if I loved you

When I heard that Robin Black was going to be the Sirenland Fellow for 2009 and that she had published a story in One Story, I moved quickly to my back issues and began to thumb through. I only save the stories I love and pass the others forward. Of course I’d saved her story. She writes the kind of stories I love.

Ten stories, including “Harriett Elliot,” first published in One Story, make up this collection. [no spoilers here] These stories catch the ordinary moments in life–a new girl at school, a neighbor building a fence, a father taking a daughter to meet her first seeing-eye dog:

“As Jack scans the road for signs, Lila is proclaiming to him in those certain tones of hers that if it weren’t for being quite so blind and having to have one, she’d definitely never get a dog. Never. Never ever.”

Notice the way we hear Lila’s voice without the first person, without her point of view, and without a direct quote.

Although I don’t have a favorite story, I do have a favorite first sentence. It comes in “A Country Where You Once Lived.”

“It isn’t even a two-hour train ride out from London to the village where Jeremy’s daughter and her husband–a man Jeremy has never met–have lived for the past three years, but it’s one of those trips that seem to carry you much farther than the time might imply.”

Trees, like guides, have two sides to them. In “Tableau Vivant,” Jean walks her daughter Brooke to her car.

“The roof, sunroof, hood were all splattered with bird droppings. ‘Stupid,’ Brooke said. ‘Acres of open field, and I park under a tree. I was thinking shade, when I should have been thinking bird.'”

The stories in this collection slow the ordinary moments down so that you feel their underside; there’s a pause, and then they expand with wonder. From the third story in the collection, “Immortalizing John Parker:”

“A streetlight comes on. Clara waits to see how long it will take another to join it. A minute passes, two minutes. Nothing. They must have different levels of sensitivity, she thinks. They must believe different things about what darkness is.”

In “The History of the World,” the last and longest story and the only story with more than one point-of-view character, this is from Kate:

“She has been many women, she understands, has slipped surefooted through the years from one identity to the next. Daughter, sister, wife, mother. And now to be this–to be a woman without even the illusion of knowing herself. The sensation is like flight.”

These are the stories of our lives. They are the kind of stories that will crack your heart open. They will remind you, you have a heart, in case you’ve forgotten.

“The idea that as loved as we may be, we may also be forgotten. If only for a day here and there.”

In each of these stories, worlds seem as if they’re about to collide, but instead, they hover–one world on top of another for just a moment so that the light all around changes. Like in an eclipse. And it’s that moment that causes these stories to expand before your eyes.

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the birthday of an author

Today is the birthday of an author of a book–Robin Black. Her last birthday she was not the author of a book. Just like that it can happen.

And get your pencils out. You need to write this one down too: If I loved you, I would tell you this. Each of the 10 stories in Robin’s debut collection is so good that I could not choose a favorite. I tried. Then I thought, I could do a post a day for 10 days, one on each of the stories : )

I gave a copy of the book to my daughter and she read it in 24 hours. I gave a copy to my sister and she wrote to say the stories were so good she was only allowing herself one a day–to make them last.

I was at the grocery story last Friday, waiting in line and thumbing through People Magazine. And there it was. I said to Monica, my favorite cashier: look, this is my friend’s book. It’s in People Magazine.

Happy Birthday, Robin the author!

~more tomorrow on the stories in If I loved you, I would tell you this…

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starting with the moment

writing and reading

Here’s where I am right now, sitting in the chair behind my green computer, on Blue Mountain Beach, in Florida, for spring break.

I have a list of things I want to post about. It’s on that table somewhere, on a large green post-it note. It ends with number six, but I used number 5 twice. There’s no order to it except that in which they came to me.

staring at the ocean

Unfortunately I still don’t feel well. In just a minute, I’m calling my doctor. Enough is enough.

So without my usual energy, I was having a hard time choosing what to write about when I thought start with the moment, which was not even on my list.

More tomorrow…

from the jersey shore

It’s true. I’m somewhere else. When I was home on Thursday for about fifteen hours, my husband said,”Glad you could stop by.”

I didn’t plan to go on two trips in one week. It’s just that one was already planned when the opportunity for a weekend workshop with Robin Black arose.

So I’m in Avalon, New Jersey, with Robin and five others. We each submitted a 25-page manuscript, and we’ve all read them. But instead of taking an hour for each story as is the norm, last night Robin discussed beginnings, using examples from our stories. This morning, point of view. Later tonight, endings.

It’s a powerful way to study the craft of writing–what third person might do for this story or the present tense for that one. Instead of  taking a story as a whole, breaking it down into its components.

I’m behind in answering comments, but I wanted to let you know where I was. Looking forward to catching up with all of you next week.

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