The Ploughshares Round-Down: Three Things Writers Can Learn From Solange and Jay Z

Between Jill Abramson’s indecorous firing and Amazon’s ongoing vendetta against Hachette, the publishing world gave me a lot of potential topics for the Ploughshares Round-Down this week, which I’m covering for Tasha Golden while she takes some well-earned time off. And yet there’s another, completely non-publishing-related story that I feel compelled to discuss instead, about which I have seen more tweets and Facebook updates and blog entries recently than almost anything else.

I’m talking, of course, about Solange Knowles.

49962842By now, the story has been hashed and re-hashed enough that I’m sure you know the basic outline. Solange, whose sister, Beyoncé Knowles, is married to Jay Z, attacked the latter in an elevator last week as all three of them were leaving a swanky party in Manhattan. Leaked video of the altercation soon prompted a storm of speculation, both online and in print. What could have provoked Solange to lash out like that? Whither such vitriol?

We’ll likely never know the answer, of course—but amongst all our feverish attempts to uncover the truth this past week, there’s a lot we can learn about writing good fiction.Continue Reading

How Can We Feed Our Creativity?

For songwriter Vienna Teng, the secret seems to lie in her variety of influences.

While I combed through your fabulous feedback (!) on What Poetry Can Learn from Pop Music last month, I connected with Teng for my ongoing interview series,  “Hey Guys, Other People Read Too! 

A Taiwanese-American songwriter, Vienna’s chamber-folk style has led her to Letterman, the CBS Saturday Early Show, the Wayne Brady Show, etc. She’s also opened for Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, Joan Osborne, India.Arie, Marc Cohn…  Her work is intelligent, intricate, often haunting.

Haven’t heard her? Check out this choral-like demo, written from the POV of a marketing database, inspired in part by Nate Silver‘s blog. It’s “sacred music for the age of Big Data.” Click play & come back…(I’ll wait.)

Last month, having just completed a MBA in Global Sustainable Enterprise (what the?!), Vienna launched right into recording a new album. She took a break from lyric-writing to offer her insights on the creative process, productive influences, and more.

“I’m always aiming for that state of blissful experimentation.”

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This month Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby came out in all it’s extravagant glory.

One thing I especially love about the film is its soundtrack. Setting the story to a backdrop of current music (Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Jack White) is true to Fitzgerald’s own inclusion of pop culture in his work.  That’s why this week’s playlists—that’s right, two—for Fitzgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, cover both the author’s own musical choices and a more modern soundtrack of my own making.

But first a little more about Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s most popular novel.

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Help! How Do I Use Microphones??!

Dragon with MicOkay. So you know that microphones are devices you put near your mouth to make your voice louder. Beyond that, there be dragons.

So let’s bust through seven common mic Q’s. Then sail on, writers!

#1. Won’t using a mic make me seem stiff and formal?
If I hear another author get on stage and ask, “Do I really need this thing?” I’m gonna…
Look. A mic will be whatever you make it. Is JT stiff and formal? Is Eddie Izzard?

JT grammies

Eddie Izzard




A mic just makes you audible. And hearing you is the purpose of a Public Reading. Therefore, Mic=Good.

“Do I really need this thing?” translates to, “I’m vaguely afraid of the mic, and I feel stupid when I use it. So I’d like to avoid doing so, while coming off as ‘cool.'”
 You’re not fooling anyone, and the people in the back row will pay for your choice. So use the mic AND be laid back! Everyone will forget it’s there.

#2. What if I’m too loud??
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