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
Several readers have asked if I had any other photos of Ragdale, especially of my room or of the prairie. So on the last day of the month in which I spent two amazing weeks in residency at Ragdale, I … Continue reading
For the last two weeks I’ve been an artist in residence at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. If you haven’t applied, apply now. The most wonderful people are here to make sure your work comes first and that you don’t … Continue reading
I’ve been doing too much, or trying to do too much. Contrary, Hunger Mountain, Catching Days, writing group, writing, family, life, read… Wait a minute. I haven’t been reading all that much. I used to read every evening–from after supper … Continue reading
Gargoyle 57 is now out with lots of new work, including a flash fiction story of mine. Here’s the opening of “Mackenzie”:
“I waited ‘til you got home,” Rim said, as I came into the den. He was standing by the open front door. I had just come in through the back, Mia in my arms. At the sound of his soft voice, I stopped where I was.
“Why?” I asked, wondering if the waiting was for him or for me.
Just a quick update: the rearranging of my study is temporarily on hold (things still sit in laundry baskets and all around me is still a HUGE mess) as I work on the revision of my novel like someone who has no other life. My third to last packet is due Friday, and I want to make it count.
What prompted me to stop in the middle of a page to check in here was that in the last few days of revising, more than once and again just now, I’ve deleted parts of the story that I really liked because a new opportunity has arisen. Each time, as I hesitated before changing, one of the five orange sticky notes on the front of the notebook containing my manuscript has popped into my head like one of those conversation bubbles. I don’t know where the words came from, but here they are:
Back to work…
Summer Contrary is online with new fiction, essays, and poetry, as well as reviews of these books :
Poetry: Northerners by Seth Abramson
Essays: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer and A Journey with Two Maps by Eaven Boland
Fiction: And Yet They Were Happy by Helen Phillips, You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, and The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen
Here’s the beginning of my review of The Bird Sisters:
When they were teenagers, Milly hoped to marry and have children, while Twiss hoped to stand on the Continental Divide and “to be the world’s most interesting spinster.” Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel, The Bird Sisters, opens at least half a century later with Milly and Twiss living together in the house where they grew up. Perhaps, as Twiss concludes, they just didn’t want those other things enough.
As part of a series at Douglas Glover’s Numéro Cinq, my childhood…
The Winter issue of Contrary is live, and there’s lots to celebrate. First, Writer’s Digest voted Contrary one of the 50 Best Online Literary Markets. Second, my story, “The Empty Armchair,” published in the Autumn 2009 issue, was one of the top ten most viewed pieces for 2010. Thanks to all who clicked over to read it. Third, I’m the new Review Editor for the journal. I had no idea how much I would enjoy editing. Lots of interesting books reviewed in this issue too–Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes; Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer; Voices at the World’s Edge edited by Paddy Bushe; and more…
It’s not unusual for a character in a book to find herself in an unfamiliar place, but what is unusual is for a reader to experience firsthand the sensation of unfamiliarity as she reads about the character. In Susan Froderberg’s début novel, Old Border Road, the reader finds herself in the unfamiliar world of repetition. Repetition—which Froderberg wields like a wand, transforming familiar words into unfamiliar sentences.
Happy New Year to all of you!
Taking a break from the Christmas list, I wonder whether to write about the holidays, which reminds me of the first line of a Dickens novel…or whether to write about something other than the holidays. I think about what I’d like to read myself.
One of my favorite books ever is Light Years by James Salter. It was published in 1975, and I read it for the first time in 1990. One of my favorite (maybe my favorite) quotes in the book is this:
Life is weather. Life is meals. Lunches on a blue checked cloth on which salt has spilled. The smell of tobacco. Brie, yellow apples, wood-handled knives.
James Salter and his wife Kay wrote a book together that was published in 2006– Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days. The entry for December 18th is on dining rooms. Apparently Thomas Jefferson used the State Dining Room in the White House for his office and let his pet mockingbird fly around. I remember I used to let the kids play ping-pong on our dining room table. You can still see faint ping marks.
A stilt house off the shore of Miami is a wondrous and fragile thing, built against all odds of survival. As is a marriage. Although we know that nothing lasts forever, still we hope that some things will. Stiltsville, the debut novel by Susanna Daniel, is straightforward and unsurprising, and each day that I was reading it, I could not wait to return to it.
There was nothing there but sea and sky, but then a few matchbox shapes formed on the hazy horizon. They grew larger and I saw that they were houses, propped above the water on pilings.
I’ve always wanted to like yoga. I tried Pilates–for two years. I wanted to be more connected to my body. Surely this would make me a better writer.
Today I’m going to CORE, a studio in the recently renovated and very cool White Provisions Building in Westside Atlanta. Outside its large rectangular windows, trains pass slowly. This will be the last 4 hours of a 24-hour pre-training course in the gyrotonic expansion system.
I stumbled onto gyrotonics by accident. Every January I try to visit a spa. In 2009, instead of choosing what I wanted to do while I was there, I asked the two women at the desk the name of the best trainer. Paul, they both said. I showed up the next morning, and Paul began talking as we walked past the machines and the free weights.
As I wrote in The View From Here, gyrotonics
makes sense to me. Most of the movements are circular and three-dimensional—like life. As founder Juliu Horvath said, “You will…find the unexplored parts of the body.” And I have, starting with my abs. Naturally it’s not for everyone, but I clicked with it. In late April, I discovered that the “wave” was a larger movement than I had understood. I was really supposed to roll far more and involve more of my body. “Oh,” I said, “I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.” “No,” Kayley said, “you’ve been doing it right. This is just a different level of right.”
The week before Thanksgiving, I had an appointment in Atlanta with a visiting Master Trainer. Bradley is tall and lean, and was wearing frayed gray sweatpants and a fitted t-shirt. He had been reading Truman Capote and, as I was arching and curling, he was talking about the long sentences in “The Thanksgiving Visitor.” Then I swear this is what he said to me:
“I think you like doing the movements in gyrotonics because each movement seems to hold a story within it.”
As a plane heads down a runway, a stranger reaches for the Narrator’s hand. “Here comes the dangerous part,” he says. Not terribly subtle, but such layering makes a story feel alive. Love in Mid Air, the debut novel by Kim Wright, is rich in “shadow truth” as Charles Baxter refers to subtext. “What is displayed evokes what is not displayed.”
An Equal Stillness, the debut novel by Francesca Kay, who grew up in South-east Asia and India and now lives in Oxford, was one of the best books I read in 2009. My review of this book is now online in Contrary Magazine‘s Winter Issue. An Equal Stillness also won the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers.
I imagine that the inspiration for the UK edition’s book cover came from this passage:
“In her great painting of that time, simply called Santiago, the foreground is a block of saffron broken by a line of deepest blue, above which is a band of blue that is even darker, so dark it might be black if it were not for the light contained in it which magically shines through.”
I thought if I wrote about it here either I might figure it out or maybe one of you would. You see, I’m working on my third piece of fiction where he tries to make an appearance.
Which he in fact did last night in Columbus!
In a 2001 (early, early) draft of my first novel, I opened every chapter with a few words from a Jackson Browne song. In July of that year, Howard Norman in a writing workshop said ever so gently, “Man, I just love Jackson Browne. Those quotes really took me back. But they’ve got to go. Your writing has to stand on its own.”
Perhaps you’d like to see what he was referring to:
Chapter Thirteen: “Whatever it is you might think you have/You have nothing to lose/Through every dead and living thing/Time runs like a fuse/And the fuse is burning/And the earth is turning.”
Chapter Fourteen: “And the heavens were rolling/Like a wheel on a track/And our sky was unfolding/And it’ll never fold back/Sky blue and black.”
Chapter Fifteen: “Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder/Where the years have gone/They have all passed under/Sleep’s dark and silent gate.”
Then there was a draft of a story I sent through my writing group in September where two characters were listening to JB in the car. Not working was the consensus.
Last night I was beside myself, as the saying goes, in my front row seat. At 7:30 Jackson Browne appeared out of the darkness onto a stage set up with 16 guitars and a keyboard. He was wearing dark blue pants, a dark blue shirt, and black shoes. His long straight hair is tinged with gray.
He had no setlist but chose songs that appealed to him from those that the audience members shouted out, commenting late in the show that we were “a fractured group.” Several times he commented that he was concerned with trying to string the songs together in the right way, that he wanted everything to be “just so.” Then he said, “Really, when I think about it, it is ‘just so.’”
With the exception of a fifteen minute break, he played until 10:00. 1-Barricades of Heaven 2-I Thought I Was a Child 3-Looking Into You 4-Jamaica Say You Will 5-Running on Empty 6-Don’t Let Us Get Sick written by Warren Zevon 7-Naked Ride Home 8-For Everyman 9-Late for the Sky (better than I ever heard him play this before) 10-In the Shape of a Heart 11-Giving That Heaven Away 12-Rock Me On the Water [break] 13-Something Fine 14-Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate 15-Going Down to Cuba 16-Lives in the Balance 17-Redneck Friend 18-Time the Conqueror (which he endearingly forgot the words to) 19-new song for a movie Here Without Her (title?) 20-Doctor My Eyes 21-These Days 22-Just Say Yeah 23-For a Dancer 24-The Pretender, and for the Encore: 25-Take it Easy (which he also forgot the words to), and 26-Our Lady of the Well.
He was amazing. See for yourself on my first (and shaky) YouTube video:
*the sneeze at 38 seconds belongs to my husband : )
This new piece of fiction that I started six weeks ago? Yup. “Running on Empty” is the name of a little coffee shop where Angelina likes to stop after work. Maybe this one will work, and I’ll be cured.
I was planning on doing a post on that need to write but then had the opportunity to write a Guest Writer article on the subject for The View From Here Magazine. It is online today with the print issue coming out November 6th, I believe. Here’s the first paragraph:
For six years, I was a lawyer. I went to law school; I passed the bar exam; I was sworn in, and I paid my licensing dues. Et voila. It fits, doesn’t it?
Far more difficult to know if you’re a writer.
There’s the obvious, “You’re a writer if you write.” But that’s like saying you’re a cook if you cook. When I was in law school, I heard over and over again, “You have to learn to think like a lawyer.” But that doesn’t work here either. What defines a writer is not “thinking.”
For today, I had planned to write a review of the book I finished yesterday, but as I sat down to write, I realized that the piece of fiction I started on Saturday and continued with on Sunday and Monday is the first altogether new piece of fiction I’ve started in over two years.
In the spring of 2007, I began a story a week for ten weeks, and when I haven’t been working on my novel, which I began in 2004, I’ve been working on those. I’ve also finished the novel (although it’s waiting for a 6-month read) and three stories, and I have five more stories lined up behind me waiting for what is probably a final revision and one of those, for just that final clean read.
Over two years. No wonder writing something new was feeling…unfamiliar.
So when I started this piece on Saturday–and for the first time I have no feel for whether it wants to be a novel or a story–even without realizing how long it had been since I had started fresh, the thought did cross my mind, I wonder if I’m going to get it right this time.
And I don’t think I meant the story. I think I meant the process.
Which is for sure an individual thing, as in there is not one right way to do it. It has to do with what works for each person. The thing is, I’m not sure I’ve yet hit upon what works for me.
I know one thing though. I think up to now, I’ve spent too much time trying to get the words right before I knew what the story was. Almost as if, if I could get the words right, I would have the story. This time, I’m trying not to get so attached to the words. This time, when I wonder if Lucy accepts her situation or feels bitter or is using humor to cover up how she really feels, instead of choosing one, I’m going to try each one. I’m going to ask more questions.
Actually I know another thing too. Especially for me because I prefer working on a novel, having the opportunity to begin something new is a moment to catch.
What about you–are you satisfied with your process?
My story, “The Empty Armchair,” which is loosely based on my first novel, The Painting Story, appears in the fall issue of Contrary Magazine. Here’s the beginning:
Being sick has taken away the busy surface of my life. Gone are the errands and the superficial, the insubstantial, the time-wasting. Being still is forcing me to reflect on what remains.
Boil a life down to its essence. Freeze it, and see what rises.
Tucked into bed, my body is at rest, but my eyes search the room, settling on the blue armchair. Exhausted for weeks, I had been leaving my clothes on this chair instead of hanging them in the closet. The night before the surgery, seeking order and control as I contemplated having neither, I sorted through the layers of discarded clothing—returning shirts and jeans to the closet, socks to the hamper. Now as I look at the space instead of the pile, I remember keeping the chair clear because Mark liked to sit there. With sudden clarity I see myself as Matisse’s Invalid, without a face and with only heavy, somber colors to define my existence, lying in a room where an empty armchair reminds me of the choices I’ve made.
My story, “The Splitting Sound,” appears in the fall issue of Clapboard House. Here’s the first paragraph:
Across the street, I leaned against the yellow rental car. The house was smaller than I remembered, but that’s what everyone always said. The roof needed redoing. The gray paint was peeling. The red door was some sort of dark color, not black exactly. I took a breath and looked around the horseshoe street on which I’d ridden my bike every summer for eleven years. The house was the U of the horseshoe, the inside of the U. It was one story and took up two lots. There was a large lawn. A picture window in front. It had all seemed nicer then, but I wondered if at thirteen, niceness was something I would have noticed.