outside my window-october 28

Matisse wrote, “To paint an autumn landscape I will not try to remember what colors suit this season, I will be inspired only by the sensation that the season arouses in me: the icy purity of the sour blue sky will express the season just as well as the nuances of foliage.” I’m not sure I agree, Henri. At least not today, standing at my desk with the bold scarlets to my right.

When I was cleaning out my study, I rediscovered this journal written in 1906 by the English naturalist, Edith Holden, who drowned in the Thames in 1920, at the age of 49. I have the French version, and I wish I’d written in the book when and where I found it.

gargoyle 57

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.

To read more, click on Gargoyle 57 and order a copy. I’m sure Richard will be happy to include one of the cool postcards you can use as a bookmark.


Inch. Do you know this tiny journal? I discovered it at AWP. Small. Gray. Thin. Tiny poems. Tiny fiction. A single issue costs $1. Bull City Press publishes 4 issues a year. Ross White is the Editor, and guess what? Robin Black is the Fiction Editor. I didn’t even know that.

Winter 2011: Issue 15: Fiction this issue by Andrew Scott. Poetry by Jasmine V. Bailey and Mike Puican.

Tiny post. 

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

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.

as i was saying

Friday night I settled into my bed at The Whetstone Inn with the latest issue of Hunger Mountain. I wanted to read Robin MacArthur’s essay, “Abandoned Landscapes.” Robin lives in Marlboro only minutes from where I was at the moment. What fun to read that essay when I was in the grips of her landscape, I thought.

I could hear Robin’s voice as I read. Last summer, she delivered this essay as her graduating lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She wrote:

I was born amidst three hundred acres of land in Southern Vermont that my family has owned for three generations, on a road that carries my name. I grew up throwing hay bales, tapping sugar maples, building forts in the woods… This landscape is how I know the world and myself in it, and, undeniably, part of who I am.

Robin’s essay discusses the fiction of Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway. It’s one of the best essays on landscape I’ve ever read. Order a copy of Hunger Mountain today and let me know what you think. In my next post, yet another reason to order a copy of this issue of Hunger Mountain.

I’ll close with Robin’s words:

Our obsessions are the keys to our art; if we pay enough attention to them, we will find ourselves on the road to originality, resonance, truth.

leaving montpelier

So for the last ten days, I’ve been in Montpelier, Vermont, at my third residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. More about those ten days later.

Yesterday evening around five, Jodi, Jenna, and I left Montpelier in the middle of a snow storm–the Hartford Sheraton our destination.

Not so fast. In fact, not fast at all. Ice covered the interstate, and we crawled along at forty miles an hour. I placed a 911 call to report a single car into an embankment. Then two more accidents. We would have done better on skates.

We gave up around Brattleboro, where we slid off the interstate for a steak dinner and to reassess. Jodi lives in nearby Marlboro, and she suggested we stay the night there at The Whetstone Inn. She called her friend Jean, who welcomed us into her 220-year-old inn around nine last night. We shuffled in the front door through five inches of newly fallen snow.

After standing outside in the snowy silence trying to get a cell phone signal to let my husband know where I was, I settled into my twin bed with the latest issue of Hunger Mountain.

My flight is boarding. More to follow…

some saturday morning fun

A one-year subscription to Quick Fiction is $13.50.

with new pages!

#1: What’s in it for me?

#2: What’s happening?

#3: What’s in a cover?

A one-year subscription to Conjunctions is $18.00.

I’ve subscribed to One Story since 2004. Plus, I try to subscribe to 3-4 other literary journals. And I mix it up from year to year.

If we don’t subscribe to the journals where we want to see our writing, who will?

For lunch today or tomorrow, make a pb&j and spend your $ on a subscription to the journal of your choice.

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the conversation

Last spring I was trying to find a way to thank readers who took the time to add to the conversation here. One Story, I thought. For one year, I would send the reader who posted the most comments for the month a one-year subscription to One Story, my favorite journal. In addition to thanking readers, I would also be supporting literary journals.

Well that year is almost up. This is the last month I will be giving away a subscription to One Story.

the perfect size for pocket or purse

Commenting on old posts counts. Each comment on a post counts. It’s like the Progressive commercial, only it’s “Counts.”

  • You can start with the list of Favorite Posts on the sidebar.
  • You can use the “search” box to find posts on writers or books you’re interested in.
  • You can click on each of the Categories in the long, long list that decorates the sidebar.
  • You can start at the beginning of the blog–September 4, 2008–and comment in chronological order on each post!

So comment away….

And, again and always, thanks for adding to the conversation.

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not writing books but writing in books

IMG_2115We’ve been having a discussion about writing in books. If you’re interested, check out the comments to Some People Buy Shoes (a prequel). I buy books. One thing leading to another, I mentioned that I had a slight problem with making more use of the library because I wouldn’t be able to write in my books.

This is the great thing about comments. I discovered that a lot (okay, most) of the people commenting do not, and would not dream of, writing in their books. So if you’re out there and you do, I’d love to hear from you.

As I said in one of my comments, I cannot read a book without a pen or a pencil in my hand. Cannot. I’m afraid something will be lost to me forever. It’s kind of like “catching days.” Writing in a book is my net for catching what means something to me in the book–the lines, the recurring images, the metaphors, the echos from page to pageIMG_2114.

I am in no way trying to persuade anyone to cross over. I’m just trying to explain myself to myself. Which is, at the moment, becoming difficult. Because the more I think about it, the more it’s out of character for me to write in books. I do want things in general to be perfect, and so many things I can’t bear to use for that very reason–journals for one thing. I don’t like to write in them because I’m afraid I’ll mess them up. Instead I “save” my journals and make notes on index cards and in spiral notebooks, where mistakes can be easilyIMG_2118 discarded.

I do see that journals are made to be written in and books are not.

Writing in books is the way I bond with them, and everyone bonds differently with books. Are there any other unique bonding methods out there?

I always write my initials and the year and month I read a book on the back page. Do the people who don’t write in books write your name in your books? Do you write in books you give as gifts?

letting go of consciousness

More from John Steinbeck


March 6, 1951, Tuesday.  “No sleep last night but I feel fine.  And I don’t even know why I didn’t sleep.  I was perfectly comfortable.  Just couldn’t let go of consciousness.  Funny thing.” 

Journal of a Novel:  The East of Eden Letters

I couldn’t sleep last night, and I don’t know why either.  I too was perfectly comfortable.  But I felt like my fingers were clawing the ceiling and refusing to let go, despite my brain saying, don’t think about that now.

Despite his lack of sleep, Steinbeck writes, “Now, once to the toilet and I will go to work.”  Then, “It is so strange what one writes down.”  After a space break,

“And there’s that day’s work done.”

until I see what I say

One of the reasons I write is to find out what I’m thinking, what I mean to say, and then to be able to hold onto it. When I talk, I often repeat myself with such slight variations that it must be maddening to a listener. I tend to want to summarize. I want to get it right and then lock it in. And if I keep coming back to a problem, circling around it from different angles, I can get closer and closer. Revision is my favorite part of writing–getting the words just right.

In The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, she writes to her agent, “…I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.” She was 23 years old.

One of the reasons I read is that I love finding those moments that are expressed so exactly right in someone else’s story. Yes, I think, that’s the way it is. I underline them or copy them in a notebook, always trying to hold on to them.

the day itself

On Monday, February 26, 1951, John Steinbeck wrote,

“I don’t understand why some days are wide open and others are closed off, some days smile and others have thin slitted eyes and others still are days which worry.  And it does not seem to be me but the day itself.” 

Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters

Is this wishful thinking by John Steinbeck?  For surely, it is me.  And not the day itself.  Usually, I have plans for my days–scaffolding, Annie Dillard would say.  Certain things I always do on Monday–exercise.  A particular thing I want to do this Monday–work on my new novel.  And then there’s the email, the phone call, the car that won’t start, the brain that won’t work.  What if the scaffolding comes tumbling down on top of me?  Well, then I can use tape or glue to force it back up or I can pause for a minute to see if a new shape might be emerging from the pieces.

Every day that John Steinbeck worked on the first draft of East of Eden, from January 29 to November 1, 1951, he began the day by writing a letter to his editor, who was also his friend.  For anyone beginning or in the middle of a novel or any other long project, this book is proof that day by day, it can be done.