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

blog bones

In the past week, several different readers have commented that either they didn’t know there was a list of all the writers in the How We Spend Our Days series or that they didn’t know what I was talking about when I said an article was mentioned on the Updates page. So put your feet up and enjoy the Delta Rhythm Boys as you read about the 4 blog bones: the header with tabs is connected to the blog feed is connected to the right sidebar is connected to the footer….Did you know there are…

9 tabs currently on the header: home, about me, about blog, how we spend our days, my writing, reading list, literary journals, update, and click here. Sometimes you might notice a new tab that corresponds to a new interest or current obsession. If you hold your cursor over a tab on the header–for example, on tab #4 How We Spend Our Days, you’ll see that you have options to click on 1) how we spend our days, 2) past writers in the series, or 3) next writer in the series. Each one of these is a separate page.

Home is the feed of posts with the most current one at the top. About me and about blog –obvious    : )

How We Spend Our Days is the feed of all the posts in this series that posts on the first of the month. On the past writers page, there’s a complete list in chronological order of all the writers in this series. On the 8th of each month, I announce the next writer in the series on that page.

My writing is updated as something new is published. You can either see all categories at one go on the first page or go straight to the essays page, for example.

The reading list tab shows the on-going list of the books I’ve read, starting back in January of 2008, with links to a post if I’ve written one about the book. There’s also a page that shows the book I’m currently reading.

There are four pages for literary journals: general, current, some cool covers, and the One Story thank you to my commenters page. I update these pages when I have a free minute.

On the Update page, I list interesting articles about writing or the writers who’ve appeared on the blog, or new writers I’m interested in. I often list awards. This is an informational page, and you can tell just from the tab the last time I’ve updated it.

Finally, the click here page, which is the list of blogs I like to read. I’m also trying something new at the moment, which is to feature one of my favorite blogs for a month, hoping that you have time to visit that site.

On the footer, which is at the bottom of the blog feed, I have a few little odds and ends, such as a link to Facebook.

On the right sidebar, there’s the calendar that highlights the days I’ve posted. You can also hit the arrows and go to past months. Then a brief description of the blog, lists of my most recent writing on the web, a list of some of my and your favorite posts, another place to see what book I’m currently reading, blog stats, my most recent tweets (and how to find me on twitter), the very important SEARCH BOX in case you want to find out if I’ve ever posted on a book you’re thinking about reading or a writer you’d like to know more about. Then the list of categories, which is TOO LONG. I know. My next project. But even though I’ve only written two posts on William Faulkner, how can I not have his name there??? And finally, yes finally, the archives, where you can click on a month to see the posts from way back then.

So there you go. Have fun and thanks for reading!