still playing with books


the after photo

Last week, before I went out of town, I was looking for my new book, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. I looked on my ToBeRead shelf–not there. I looked behind me on this long built-in shelf that theoretically holds the things I’m working on–not there. I glanced around at the various piles of books on the floor.

I knew it wouldn’t be on my regular shelves because I hadn’t read it yet. Then I remembered the shelves to my right–my reference section, so to speak. I had stuck it there.

These four shelves–one for poetry, one for short story collections I refer to as I write, one for books on craft, and one for books on writers writing about writing–were overflowing with papers stuck everywhere, books piled horizontally on the tops of other books. When I had looked for Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor on my computer a while back, I had thought I didn’t have it, but here it was. So I realized that none of these books were on my computerized list of books. New project…

DSC00060Taking one shelf a day, I wiped off dust, looked through tables of contents, thumbed through my underlinings, discarded the ones I no longer needed (and by discarded I mean put in a pile to donate to the library) entered the title in my computer, and re-shelved in alphabetical order. Well, they had to go back on the shelf some way. And yes it could have been randomly or by color, but, as some of you know, I’m an alphabetical type of person. I need to just admit that and move on.

During the process I discovered Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. I don’t write poetry, but I love words. In this book, the author writes about how she collects words. And prints them on tickets–admit one. More about this book later.

Do you have books you’ve forgotten about? What books do you refer to when you write?

a detail hunt

IMG_2523The more I think about Pam Houston’s writing advice (via Henry James), that a writer ought to strive to be “someone on whom nothing is lost,” the more I want to be aware of what is going on around me.

A couple of  weeks ago, in the interest of becoming more aware and of filling up the well, since I’m not writing anything new at the moment (I’m revising four different stories), I decided to go on a detail hunt. I wanted to catch a big one.

I drove out of the driveway, looking up and looking down. There were no details anywhere. This was harder than I thought it was going to be.

Finally, while I was filling my car with gas, I noticed a man–a thin man, in dark blue pants and a red shirt, standing outside the store, smoking. He wasn’t exactly standing, though, he was moving around–first toward the right, back into position, then toward the left.

Sue William Silverman, in her book Fearless Confessions, wrote:

“…let’s suppose we each happen to have a vase with a flower painted on it; the vases have hairline cracks from when they were accidentally dropped. In my memoir about loss, I will focus on the crack…You, on the other hand, writing about how life is joyful, won’t even notice the crack. Or, you’ll reflect upon how you’ve been able to face life’s misfortunes and repair the damage.”

IMG_2500Back to my thin man. He could have been out there just to smoke a cigarette, which could be considered wasting time or could be his reward for having worked all night. Or he could have been out there trying to make a decision, trying to figure out which way to go next. You could say he was stalled, unable to go in any direction. Or, you could say he was making his first tentative steps in each direction, testing the waters, seeing how it felt to move out of his comfort zone.

Flannery O’Connor, in Mystery and Manners, wrote that fiction operates in the concrete–in the details. The reader needs to have details in order to see the characters. How true is it that depending on which way I use the details, he becomes a different man. O’Connor also wrote, “Detail has to be controlled by some overall purpose, and every detail has to be put to work for you.” It’s not that we, as writers, have to spell out that his moving in this or that direction meant this or that. But there should be some echo felt as the rest of his day or his life unfolds that will make us, as readers, think back to that scene in front of the gas station.

Can you catch a detail today?

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