.   But then my mind went into overdrive, and I started second guessing changes I had made.  I became confused.
The Final Review provided me with a clear idea of where to go from here.  The work involves lots of meditation on certain stories, followed by revision.   It also involves scrutinizing the language.  A positive note of feedback was that the structure I finally decided on was working.  That was a relief.  Sometimes, working in isolation, a writer doesn’t know how the bigger picture affects the reader.  However, there was one mention of a story potentially being cut from the collection.  It turns out this is a story I love for sentimental reasons.  Even as they discussed this possible deletion, my gut told me they spoke the truth.  There are times every person has to get rid of a piece of a project because that weak link simply isn’t working within the whole.  I can accept it.
The team also advised me to be careful with each word, each sentence throughout the book.  In his directives, Rob gave me a great piece of advice:  read every single sentence aloud and make sure it’s doing a job NO OTHER LINE CAN DO.  Cut everything you can.  My first thought was, “Oh my God, that’s going to take a long, long time.”  But then I remembered how time goes by anyway.  This is another tactic, another tool, to help me reach my goal. 
So, this is it.  Thank you to PEN Center USA for again investing in my growth.  Thank you to Libby, Antoine, and Rob for your constant support and insightful advice.  Thank you to Reid, Sasha, and Daniel, the professionals behind the scenes making the program and the blog work.  And thank you so much, kind readers, for your support, and for taking the time to read this.  



Last week, I had my Final Review with The Mark Program.  Amazingly, they told me they wouldn’t change a thing; it was perfect, genius, revolutionary.  They introduced me to a top agent and publisher on the spot, who offered me a $100,000 advance on top of a healthy percentage of royalties.  They said they wouldn’t be surprised if the Pulitzer was next.
Okay, not really. They did say it’s come a long way, but that it still needs work.  No surprise there. All in all, there’s no doubt I benefitted from this process, but now the hard part begins. I’m on my own.  No deadlines, workshops, reviews.  It’s all up to me.  This is what separates the dilettantes from the professionals. 
How many more drafts will it take?  Hard to say.  Will it change dramatically again, as it did between the first and second drafts? Probably. 
Luckily, I won’t be groping in the complete dark.  Both Antoine Wilson and Rob Roberge have given me wise, copious notes to get me rolling again.  Although they believed it was working as a linked collection, I’m not ruling out heading into novel-territory.  I would need to locate or invent a central narrative thread, however, and I’m not sure I want to force it if it doesn’t come naturally.
The stories, in case you haven’t been following my blog (and shame on you!), concern one central character, from middle school to middle age.  There are thematic links: falling in and out of love, dysfunctional friendships, the hazards of lust.  Some changes I can foresee making are condensing the scope, focusing on the 30s, combining a few characters, streamlining plots.
The worry, as always, is just how long this can take. I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help but feel the pressure of age.  If I was in my 20s, maybe I wouldn’t be so concerned.  Enough fellowships, residencies, and readings – it’s time I actually got something published.
Overall, I am excited to begin the rewrite, but still wracked with doubt.  And a lot of that has to do with me, or really, how much the main character resembles me.  In a way, this can be a good thing. It makes the work resonate on a personal level, more so than if it was total invention. But it can also feel self-involved, or, as Antoine put it, “self-mythologizing.” He was speaking of the way the main character wrote about himself, but it might as well have been me, too.
The strongest voice for the book seems to be first person, i.e. the narrator telling his own story.  For the next draft, I need to pinpoint all the ways this character and myself are different, and, in so doing, discover what the writer can tell you about the character through his narration.  In other words, how reliable is he, and what truths seep through for the reader that may not be even be apparent to the narrator himself?
This was one of the biggest challenges I received from my Final Review.  The others, lose the clichés, come up with less “telling” endings, all seem doable. This process has meant looking over my life, wondering about what I’ve done, and not done, what I did right, and what I did oh-so-wrong.  And where it all leads.  A big chunk of it has led to writing this book.  But I’m not so interested in memoir.  I still enjoy manipulating facts too much. Sometimes, in order to be honest, you have to lie. Other times, you have to be honest. Writing can be an act of negotiation between the two.
In some ways, my fate and the book’s fate feel intertwined.  It feels as if it fails, so do I.  Then again, they say you learn most from failure.  That may be true, but when does the learning end, and the being begin?
Though I haven’t blogged for two months, I’m feeling a little sad now, this being the last one. Big thanks to Antoine, Rob, Libby, and also web-masters Sasha & Daniel. And, of course, to you, whoever you are, for reading.  I’ll miss you all.

Writers Reel: Henry Miller Asleep & Awake

In this 1975 short documentary "Henry Miller Asleep & Awake" writer Henry Miller takes a tour of his bathroom and his life.

Miller guides us through his bathroom, covered with photos and drawings collected by the author. He points out the highlights of both this gallery and his life in this documentary by Tom Schiller.

The Only Thing Left

The thing about the end of The Mark Program is that I don’t know what comes next. Before this, there had been a number of logical steps: I completed my undergraduate degree, majoring in English; I participated in the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship; I went to graduate school for creative writing; and, most recently, I got to be a part of The Mark Program, which is now coming to a close. The next step, I suspect, is not so structured or clear-cut. I’ve never done it before and I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I sense that it requires giving myself time, space, and, most of all, creative freedom to let loose and do the one thing that’s left: finish writing my novel.

Last week, in my Final Review for The Mark Program, I had the privilege of discussing my novel-in-progress with the committee, comprised as usual of our instructor Antoine Wilson, advisor Rob Roberge, and Program Manager Libby Flores. During this hour-long conversation, I gleaned a lot of valuable feedback, including the illuminating advice from Antoine that I’ve already created a world, characters, and circumstances; now, in the latter portion of the novel, it’s time to let the will of the protagonist Lillian determine the outcomes of these dynamics. In other words, the events have occurred and Lillian must react and face the consequences. It sounds obvious but, to me, it wasn’t. Also, I’m encouraged by the fact that the committee members supported the developments in the narrator’s voice. The novel is more certain about the fact that it’s told by a 15-year-old and, as such, more fully embodies Lillian’s point-of-view than it was at the beginning of the program. In this way, the constructive criticism and positive support from The Mark committee is helping to make the journey between the current draft and the finished draft ever clearer and, simultaneously, less intimidating.

That’s not to say that I’m not afraid of the unknown. I am—while also knowing that I’m better equipped to face it than I was eight months ago. The Mark Program has forced me to know Lillian better, to ask and answer difficult questions, and to shape the present draft of Look Away so that it’s beginning, perhaps, to feel a tad like a real novel. From here, I’m going to give myself the creative freedom to take risks and write with openness and fluidity, into the unknown.

Lastly, thank you for reading my blogs for these past months. It’s been an honor to share with you and I hope we meet again on the page.

Bookmark This: George Saunders on Kindness


George Saunders gave a convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013. We love this speech about the importance and complexity of kindness. Here's an excerpt pulled from the 6th Floor Blog on the New York Times.

"Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place."

"Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

...Those who were kindest to you, I bet."

Read more here.

Writers' Reel: Joan Didion Short Film

Joan Didion will be awarded with PEN Center USA's Lifetime Achievement Award at the 23rd Annual Literary Awards Festival on October 14, 2013. Click here to find out more about the 23rd Annual Literary Awards Festival.

In this short film excerpt directed by Griffin Dunne, Joan Didion reads a selection from the first chapter of her memoir Blue Nights.

Bookmark This: Joan Didion on Creative Process

Joan Didion sat down with the Paris Review in 1977. In this great interview she talks about her process and the importance of a good first sentence.


I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I've done that day. I can't do it late in the afternoon because I'm too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I'm really working I don't like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don't have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I'm in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I'm near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.


What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.


The first is the gesture, the second is the commitment.


Yes, and the last sentence in a piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. It should make you go back and start reading from page one. That's how it should be, but it doesn't always work. I think of writing anything at all as a kind of high-wire act. The minute you start putting words on paper you're eliminating possibilities. Unless you're Henry James.

Read the rest here.

Writers' Reel: Interview With Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Today on The Mark Blog we have the only full version of an interview with the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"The two things that people always want to ask me...

...How I ever came to write the Sherlock Holmes stories... the other is about how I came to have psychic experiences..."




Bookmark this article from The Atlantic: Prodigy envy isn't a new thing. The article states, "Young writers have always been angsty about the ever-waning time left to become a literary wunderkind."

"The feeling of having hoped you'd be further along by age x is pretty common, whether the yardstick is in financial success or artistic achievement and critical acclaim (and often young writers aren't sure which they value more). This is evidently one of the reasons the coming of Girls has been such an emotional experience for viewers with literary or artistic aspirations: Character Hannah Horvath is going through a rough time becoming the "voice of [her] generation." But the star and the creator of the show, Lena Dunham, has just won her second Golden Globe Award, writes off and on for the New Yorker, and received a $3.7 million advance to write a book for Random House. She's 26. Jeez, what have the rest of us been doing?"

Read the full article here.