Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Writers Fellowships and Pipe Hitters

Thriller Guy has a goddamn cold. First one in ten years and it’s really kicking his butt. So rather than ranting on and on, he’s going to pass along a valuable document, shut down the computer and go back to his armchair. But first…

A fun fact to know and use for thriller writers. A Pipe Hitter is a term used by special forces to describe someone, either friend or foe, who is willing to do anything to achieve his mission. Anything.

Regular readers of this blog know that writer Allen Appel is a big fan of the artist fellowship writing program at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. In the last 2+ years Appel has completed two novels, doing most of the original draft work while in residence at VCCA. Many of the other artists there spend much of their year travelling from one of these residencies to another. A web search will turn up lots of possibilities, but Thriller Guy offers this list for writers in particular. Note that many of them pay travel expenses and some also offer stipends as well. Read the list, dream and maybe even apply.

You’re welcome.

James Merrill House, located in Stonington, Connecticut, offers one four and a half residency between mid-January and the end of May, and three or four shorter residencies of 2 to 6 weeks during the months between Labor Day and mid-January. The fellowship provides living and working space to a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a project of literary or academic merit. The Writer-in-Residence program includes a US$5000 stipend for the extended term with smaller stipends offered for the brief residencies. Applications close 15 January.
Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing
This residency is hosted by Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Named for the University’s renowned literary alumnus and initiated in the fall of 1993, the Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing offers up to four months of unfettered writing time for a writer working on a first or second book. The program provides lodging in Poets’ Cottage and a stipend of US$4000. Applications close on 1 February.
This program is offered by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It offers residencies to mid-career professionals in the arts and humanities, including writers. The residencies last between one and three months and take place at The Dora Maar House in Ménerbes, France. For fellowships between 1 July and 15 December 2015, applications must be submitted by 15 February.
Each year Can Serrat Centre near Barcelona, Spain, offers two writers a full stipend which entitles them to a 30-day residency including free accommodation, breakfasts and dinners. The residency is open to writers in all fields regardless of nationality or age. All chosen candidates have the opportunity to do a reading / exhibition at the centre. There are two selection rounds: the first closes on 1 March and the second on 1 August.
This month-long residency offers eight established writers of non-fiction an opportunity to develop a major essay, memoir, or feature piece for a CA$2000 commission. Held at The Banff Centre’s Leighton Artists’ Colony studios, it enables writers to work on their manuscripts during individual consultations with faculty and during round-table discussions. Participants are required to arrive with a fully reported and typed first draft of their project, and must complete a final, publishable draft of between 5000 and 7500 words by the time they leave.  Past participants of the program have represented thought-provoking writers across Canada, however international applications are equally welcomed. The application deadline is 18 March.
Jack Kerouac Writer in Residence ProjectThe Kerouac Project provides four residencies a year to writers living anywhere in the world. Each residency consists of approximately a three-month stay in Orlando, Florida, in the cottage where Jack Kerouac wrote his novel Dharma Bums. Utilities and a food stipend of US$800 are included. The Project also offers opportunities for residents to participate in readings, workshops and to interact with the central Florida writing community. Applications for the 2015-2016 residencies close on 31 March and results will be announced in May.
Danish Centre for Writers and Translators
Since 1999 the Danish Centre for Writers and Translators has offered writers, translators and illustrators free working residencies at the old manor Hald Hovedgaard, situated 10 kilometres from the town of Viborg, in the middle of Denmark.The Centre offers four-week residencies to published international authors who have had at least two books of fiction or poetry published. Applications are expected to open in March and close in April.
Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony
The Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony offers Summer Fellowships for fiction, nonfiction and poetry writers during the second half of 2015 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Five applicants (including one from the State of Utah) will be chosen for this in-residence program. Each successful fellow receives full tuition and housing for the entire three-week period of their stay. Applications close in April.
Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre
The Centre d’Art Marnay Art Cenre offers residencies year-round to writers and other artists in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northern France. The program aims to support residents in their ‘creative explorations, investigations, and professional growth, within an environment of communication and exchange.’ Residents are housed in seven recently renovated studios. The centre offers two scholarships for two-month retreats, one is co-sponsored by UNESCO and the other sponsored by the Ténot Foundation. General applications are considered on a rolling basis.
Built in 1902, Gladstone’s Library is the UK’s only residential library. The Library’s Writers in Residence program began in 2011. Four residencies are offered each year with each writer staying at the Library for a month. The Writers in Residence are asked to keep a blog about their stay, as well as running a creative writing workshop. Residents receive full room and board, reimbursement for travel expenses and a small stipend of £100 per week. Applications close 30 May.
This residency for women writers is located on Whidbey Island, about thirty-five miles northwest of Seattle. The program is open to all women writers, whether their work has been published yet or not. Applications open in June.
The Scotland Writing Residency is located in Brora, a coastal village in the east of Sutherland in the Highland area of Scotland. The writer resides, for one week during summer or fall, in a furnished and recently renovated, traditional croft cottage, containing three-bedrooms. The residency does not come with a cash prize. Applications close 12 August.
Jentel is located on a 1000 acre working cattle ranch 20 miles southeast of Sheridan, Wyoming. It offers individuals a supportive environment in which to further their creative development. Applications for Summer/Fall Residencies close in January and applications for Winter/Spring Residencies closes on 15 September.
Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency program in the United States. Each month the Center hosts 16 writers from across the country and around the world, as well as 24 painters/mixed-media artists, 12 sculptors/mixed-media artists, 2 printmakers and 2 photographers. The residencies take place on a historic 30-building campus along the Gihon River in Johnson, Vermont, and run for between 2 and 12 weeks. The next three applications rounds in 2015; the deadlines are 15 February, 15 June and 1 October.
Berton House is located in Dawson City, Yukon. Professional Canadian writers who have published at least one book and are established in any creative literary discipline (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, play/screenwriting, journalism) may apply for a three-month residency. Applications close in October.
Since it was founded in 1992 it has hosted hundreds of authors and translators, representing more than fifty countries, including Gary Shteyngart, Kiran Desai and Colum McCann. Ledig House located in Ghent, New York, two and a half hours from New York City and guests may select a residency of one week to two months. Applications close in October.
This program offers professional writers, as well as composers and visual and performing artists, the opportunity to ‘pursue their artistic discipline while being surrounded by the park’s inspiring landscape’. Selected artists stay in a historic cabin for two-week periods from June through September. Applications are expected to close in November.
The Amsterdam Writers’ Residency was established by the Dutch Foundation for Literature (Nederlands Letterenfonds). Since it began over eight years ago it has provided a space for international writers to live and work in the city. Residents are provided with an apartment located above the Athenaeum Bookshop. Residents are required to cover their own travel costs, though the program will actively work with writers to help locate other funding schemes to assist with such costs. 
Cove Park Literature Residencies
Cove Park is a Scottish artists’ retreat located on the Rosneath peninsula, an hour’s drive west of Glasgow. Literature residencies take place between March and September and last for between one and three months. Applications are invited from established writers of short and long fiction; poetry; creative non-fiction and memoir; work that crosses these genres and also writers who have made their reputation in one field and wish to develop in another. To be eligible for consideration, writers must have published at least one full-length book in their field. Applications close in December.
This is a unique residency for writers in the crucial early stages of their careers. Located in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the Work Center provides seven-month fellowships to twenty fellows each year in the form of living/work space and a modest monthly stipend. Residencies run from 1 October 30 April. Applications close on 1 December.
Sarabande Writing Residency
The Sarabande Writing Residency offers an annual residency of two to six weeks to a poet, fiction writer, or creative nonfiction writer at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, a 14,000-acre nature preserve near Louisville, Kentucky. Residents receive a US$500 travel stipend and a two to six-week stay in a private, fully equipped cottage on the Bernheim grounds. Residents offer one public reading or discussion during their tenure and may devote the rest of their time to writing in Bernheim’s extensive forest, gardens and arboretum.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Neil Gaiman Speaks

Thriller Guy met Neil Gaiman a few years ago and found him to be as likeable and smart as
everyone says he is. Gaiman is massively talented, the author of comics (Sandman) novels (Anansi Boys, American Gods) movies (Mirrormask) short stories and a TV series, just to mention a few of his many and varied accomplishments. He blogs at www.neilgaiman.com and recently wrote a short blog on that perennial topic: how to write a novel. TG is going to re-blog his piece. Gaiman is such a nice guy TG is sure he won’t mind.

"Write your ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: On the top of a distant mountain there grows a tree with silver leaves. Once every year, at dawn on April 30th, this tree blossoms, with five flowers, and over the next hour each blossom becomes a berry, first a green berry, then black, then golden.

At the moment the five berries become golden, five white crows, who have been waiting on the mountain, and which you will have mistaken for snow, will swoop down on the tree, greedily stripping it of all its berries, and will fly off, laughing.

You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry (the crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them far across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden, to drop, one by one, into the mouth of his daughter, who will wake from her enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her). When you have obtained the golden berry, you must place it under your tongue, and return directly to your home.

For the next week, you must speak to no-one, not even your loved ones or a highway patrol officer stopping you for speeding. Say nothing. Do not sleep. Let the berry sit beneath your tongue.

At midnight on the seventh day you must go to the highest place in your town (it is common to climb on roofs for this step) and, with the berry safely beneath your tongue, recite the whole of Fox in Socks. Do not let the berry slip from your tongue. Do not miss out any of the poem, or skip any of the bits of the Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle.

Then, and only then, can you swallow the berry. You must return home as quickly as you can, for you have only half an hour at most before you fall into a deep sleep.

When you wake in the morning, you will be able to get your thoughts and ideas down onto the paper, and you will be a writer."

TG here. Like I said, he’s a funny guy. This shows how maddening it is to keep answering the how-to question with the same advice, TG’s all-purpose, Sit Down, Shut Up, Get to Work. People don’t want to hear it, they think there’s a secret that’s being kept from them. And TG can guarantee that somewhere, sometime, someone will try and follow the above advice. And when it doesn’t work, he’s going to be pissed off. TG only asks one thing…

Don’t write to me, this is all Gaiman’s idea. You can reach him at his website: www.neilgaiman.com TG is sure he would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Writing Old

Writer pal  Larry Kahaner who blogs at The Non-FictionNovelist, has mentioned while discussing writing techniques that Allen Appel and Dan Stashower are able to write “old.”  Thriller Guy will now turn the blog over to Appel for an explanation.

What Larry is talking about is the ability to write historical fiction where the characters sound, when there is dialogue, like they belong in whatever the historical period the novel is set in. All my time travel books are set in the past, (as opposed to the future): Time After Time is set in 1917, Twice Upon a Time 1876, Till the End of Time 1945, The Sea of Time 1913, and In Time of War 1865. My novel, Abraham Lincoln: Detective takes place in 1842. So how does one go about making his characters “sound” correct? (You can go here and buy any of these novels for Kindle and judge for yourself if I have succeeded.) 

First of all, it’s impossible to do so with absolute certainty because recording devices didn't exist until invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison. Even then after that date, I believe, recording devices were so unusual that most people spoke into them in self-conscious ways for many years. Look at an old newsreel with a politician standing on the courthouse steps being filmed, and you’ll usually see a man shouting at the camera in a stilted manner as if the medium itself was hard of hearing. Recordings of casual, relaxed, off-hand conversation just didn’t exist until more modern times. So what’s a writer to do?

Dan Stashower says, “You don’t want to sound like a Renaissance Fair.  ‘Prithee, wouldst thou direct me to the Porta Potty?’  I like to roll around in old newspapers and novels, to pick up the flavors and textures of the period.”

(Thriller Guy would like to bust in here for a moment to mention that Dan’s latest book. Hour of Peril is now out in paperback. It’s an excellent read about Lincoln and Pinkerton as they travel to Washington for Lincoln’s first inaugural. Buy a copy and do yourself a favor. Also, Dan’s series of mysteries starring Harry Houdini as the detective are back in print. You can see how he tackles the writing “old” problem in this series.) 

Allen here again… Whenever I start, or actually before I start a new book set in the past, I search out any letters I can find that are of the period either by famous people or better yet by “ordinary” folks. I understand that people do not necessarily speak like they write, but it gives me a working knowledge of the sorts of words that they used in dialogue. When I have Mark Twain as a character, as I did in Twice Upon a Time, and as I do in the novel I’m completing now, I go back to his collected letters to get a sense of the rhythm of the way he wrote, and, hopefully, spoke. I use, as Dan has suggested, old newspapers to pick up phrases and words that were current at the time. Period novels are less helpful to me in that I don’t trust that fictional characters are speaking the way people really spoke.

But it is wise not to become too caught up in these difficulties and concerns. If you do, you will spend all your time attempting to perfect your “old voice” rather than getting on with the actual novel. And besides, if no one knows what people in the past actually sounded like then readers won’t have any idea if you’ve got it right or not. The trick is to toss in a piece of dialogue that is a bit stilted every once in awhile, stilted in a way that suggests the period. You can’t do this too often or too overtly -- it can backfire and take the reader out of his suspension of disbelief -- but if you’re careful it can establish the reader in the period without being too obvious. Remember, as in most areas of writing and life, a little goes a long way.

So the next time you read a period novel, ask yourself if the author has succeeded in this tricky task. And if you’re a writer as well, pay attention to how the author pulled off this bit of slight of hand. And use it yourself.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brother Can You Spare a Shiv

Thriller Guy’s writer pal Matthew Quirk writes thrillers. He’s working on his third book, after
The 500, and The Directive, both of which are terrific reads. As a hands-on kind of guy, Matthew has schooled himself in lock picking and other techniques his heroes and bad guys use. He recently wrote a piece for Pacific Magazine that I thought Thriller Guy readers might enjoy. Hang around at the end for a question.

"The stun gun crackled. A masked man ordered me into a van, hooded me, and searched me, then forced me to my knees. The van started moving. Someone put a second hood over my head, then doused it with water. It was getting harder to breathe. An interrogator shouted in my face, barking questions and threats at me and my fellow captives. At one point he threw the rear door open and threatened to throw us out of the speeding vehicle.

Fortunately, I had signed up for this.

I had just begun day three of an “urban escape and evasion course run by a company called OnPoint Tactical, www.onpointtactical.com which offers security and survival training to soldiers and contractors heading into war zones, business travelers bound for kidnapping hotspots, and civilians interested in disaster preparedness. I was here because I write thrillers for a living, and find myself spending an inordinate amount of time in the head of a protagonist running for his life through urban Americas.

Over the last two days we had practiced what to do if pursued or kidnapped in a dangerous city. We learned how to deal with medical trauma; how to improvise weapons; how to kill people; and how to tell when it might be necessary to do so. We learned how to pick locks and handcuffs with improvised tools; how to break out of flexcuffs and rope and duct-tape bindings; how to steal cars, construct fake IDs, run counter-surveillance, make disguises, and talk our way into getting what we want using the techniques of social engineering.

Now, on the final day, we were putting our new skills – well, most of them – to the test.

For the next seven hours, I would pretend that I had been taken hostage by militants in the hostile country of  “Losbekistan” (aka Los Angeles.) I would attempt to escape from my captors, and then try to elude them as I worked through a set of checkpoints and tasks around the city – all without the use of money or phone. Meanwhile, my classmates and I would be hunted by Kevin Reeve, the owner of OnPoint and an expert tracker, along with a few Marine Corps and Special Forces veterans. If they caught us, we were told, they would handcuff us to a fixed object on a public road and leave us there.

During the course, it dawned on me that my survival skills were not all that were being put to the test. I’m a typical up-with-cities young urban dweller. I often leave my windows open at night, and can be careless about locking up my car or house. While I find L.A. to be somewhat intimidating under normal circumstances, I’m usually pretty trusting. Today, though, soldiers with my mug shot would be lurking around any given corner, and the city itself had taken on a more menacing cast. During class, Reeve taught us the survivalist maxim that any given metropolis is just “nine meals away from anarchy.” He described how he always carries several knives and a trauma kit, and how he constantly sizes up passersby as potential threats. He illustrated our coursework with stories about close calls, assaults, and kidnapping attempts in everyday American towns. If there is one guy you want fixated on the worst-case scenario, it’s your survival instructor. Reeve has taught the most elite military units. Given the material, I found him refreshingly free of bluster and macho posturing. But spending a few days under his tutelage made me question an optimism about cities that I wasn’t eager to give up. And now here I was in an urban area of 13 million people with one of the highest rates of gang homicide in the US, blindfolded, about to be set on the run with no car, no money, no phone, and no idea where I was.

After twenty minutes of driving, the van pulled to a stop. Someone shouted “Drone!” and our captors scrambled. We dug for our hidden bobby pins and picks, shimmed our handcuffs, tore off our hoods, and bolted.

My initial sprint brought me to a six-lane boulevard near Home Depot somewhere in Playa Vista. On edge, I tried panhandling – it was one of our assigned tasks – and was rejected every time. I hated it. I got separated from the classmate I had partnered with, and couldn’t find my next objective. On a narrow shoulder under an overpass, I was looking behind me to see if I was being tailed when the mirror of a passing truck nearly killed me. (If someone is following you, it seems everyone is following you.) I was hot, dirty and thirsty. So far, my optimism wasn’t faring very well.

Then I walked down an alley and a homeless couple asked me for a spare dollar. He had face tattoos and was drinking a tallboy of malt liquor. She was smoking a joint. I was wearing a polo and khakis. I explained that I had lost my wallet and needed bus fare (my pretext for begging.) After we talked for a while, they told me that the L.A. bus system had a no-stranded policy, meaning the driver would let me ride if I dropped anything in the fare box. She gave me a penny – the only money I successfully begged all day – and said, “God bless.”

It worked. A moment later I was cruising on the express bus to Venice. I relaxed and started asking for help everywhere. I was amazed by what the city offered up: donuts, coffee, clothes, disguises, a beach umbrella (which helped me blend in near the pier,) material to make lock picks and fake IDs, a lift in a fancy golf cart. With the help of Reeve’s instructions, the streets provided everything I needed.

My only other close call came when I was about to step into a courthouse near Pico Boulevard to change disguise in the bathroom. Suddenly I remembered what I was carrying in my bag: several disguises, lock-picking tools, and a shank I had fashioned out of broken glass and caution tape (another assignment.) I about-faced for the nearest Starbucks.

My last objective was in Santa Monica. I hadn’t been caught and by now I was having a blast. I thought about the people who helped me the most; day laborers, the homeless, the spaced-out dude who volunteered advice when he thought I was improvising a drug pipe from an aluminum can. (I was making a padlock shim.) A lot of them were in situations that, compared to my cushy day-to-day life, would feel to me like a survival scenario, but they didn’t turn tribal or viscous. They bailed me out. I was at the city’s mercy; it turned out I was in pretty good hands."

Thriller Guy here. One of reasons I found this interesting is the way Quirk had to turn to the other side of society, the people who are down and out or just prefer to remain on the edges of what we think of as urban civilization. But these were the people who helped him the most. Which got TG thinking about mysteries and thrillers where plots and locations feature these same folks, and how well these characters work on the page. Several examples spring to mind, David Baldacci’s The Camel Club series set in Washington DC, Robert Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series, and the early books by Andrew Vachss, the Burke series back when they were good. So here’s the question: what other books, series or standalone, feature street people, the misfits, the crazy, the homeless, those that live in the urban underbelly.

While TG waits for your answer, he’ll practice picking the lock of his handcuffs and making a shiv out of a toothbrush.