the next writer in the series: march 1, 2014

tumbledown

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

shakespeare days

The New York Times September 15, 2013

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to read all of Shakespeare’s plays–all 38. In June I was re-reading one of my favorite books, The Writing Life, by Ellen Gilchrist. And in it, there’s a chapter about “The Shakespeare Group.” Ellen … Continue reading

not every sentence can be great but every sentence must be good

brevity

Thrilled to have a craft essay in the new issue of Brevity, which includes fifteen brief wonderful essays by Sven Birkerts, Brian Doyle, Robin Hemley, David Jauss, Thomas Larson, and more. Plus other craft essays by Philip Graham and Mary Clearman … Continue reading

four things

four hooks

Some of you will remember my September 28th post entitled three things. Well, there’s more. Sometimes I choose a book knowing it will have to do with a certain subject. Usually the choice of my next book has more to do … Continue reading

the forgotten waltz and voice

Really? you might be thinking. More on The Forgotten Waltz? Yes, there’s more.

Consider the following:

…there was no doubt that we felt easier about the world, for the fact that our father was no longer in it. We loved him, of course, but we both knew that life was simpler now that he was dead and he wasn’t coming back. 

Now with Enright’s voice and detail:

…there was no doubt that we felt easier about the world, for the fact that our father was no longer in it. We loved him, of course, but we both knew that life was simpler now that he wasn’t just ‘out,’ or ‘late,’ or even ‘gone on a wander,’ but definitely and definitively dead, dead, dead. No coming back. No late-night key scratching for the lock. (115)

And there’s more, but I think we’ll stop there. Next post, something else.

christmas magic 2011

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If you can find twenty minutes, you can listen to Dylan Thomas’ story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” read by the author–courtesy of NPR.  The written story is also available online.

Thomas grounds the story of this long-ago Christmas in real details–snow and fire brigades and uncles–and yet he tells it as if it were a fairy tale.

The ending:  “I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

to do today

  1. write blog post
  2. read over 5 pages of novel-details (every day 5 pages)
  3. make airline reservations for Oct trip to California
  4. out
    1. buy birthday gifts (8 birthdays in 10 days in sept)
    2. exercise
    3. grocery (supper!)
    4. make copy of photo
  5. call
    1. cancel exercise apt in Atl
    2. Dad
    3. Claire at 3:00
    4. Jodi
  6. work on novel revision-big picture
  7. play with point-of-view in general
  8. edit reviews for Contrary
  9. edit HM piece
  10. read

Not sure how time feels to the rest of you, but if you have a little to play with, don’t miss Robin Black’s To Do list, the second list of the new feature Lists: Literary & Laundry at Hunger Mountain:

“For as long as I can remember I have made TO DO lists with the letters of TO DO all caps.”

What’s on your list for today?

await your reply 3: repetition with new detail

In Await Your Reply, published in 2009, Dan Chaon uses repetition in a very cool way. Instead of bogging down the original scene, he pushes the action forward first, then a bit later, moves in for a close-up or two, adding additional details.

For example, on page 246, Miles wakes up in bed with a woman and gropes for his underwear, which he puts on. So the assumption is they’ve had sex.

On page 248:

He was standing there in his underwear, still a bit groggy, still a bit dazzled by the fact that he’d had sex for the first time in two years… [new detail bolded]

Then on page 249:

He was standing there in his boxer shorts with their ridiculous hot pepper print… [new detail bolded]

What this technique does is to roll the scene along, allow the reader to move in for a quick close-up, and then continue along with the story.

It keeps things moving. It adds texture. It reinforces image.

~3rd in a series
~Cross-posted at Contrary Blog

await your reply 1: three threads

From the first page of Dan Chaon‘s novel:

On the seat beside him, in between him and his father, Ryan’s severed hand is resting on a bed of ice in an eight-quart Styrofoam cooler.

Enough said?

Dan Chaon’s second novel and fourth book, Await Your Reply, which was published in 2009, intertwines 3 seemingly unrelated narrative threads that exude echoes of each other, assuring the reader that they will eventually come together. And they do. But no spoilers here.

3 threads. 324 pages. 3 parts–each one divided into numbered chapters.

Chaon gets each of the threads off the ground in a hurry: the 1st chapter is 2 pages; the 2nd is 5 pages; the 3rd is 3 pages. Bam. In 10 pages, the reader is aware of all 3 plot lines.

The “severed hand” scene comes first and takes place at night in a car. Chapter 2 begins with Lucy and George leaving town in the middle of the night. “Not fugitives–not exactly.” AND “They would make a clean break. A new life.” (Chaon has a sense of humor.) In Chapter 3 again a character is driving a car. And I wish I had time to count how many times the word hand or hands is used in each of the threads.

As I said, because of the repetition of images and details and echoes of themes, the reader knows that these threads are related. So the reader’s mind is fully engaged as she is reading, trying to answer the question of how. It’s like a treasure hunt. We’re looking for clues, reading carefully because we don’t want to miss anything. All of this creates energy and narrative drive.

In July in Vermont, Dan said that with Await Your Reply, he began with 3 images and a story, but that he had no idea how they were connected until the end of the first draft. He said that the second draft is always “super important” to him because he’s looking for iconography, like tarot cards, to signal where the power is–where an image and/or a moment is important.

Each image distinct and capsulized, like tarot cards laid down one by one. (147)

Read it, if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.

~1st in a series
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

things we think with

Sherry Turkle asked scientists, humanists, artists, and designers to “trace the power of objects in their lives, objects that connect them to ideas and people.” In Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, published in 2007, you’ll find thirty-four essays on objects such as a rolling pin, a yellow raincoat, an axe head, a suitcase, a stuffed bunny, an apple.

In “Knots,” Carol Strohecker writes, “I understand being pulled; it is something that I know.”

In “The Archive,” Susan Yee writes about studying Le Corbusier’s drawings and how fortunate she feels to belong to a generation that has both created drawings on paper and on the computer. Drawings now, she writes, “are born digital. They will never be touched.”

Turkle divides the essays into six categories: objects of design and play, objects of discipline and desire, objects of history and exchange, objects of transition and passage, objects of mourning and memory, and objects of meditation and new vision.

My favorite essay was “Death-Defying Superheroes,” written by Henry Jenkins and placed by Turkle in the section on Objects of Mourning and Memory. Jenkins had read comics since grade school but became attached to them the week his mother died.

Retreating from the emotional drama that surrounded me, I found myself staring into the panic-stricken eyes of a young Bruce Wayne, kneeling over the newly murdered bodies of his parents. I had visited that moment many times before, but this time, our common plight touched me deeply.

Over the years, as he ages, the comics remain the same.

As such, they help me to reflect on the differences between who I am now and who I was when I first read them.

As Turkle writes in her introduction to the essays, “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.”

~cross-posted at The Contrary Blog