critiques: look for doorways

I was just going through a pile of papers that was teetering precariously and found a page I had torn out from “The Care and Feeding of the Work in Progress” by Catherine M. Wallace (Writer’s Chronicle, Mar/Apr 2008).

Writing workshops generally require you to read and critique the work of others. We do this at every residency at Vermont College. My writing group exchanges manuscripts every three months.

In the article, Wallace advocates not attempting to “fix” others’ work:

…the muddled passages are usually growing edges, and my “fixing” them will stop the new growth that might have happened.

She suggests thinking about “troubles” not as problems to be fixed but rather as doorways:

Picture platform 91/2 in the Harry Potter books: it looks like a wall, but try running straight at it and see what happens.

What she suggests:

to circle the “good parts” and put question marks whenever you get lost.

Our readers’ responses are a gift, she says. I agree.

rock & sling, poetry, arroyo, ecotone

One I’d heard of before. Three I hadn’t. Some were free at AWP; some were not. In each one, I found something that made me glad I’d lugged it home–either connecting with the words of writers I didn’t know or finding new poems and stories by writers I did. Two of these journals have stunning covers that will make me incapable of putting them in the recycling bin even after I need the space for new ones. So two I will send to a friend. Two I will take to the local high school library. Here are some highlights from the four literary journals I brought home from Washington a few weeks ago:

Rock & Sling–a journal of witness. Published twice a year by Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Volume Six. Issue One. Winter 2011.

“Chalkboard” by Jeremy Clive Huggins:

I was in the 10th grade when it first registered: I will be someone else some day…Two decades later, I fail to remember that I will be someone else, not just some day, but next year, next week, next day, next anything.

“Mud Flats” by Ray Amorosi:

Clams hiss through pin holes a few feet down.

Poetry. A publication of the Poetry Foundation. Volume 197. Number 3. December 2010. The Q & A issue. Cover art by Sam Martine. “Faces (detail), 1997.

Charles Baxter on his poem “Some Instances” is asked if poetry is an escape from narration: “My answer is a respectful “No”…Like many fiction writers, I began my writing life as a poet, and what I sometimes miss in my own fiction is the high-velocity association of ideas and events and imagery that poetry makes possible.”

Jane Hirshfield on her poem “Sentencings” is asked about the image of “putting arms into woolen coat sleeves”: “I might, I suppose, have written a different poem, about my late sister’s coats. They are lovely. But I wrote this.”

Arroyo. Department of English, California State University, East Bay. Hayward, California. Volume 2. Spring 2010. Cover art by Jonathan Viner.

Dorothy Allison interviewed by Jacqueline Doyle. 15 pages.

Life goes so fast and we lose so much. We can barely even hang on to memory. But if you’ve got a story, a stunned moment story, that moment lives forever.

Ecotone–reimagining place. Department of Creative Writing and The Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. 10. The sex and death issue.”Ecotone and the University of North Carolina Wilmington are proud to print this entire issue on 100 percent postconsumer fiber paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.”

Benjamin Percy on James Salter’s “Akhnilo”:

Suspense is the engine that drags a story forward…They [my students] misunderstand suspense, believing that it hinges exclusively on plot points, rather than on human urgency.

This story is a case study on the mystery outside the character and the urgency within…the true pull of the story comes from the desire the man feels, the desire we feel alongside him…

I support literary journals. Support art–any way you can.

Crossposted at The Contrary Blog

obsessions

Pine trees that are all wiry and taller than the other trees so they stick out, different textures coming together, abandoned things and places, stairs and thresholds, rainy days and fog, sunrises and sunsets, doors and windows, trains and tracks, lines of laundry, row houses, fall leaves, a full moon, the ocean…

What’s on your list?

contrary blog

The Contrary Blog–the blog of unpopular discontent–is up and running. Click over and take a look at this new voice on the internet, the brainchild of Jeff McMahon, Contrary‘s Editor. It’s a multi-author blog, anchored by David Alm. Its focus is broad–on arts and letters–rather than only on the the journal itself. And its aim is to engage with the wide scope of ideas. We welcome comments and of course disagreement.

Here are the three most recently posted articles: Why know-it-alls make bad authors, Let’s talk about Shop Class (a review of Matthew Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry Into the Value of Work), and Piko in Page–ancient Swahili lady lessons on pleasure and painA misplaced medias, a report on AWP that blends fiction and nonfiction, is one of my favorite posts. In Bad writing, defined, David Alm quotes the poet D.A. Powell, who then comments on the post. If you find an author whose writing you like, you can follow the RSS feed of that particular author.

While you peruse the site, click on the video in the upper right corner to listen to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks read five poems.

Instead of leaving a comment here, leave one over there. Go ahead. Be contrary.

wrecker

What a great name for a little boy. And for the title of Summer Wood‘s second novel, out today from Bloomsbury [no spoilers].

Chapter One begins with these two sentences:

It was the middle of the afternoon, January 1969, and a half-hearted rain dampened San Francisco and cast a gloomy pall over the hallways of the Social Welfare building.

Len stood waiting for his life to change.

On page 13, there’s a space break, and the reader thinks now we’re going to move in close to Wrecker, but no, we ricochet off him.

They thought of him as a puppy and took him in.

Like those at Bow Farm, we circle him. He’s apt to run off, and we try not to lose him.

It turns out the book is less about Wrecker than it is about how Wrecker affects the lives of those around him–Len, Meg, Melody, Ruth, Willow, and Johnny Appleseed.

And that narrative approach couldn’t be more fitting for a story about a little boy named Wrecker:

Who at 3 “seemed to need to feel his body collide with the physical world to know he existed.”

And at 8 “still harbored that same dangerous mix of curiosity and enthusiasm and utter lack of caution that he’d come with.”

On page 92, Willow says to Melody about raising a child:

“It’s no walk in the park.”

“I don’t expect it to be easy.”

Easy?” Willow gave a little laugh. “Easy’s not even on the spectrum. Try all-consuming. Try heart-breaking. You might start by giving up everything you ever wanted just to do this one thing…”

An engaging story. Lovely writing. Soft, recycled pages “made from wood grown in well-managed forests.” Today meet Wrecker. And on Monday, February 28, 2011, at 7:30 PM, meet Summer at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne in Portland.

Crossposted at Contrary’s 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!

rock stars (plural) at awp

Get ready for some name-dropping rock star highlights from awp 2011 in Washington DC: running into Josh Ritter in the bar Wednesday night…ricotta pancakes with sour cherries Thursday morning…sitting behind Jennifer Egan on Saturday and hearing her read “You (Plural)” from A Visit From the Goon Squadseeing the millions of real live books on the book fair tables…listening to Josh Ritter give his first reading and listening to him sing…a nice, long visit with Robin Black…dinner in Adams Morgan with Benjamin Percy and Pam Houston, and Fenton Johnson and Pam Houston…seeing all my VCFA friends and wonderful conversations with Dave JaussSue Silverman, Patrick Maddenlunch with my niece and a friend, listening to Charles Baxter on book reviews “to say a book is boring does not say anything about the book; it says something about the reader”… Elizabeth Cox on the dialogue in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”…Jill McCorkle: “She’d a been a good writer if there’d been somebody standing there with a red pen her whole life”…Richard Bausch on Hemingway edits…quick visits with Sheri Reynolds, Hannah Tinti, Maribeth BatchaBruce Machart, Robin Oliveira, Tony EprileEllen Lesser, Richard McCann, Vivian DorselRobin HemleyConnie May Fowlergoing to the book fair again and again and seeing all the millions of real books out there in the world, meeting in person Mike Curtis, Cornelius Eady, Lucy Corin, Richard Peabody, Megan Sexton, Matt Bell, Diane Goettel …books, bookmarks, buttons, and more…

How We Spend Our Days: Cornelius Eady

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer … Continue reading