Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Happy Dance

Sometimes you need someone else to teach you what you already know. Thanks, Max Kohanzad, for sending me this little piece of my book.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Outlines and Writing Software


My amazing co-MFA cohorter Kate asked if I'd used any of these writing programs. I'll copy the list first in case you're looking for one:

  1. BloggerThis popular Google-owned site is a great place to start your own blog for free.
  2. ScrivenerThis popular, feature-rich program is great for organizing research, planning drafts, and writing novels, articles, short stories, and even screenplays.
  3. The Literary MachineThis free software allows writers to compile research and writing modules that makes it easier to draw on information collected during research to write an outline or a final draft.
  4. New NovelistCreated for Windows users, this program is specifically designed to meet the needs of novelists, making it possible to juggle ideas, notes, and more in one place.
  5. Open OfficeWhy pay for Microsoft products when you can create free documents with Open Office? This open source software provides similar tools to the Microsoft Office Suite, including spreadsheets, a word processor, the ability to create multimedia presentations, and more.
  6. Script FrenzyScriptwriters will appreciate this software. It offers an easy layout that helps outline plots as well as providing storyboard features, index cards, and even sound and photo integration.
  7. StorybookThis open source software can make it easier to manage your plotlines, characters, data, and other critical information while penning a novel.
  8. TreePad LiteThe free version of this software keeps the writing process simple, ensuring that information stay organized and your story stays on track.
  9. WordPressWordPress is another popular and free choice for starting a blog (or two).
  10. Writer’s CafeGet creative with writing fiction with this easy-to-use software. Designed by a writer, it features a notebook, journal, organizer, writing tips, and even an e-book all about writing.
  11. yWriter5Another word processor for writers, yWriter5 helps break down a novel into chapters and scenes to make everything a little more manageable.
  12. ZohoDocsZoho is another free word processing suite, and like Google Drive, it allows you to write and access your work from any computer with an Internet connection.
[edit: taken from this site. they list 150, though, so consider this a scaled-down model.]

Here's what I replied:
OpenOffice is seriously exactly microsoft office. word, excel, all that. it's the same thing. For outlining, I'm partial to regular blank paper -- i make a list of

BIG POINTS
and then little points
     and then i'll indent a little and write scenes i have ideas for 
AND THEN MORE BIG POINTS 
and do it that way. the more bare-bones, the better. my writing partner Eric tried this iphone app called Save the Cat (the free version, oh, here it is) that gives you a 15-point outline to fill in...you can try that, too. but really just see what works for you.
So I guess my big writing secret is, I don't have a big writing secret. I try to be in the moment. Sure, there are some things I know about my characters before the audience knows them -- you can't very well write a murder mystery without having some idea who the murderer was and how she slips up -- but the big, character-defining, wow-instilling moments, I like to come to at roughly the same time as the reader.

But I do spend a LOT of time, hopefully more than my readers, thinking about what's going to happen, and what might happen, and the outliers are always the most interesting parts, al pi Flannery O'Connor's idea that an ending should be both "surprising and inevitable." And those are the chances we get to surprise people. I guess those are the moments that really justify outlining and planning ahead: because you've already anticipated all the expected things, and you've come up with most of the surprising-and-probably-won't-happen endings (the "evitable" endings?), and so what remains -- bizarre, off-kilter, and true to the story -- might be your ending.

(Or it completely might not. Which is why, for the 20 pages I'm writing now, I have four different outlines going. I mean, it's a novel, which means things will get sticky...but sticky is exactly what outlines are made for.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Song Lost and Found

Tonight while writing a post for Hevria, this amazing new group blog about art and G-d and Jewish stuff, I had to look up something in my own old blog at Diaryland. I got swept up in the tsunami of ego and started reading all these old entries, parts of a self I barely remembered.

The last entry I posted was about the novel I'd written that had just come out, Losers. Almost all the chapters are named after Cure songs, and I was writing liner notes to them, one by one (the chapters, not the songs). In one of the notes, I got lost mourning for a song that I could never find, one that my best friend put on a mix for me before he died:

Another Cure chapter. The song "A Night Like This" is a beautiful song in its own right, track 8 on "The Head on the Door," which some poet-friends in Melbourne performed a track-by-track jam of poems influenced by the songs. But there's another Cure song that my best friend Mike put on a mixtape for me that was just Robert Smith's voice and a brilliant string section and tympani drums that's called something like "Other Nights Like This" -- the handwriting was scratchy. I never remembered to ask him, and now it's too late. Now the tape's broken, and I keep googling the first words, but I can't find anything.

READ MORE>>
That was 2008. Before I had kids, before I had a job or style or a pager (I still don't have a pager). At that point, it was already three years since I'd spoken to Mike. It wasn't until tonight that my ex-roommate, dear friend and how-does-she-do-it-and-with-kids-too-type person Andrea saw my whoa-remember-this post and found it on Facebook.



And, like, I'm sure it isn't as good as you think it will be, but it's been fermented in my memory, and every second of it is about a time I remember more than anything will ever happen again.

And now I am crying.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Here's Your Next Reading List (or mine)

Just finished with my writers' group, a collection -- a straining? -- from my master's program. I think when we all decided to meet up, it seemed like an excuse for a reunion (and to drink). Turns out, it's more of a working night. We workshop two stories, and we go pretty hardcore. The way I know it's going well is, I learn more and get more out of the workshops where other people's stories are being workshopped than the ones where mine are put under the spotlight.

Anyway, we've been coming up with cool interstitial activities to do between workshops. Tonight, our assignment was to talk about whatever we're reading. Here's what people said. I'm mostly writing this because I feel psyched and energized and I want to read all these books. Enclosing links, mostly to the Brooklyn Public Library, so hopefully at least I use them, and you can too. I'll let you know how it goes. I hope you'll let me know, too.


Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine Lacey (recommended by Elisia). Elisia knew her years ago, when she was trying to sell her first novel. It never sold. This is her second, and it is apparently all over the place. It's a great story (she read us the first bit), and it's great to keep in mind when you think that you're never going to get anywhere as a writer.

CosmosWitold Gombrowicz (Laura). Long sentences, a crazy meandering plot, purely beautiful writing. Laura tried to make this a beach read and it was so not beach reading, but it was amazing anyway.

Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante (Ben). Really beautiful quiet moments, mundane, but with surprising moments of violence.

(By the way, I should mention that the six of us destroyed four bottles of wine, so if there are details that I'm messing up, it is my fault alone, and not the fault of the recommender.)

My Struggle by Karl Knausgaard (Marc's reading it). It's named after Mein Kampf. Messed up? Yeah. It focuses on mundane, trivial moments and really blows them into microscopic thinking. Apparently a lot of men are reading this and really digging it. "It's about a guy who wants to be a writer, but can't because he has to raise a kid," explained someone. "What the fuck is the big deal?" I said. "You squeeze it in. You make it work. How do you think people have been doing it for the past thousands of years?" Yeah, Knausgaard. I'm on kid #3. I'm probably messing it up bigtime, but that's life.

Plainwater, by Anne Carson (Caitlin). "I like reading poetry before bed. It resets the rhythm of my brain."

Interlude: Someone tells the rest of us about an 11-year-old whose father is reading Infinite Jest to him and they're recreating it in Lego.

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (Caitlin). "You must read this," she told me. I am still not sure why, although the title, and the fact that it's a 3-volume book, have intrigued me for a while.

Oh! And here are mine:

Cujo by Stephen King. In his brilliant (!) book on writing, he says this is the book he can't remember writing. For me, it's seamless. Not just metaphorically but literally: it doesn't have chapter breaks. It's a moment-by-moment, play-by-play story. He commits so fully to the conceit of the book, the situation of the characters and the moment that all the stuff is happening.

And the books I'm actually reading:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I know that it's actually an allegory for Christianity -- thank you, o eleventh-grade Christian fundamentalist girl who I had a massive crush on, for pointing that out. But it's such a good story. And so purely good. I should probably write a Kveller post about my intellectual conflictedness on this issue. But as a storyteller, I could not get behind this more.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami. It's not my favorite of his, but after 50 pages of goodness-but-not-blow-away-ness, there was a moment where the emotional force of the story pummeled its way through -- it's about a guy who's always been part of a group of friends, and suddenly, for no reason he can discern, they kick him out -- and hit me squarely in the gut. And then it keeps hitting. It's not the best book ever, and there are lines that would totally embarrass me if I were Murakami (especially that one about "Tsukuru Tazaki's life was changed forever, as if a sheer ridge had divided the original vegetation into two distinct biomes"but it's a really solidly good book.

I included everyone's names as a way of sort of quoting/attributing to them. Hope it's okay.

Friday, August 29, 2014

2:00 A.M., Thursday night

I'm half asleep. There's a scuffling from downstairs. Eventually, Itta, freshly home from her restaurant, trudges upstairs.

ITTA: Sorry, I ate your leftover falafel.
ME: I was planning to take it for lunch tomorrow!
ITTA: You should've gotten food for me!
ME: You work at a restaurant!
ITTA: I can't eat restaurant food all the time!
ME: But my leftovers were from a restaurant!
ITTA: Okay, I'll make you sandwiches to take for lunch.
ME: You so don't have to. It's two o'clock in the morning.
ITTA: It's fine.
ME: You really don't have to.
ME (thinking): jackpotjackpotjackpot
ITTA: It's fine.

ITTA proceeds downstairs and makes two sandwiches. I return to sleep.

And that, my friends, is what is known in the vernacular as a win-win situation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The End of Lost Time

From LitBooks' Twitter, here is the last page of Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

Kind of reassuring to know that, after writing 3000 pages, you're still not entirely sure about everything in your story.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I Hate Birthdays


First thing: I promise this is not a subtle, passive-aggressive way of saying that you should really say happy birthday to me. Second: I really am grateful to my parents and Hashem and everyone who's pushed me out of the way of a moving vehicle or woken me up out of an alcoholic stupor or otherwise contributed to the very unlikely occurrence of my still being alive.

So I guess, technically speaking, I do not hate birthdays. But all the same, every time someone wishes me a happy one, or goes out of their way to talk to me when they wouldn't otherwise talk to me, it feels like a knife applied to a particularly sensitive and recently-fed area of my stomach.

Most of all, it's that I haven't done anything to deserve it. Like, what is this day which demands more compliments and wishings of wellness than any other? I didn't do anything. Actually, if we're going to get technical, today's the day I probably least deserve it, since I put my mother into more pain than she's ever been and started the long downhill slide of dependency on other people for my basic human needs.

Like, can you please save it for when something good happens that I've actually earned? Because my pirate novel is still sitting in a corner unsold, and I'm still wearing crappy clothes that don't entirely fit, and I just demanded an entire dialogue rewrite, which is probably necessary, but is going to cause a bunch of people a bunch of nightmares, and I haven't brokered peace between Israel and Palestine, or even between my 6-year-old and 4-year-old.

But I know at heart that it isn't a bad thing that people are wishing me stuff. Even if it's something I would rather gets slipped under the table and forgotten, good vibes are -- should be -- always appreciated. And I don't mean to shoot you down, and I can just see my mom's face when she reads this, But don't you feel good when..., and at this point in my life (old) (sick) (and kind of sweaty) I can use all the points I can get. So if you really want to wish a happy birthday today, probably the place to go is here: My mom's facebook page. Feel free to post on her wall. She deserves it.

In Judaism, you don't really get presents for your birthday. Instead, you're supposed to give blessings to people. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to happen, both to relieve my birthday depression and to make me work a little harder: instead of getting stuff, maybe I should be giving. So, seriously, hit me up.

Oh, and here's a present: They Might Be Giants are giving away their first album free. I know. I know. Happy birthday to me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

36, Stage Fright, and You Should Hang out with Me on a Farm

Last week I was performing, and then there was a Q&A session afterward -- which is always kind of weird; I feel like I should be the one asking everyone else questions, "What did you think?" and "Did that make any sense?" -- and someone asked me about my blog. "Yep," I said, "it's my weird place where I write whatever random stuff is on my head and doesn't fit anywhere else." "I guess you haven't had many random thoughts lately!" he said, "since you haven't written anything in almost 2 months." While I was reading, he'd Googled me and called up my site on his phone.

I have got to get better at covering my tracks.

matthue roth performing

I have suddenly started doing more readings, which is a weird thing. Not sure how it's going to square away with my anxiety issues -- that is, if I start hyperventilating onstage or ducking and hiding behind the monitor speakers, you'll know why -- but, so far, so good. Tomorrow night (Wednesday!) I'm going to be reading a very new story at Soda Bar as part of the Buzzards' Banquet series, and there will be music, too. And at the end of the month, I'm giving classes (and probably speaking, too) all week at ArtFest on this amazing kosher organic farm. And if you're there, my kids can teach you how to milk goats, because they know.

And the other big thing is this:


Itta and I were named two of the 36 under 36 by the Jewish Week. Here's Itta's and my feature directly, but you should check out the full suite of characters.

Oh! Cover photo by Karuna Tanahashi, taken at Chevra Ahavas Yisroel.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bad/Good/Bad

BAD: This morning, one kid refused to get dressed, just refused. I cajoled. I promised rewards. In the end, none of it worked and I had to throw a My Little Pony out the window. I am a horrible person. (I think it was even Twilight Sparkle. Like I said: horrible.)

GOOD: On the train the kids played one of the games I designed, and they were actually liking it, liking it a lot.

BAD: Dropped them off. Got on the subway. Was really hungry, and was going to snag a part of my lunch. Opened my bag and realized that same kid left her lunch in my bag. The train was coming in 7 minutes.

GOOD: Ran the distance. Bolted up the stairs, gave the kid her lunch. Was halfway back down the stairs when she called me back. I implored her, "Poppa really has to leave." She beckoned me again. I ran up. She thrust one hand in each of my pockets. "These are the blue crystals," she told me. "Just in case you run into any evil purple crystals on the train, you can make them better."

BAD: On the train, I realized I'd forgotten not only my notebook, but any sort of paper. I dug in my wallet. I found a Duane Reade receipt for a bag of chips I'd bought for a class party eons ago, and I had to continue my story on that.

GOOD: I continued my story. And I'd been plugged up on it all week. And now, in spite of (or maybe because of) forgetting my real notebook, it all came out.

matthue journal

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Three Things I Forgot About Babar: Death, Incest, and Shrooming

So today my kids and I crashed the enviable-but-stuffy Brooklyn College library. We didn't exactly get kicked out, but we definitely got enough snarly looks so that at least two out of three of us knew it was time to hit the road. Despite the fact that this particular wing of the library was almost empty, and it was, indeed, the Juvenile Section of a college library, we definitely turned most of the heads in there at one moment or another, and by the point that I was being asked if we could read just one more Dr. Seuss book (kudos to the library for actually having them), we were using our ejector seat buttons.

One of the books we read, for my first time in hmm hmm years, The Story of Babar. Three things I did not remember, in no particular order:

  1. His mom gets killed. Not like Bambi's mother, at an emotional high-point of the story. It's just like, Babar is playing in the sand, he's out with his friends, his mother gets shot by poachers.
  2. He marries his cousin. This is a little less over-the-head shocking, if only because half a dozen pages or so elapse between the line where Babar is visited by "his cousin Celeste" and his grand return to his tribe, whereupon he announces that he and Celeste are to be married. Is this really based on actual true stuff? Do elephants actually marry their cousins?
  3. Um, this:
There's also definitely that uncomfortable undertone of colonialism--something which I did not pick up upon my last reading at the age of five or so--but there's also a weird, snarkily subversive rejection of colonialism on the part of Babar and his clan. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but I'm sure somebody's written a paper about it some time.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Greatest Love of All

Today was long and intense, and almost entirely devoid of adults, and after I put the kids to bed -- we read the last chapters of Baby-Sitters' Club #3, Mary Ann Saves the Day, the graphic-novel adaptation, which has an amazIng scene (which I can only guess was not in the original, as it was wordless, and well-paced and utterly beautiful) where Mary Ann goes to visit her mother's grave and lies down on it -- and I emailed Itta and asked if she could bring me something from the restaurant when she gets home. I was so in the mood for restaurant food. sometimes you need food that you didn't cook, that no human being has cooked, that's fresh and warm and comes to you via a server and some cutlery that someone who's not you will wash (or, alternately, that's plastic and that you can just throw out).





Then I zoned out, except apparently I think I might have zoned out more than I warranted, because instead of writing I watched Sherlock -- a gorgeous episode, and one that I didn't think would come together at all, and in the end it totally did.

And that last scene, where Sherlock really wants to dance with someone and then he almost does and then he thinks better of it, a quick cut, and he's alone outside, hit a little too much home for me.

I really do want to write a great Disney movie. But even though the latest (Frozen, it's so incredible, I nearly had an artistic breakdown watching it just wishing I could make something that good and at the same time that inoffensive), where they (very minor spoiler) replace the girl/prince love story with a sisters/best friends love story. But I think what I really need to write, or to experience, is a movie where you learn that yourself is good enough? And I'm not sure if Disney will ever be capable of making that. I'm not sure if I'll ever be capable of writing that.

Tomorrow is my wife's due date. Or, as I've started saying it, her officially-overdue date. Feels so weird, that the world could change so radically at any given moment. And then I remind myself about what the Alter Rebbe said, that the world is created anew from nothingness at every moment, and I realize that all of us only exist by some whim of some Supreme Being anyway, so enjoy the sameness while we can. I feel like I'm hovering at that moment of Tron right before he gets sucked into the computer and everything turns to neon. Like stuff is nowhere near as cool as it's about to be, but I should appreciate the natural colors and relative boringness while I still can.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not Saying Nothing


matthue roth
hey! you keep coming up in conversation. you aren't headed this way anytime soon, are you?

Rob Auten
I should be in NYC most of Feb!

matthue roth
!!!!
we should hang out early in the month, then. because when later in the month comes, i will be, ahem, indisposed.

Rob Auten
What does that mean?

matthue roth
there will be a lot of family stuff and sleepless nights
how are you??

Rob Auten
Are you having another kid?

matthue roth
sorry for being obtuse. i'm being extra sensitive to evil-eye stuff because i am weird.

Rob Auten
You should practice being even MORE obtuse then; I had it figured out when you said you were, "ahem, indisposed."

matthue roth
i was being way more obtuse for 8 months!!! i'm glad you kept pushing though. it's good to be back on our game.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Six simple things about today I wouldn't have noticed

1.
I love this book. Love it unconditionally. It's sloppy, and the basic premise is something I would have taken to heart ten years ago and now I look at it through the eyes of someone who tells stories for a living and think, that's not a story, but I remember the person I was when I would have loved it. And that makes me kind of believe in things again like a story about losing your soul and then trying to find it.


2.
Also, when you're reading it and walking down the street, it kind of makes you think things you wouldn't otherwise think.

3.
I got off the train early, returned some library books. One of them was The Pale King, the last novel David Foster Wallace wrote before he died. It's huge, and I barely made a dent in it. Too much stuff going on in my life, I thought, and too many other books to read instead. As I slipped it in the return slot, I wondered what my past three weeks would have been like if I'd been reading The Pale King. How radically it would have changed, my conversations, my experiences, what I chose to do on my lunch breaks and at night, after the kids are in bed, the parts of my life that are still my own. If my life would have changed at all.

4.
I walked fast across the park and down the street to my office. There was this girl walking beside me, also fast. Fast walkers are kind of united in our brusqueness and our no-nonsense attitude, our force of will to get things done, and we all kind of hate each other. This girl and I were walking at exactly the same pace, and right next to each other. We didn't make eye contact at all. She probably didn't even realize I was there. It was me with the book, her with these intense military knee boots and a killer stomp. Sexy boots and a sort of messed-up face, the kind that isn't symmetrical but you can't put your finger on why. We pass a nanny and her kids and we both swerve in opposite directions, then we're right back in line. We hit the corner of my work, she turned right, I kept going.

5.
The subways were psycho today. There was fog, mad fog, and at my outdoor subway station, you couldn't see more than five feet in front of you. People kept staring down the tracks, looking for that ghostly light. It took forever. Ten minutes, fifteen, and then in the fog, a faint yellow pair of eyes, that subway, creeping ever forward. It was packed. We had to force our way on, and then more people forcing their way on. I was one of the last people to actually fit. Or maybe everyone thinks that. At the next stop, this fat kid with a good smile apologized to everyone as he squeezed on, "Sorry, I got to get to work." The stop after that, a fat woman stepped on and literally swished smaller people into each other. I don't mean to call out fat people, I'm sorry it sounds bad, but this morning it seemed like nobody but fat people were even attempting to get on the train. A disembodied woman's voice yelled in our car at each station, "There is no more fucking room!" We all agreed with her. But she sounded more violent each time, and we were afraid to agree. The last stop before we dipped underground, the train stalled for ten minutes. A man's and woman's voices yelled at each other from outside. All the people on the platform, the people who couldn't get in, watched the offscreen drama. Someone said somebody should call 911. I wondered why that person didn't. I wasn't sure if it was really going to get bad, if it was just two people who didn't know each other yelling at each other, or what. I thought about the potential of calling 911 just to say that people weren't getting along, and there were bad vibes everywhere, and could they help out with that. I couldn't call 911. I couldn't reach my phone. My arms were pinned by too many people on every side.

6.
The lobby at my work was, for once, empty. An elevator was right there. A woman slipped into the building just as I was getting on and I held it for her. She hit 6, and then 5. "Sorry," she said. "I didn't realize." "That's okay," I said, "it'll be an adventure." She smiled at me as though having an adventure was the last thing in this world she could conceive of. She smiled at me like she needed an adventure. She got off at 5. The elevator stopped again at 6 and I got ready, instinctively, to step out. Then I realized it wasn't my floor and froze in the doorway. The elevator door held open. The elevator was still. I could have stepped out. Anything could have happened, then, anything in the world.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On slumlords, and slums, and not wanting anyone dead

I completely agree that this morning's New York Post cover is sketchy, and racist, and is basically anti-Semite-baiting creepiness.

jewish racism

But can we talk for one moment about how many Orthodox Jews are running slums and shitty housing operations, and how none of us is saying enough about it?

I'm not going to share the whole story right now. (I'm not.) (My kids are out for an hour, and I'm in the middle of a short story, and although this is burning me up right now, I have to act like writing is my profession and not just listening to whatever the voices in my head are telling me to write about.) But when I was trying to become more observant, and living in Crown Heights, and the only place I could find was a big old tenement on Empire Blvd. -- I was the only Orthodox Jew in the building, and my roommate and I were the only Jews/white people whatsoever -- conditions were atrocious. The halls and stairways smelled like pee. A toilet backup would last weeks before somebody came. You had to wait in line for an hour to hand in your rent check every month, in a dirty office through a glass window. (I wrote this short story about it, although I exaggerated things.) There were roaches the size of hot dogs. One morning I was on a wheezy elevator with a 6-year-old kid, and I stepped on one of those giant roaches, and a mountain of pus oozed out, but he was relieved. (I think he was relieved.)

It stayed there for almost a month, that body and that hardening pus. No other residents would touch it. I kept thinking maybe I should scrape it off, since I was the murderer in question, but I was squeamish, and besides, I kept thinking, I did the good deed in the first place. But, come on. How ridiculous, how devoid of humanity, is it that the landlords and all the people who work for them spent an entire month not going on an elevator in their own building, not even looking inside, and letting all sorts of terrible things happen -- most of which are way more traumatic than a dead squashed cockroach.

I'm not saying that the deceased, may he be remembered in blessing, was one of those people. I'm not saying he didn't do amazing things for other people. But maybe we can do one more act of kindness in his memory, and look at the money we're making from people, and ask just how we've earned every dollar, and if we're truly helping every single person we can.

(Edit: Changed the first line from the questionable "possibly echoes the Holocaust in a really scary and journalistically questionable way" because Yitz and David said it sounded weird and was drawing away from my main point. Thanks for the edits {you can still read about it in the comments below}.)

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