Archive for January, 2007

I had a plan. A plan that had me reading from my stacks at quite a steady pace. The momentum came from the fact that I was reading books that although I enjoyed them, they didn’t have a place in my permanent library. So my husband was going to take them out to Arizona with him in his truck and trade them in at my most favorite independent bookstore in the country- Changing Hands in Tempe. Since I am going out there at the end of February I could then use my store credit to- yes- buy more books. Which I know kind of defeats the whole purpose of reading from my stacks. Alas, the plan was not to be. Due to the freaky winter weather that has zapped much of the country, my husband did not drive out to Arizona but instead he flew out which did nothing to further my whole book scheme. But I am still reading from my stacks. An update:

“Red Plaid Shirt” by Diane Schoemperlen- I loved the unique structure of these short stories. The title story is written in parts, each starting with an item of clothing and going into memories surrounding it, in a second person voice. Each one ends with a kind of stream of consciousness medition on the color. Every story has its own structure that holds it together. It gave me many ideas to try in my own writing.

“Sugar Cage” by Connie May Fowler- I remember buying this shortly after her other novel had been chosen for the Oprah Book Club but I never got around to reading it. I thought it would be end up being a typical Oprah book but it was not. The story hums with magic and a certain lushness that places you in Florida during turbulent political times when Matin Luther King rises and falls. Each chapter is told through a different voice and through each story you come to see how they are connected. I love the empathy she shows for each character whether it’s a reluctant seer of tragedies or a man who cheats and abuses his wife.

“The Novelist” by Angela Hunt- I know some writers who dismiss books about writers out of hand. Not me. I am drawn to them. So obviously a book titled “The Novelist” would catch my attention. I didn’t realize at the time that she is a Christian novelist. I know some would also dismiss such a book on that basis alone but I chose to stick with it and read it. I am trying to stretch my reading this year beyond my usual comfort zone. It ended up being a story within a story. Or rather a parable within a story. I can appreciate that structure. The novel led me to think about how we conceive of our characters or stories. I tend to start with characters and I discover what their stories are. This book felt like she had a theme she wanted to explore so she invented characters that could do that for her. Not necessarily my way of writing but hey, she has 17 books under her belt. Gotta respect that. One thing I took away was the idea of using a JC Penny or Sears catlog to get a visual of your character. Sometimes I picture actors as my characters. Having a concrete image of your character can only help the story.

I am also reading “The Best Short Stories of the Century.” A few each week.

And I am reading “The Sincerest Form, Writing Fiction by Imitation” by Nicholas Delbanco. I think this could possibly be the best book on writing I’ve come across- and I’ve come across hundreds.


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I am in a slightly dysfunctional relationship. It’s not with my husband, kids, family or friends- well, most of the time it’s not. No, it’s with publishing my writing. I work so hard at my craft and spend so much time researching journals to submit my work to so I obviously want this, right? And the few acceptances I’ve gotten- well, my family has come running into my office to see what all the commotion was about.

So I had this story posted on http://www.iterarymama.com last week. I spent all day checking to see if it was up yet although I knew it wouldn’t be until much later in the evening so obviously there’s some excitement going on. Then, finally it’s there. There’s my name with a link to my story. I click on it and there it is on the freakin’ world wide web, for the whole freakin’ world to see. What was I thinking? I felt like I was caught outside naked or worse, in high school naked. It’s this odd other side of writing. As a writer I am a fairly private person. I mean I sit in a room basically daydreaming all day and trying to get those daydreams down onto paper or the screen. But when a piece is published suddenly all those private thoughts are plastered out there for anyone to see and interpret as they see fit. It’s a little disconcerting. A tad unsettling. Especially when people read things into it that I hadn’t intended or I apparently reveal things I hadn’t intended. I’m not whining or complaining, really. I am beyond grateful to those editors who saw something in my stories that made them want to publish them. I guess I am still struggling to navigate this tricky balance between public and private.

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An Infinitesimal Dent

That’s what I’ve made in my stacks and stacks of books. Here’s a quick recap of the books I’ve read lately which I guess means since my last post, which was, yes, almost a month ago:

“Blue Water” by A. Manette Ansay
“Reasons to Live” by Amy Hempel (reminds me of Raymond Carver)
“The Winter Without Milk” by Jane Avrich (lush, dark and magical)
“Grayson” by Lynne Cox
“Grass Roof, Tin Roof” by Dao Strom (beautifully structured)
“The Breakdown Lane” by Jacquelyn Mitchard
“Me & Emma” by Elizabeth Flock
“As Simple as Snow” by Gregory Galloway (good story)
“The Big Book of Bright Ideas” by Sandra Kring (a little too predicatble for me)
“Parasites Like Us” by Adam Johnson (oddly creepy especially in this age of bird flu)
“What to Wear to See the Pope” by Christine Lehner

That’s actually a lot of reading when you throw in the holidays and, you know, life and stuff.

My writing group decided to lay out some writing/publishing goals for the year so that we can encourage/support/nag each other into accomplishing them. It ended up being a great exercise for me. I have tons of stories that have been workshopped over the last few years but need that final revision before sending them out into the world. The biggest project is this novel-in-stories. So I mapped out a month-by-month plan to revise, workshop, revise again and send out the stories one by one. It takes me all the way to November at which point I plan on looking for an agent.

The other part of my goals involved daily, weekly and monthly quotas. Three morning pages a day. A new story or draft every two weeks. Filling a notebook a month with writing practice. So far, so good. I was able to cross the first thing off my list which was finally finishing “Being Franny’s Sister” and sending it out. I did that on Monday. Now I’m working on the first story in my collection. It’s turning out to be a major revision.

My story “You Are Here” should be posted to http://www.literarymama.com sometime today. Check it out- the story and the whole site.

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