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Archive for February, 2008

Books Read in February

“Exit Ghost” by Philip Roth
I picked this up in the library. I am always a sucker for a book about a writer. I know some writers snub their noses at writers as characters but not me. Anything that gives me a glimpse into the creative soul is worth a shot. Roth is a force in American literature. This story continues the Zuckerman saga as he returns to NYC post 9-11 after eleven years of being nothing but a writer. This raised an interesting question for me, this whole idea of giving up everything for the sake of your Art. Writing at the expense of the rest of a life. Writing as the life. If you aren’t living a life, can you truly write about it? If you are living in a vacuum of only your mind and words, what fills the well of your imagination? After living with nothing but his writing for eleven years, Zuckerman finds himself thrust out of his imagination and back into a life of love, grief, lust, violence and intrigue. And there are some fascinating passages on George Plimpton, which made me want to read more about him.

“The Pesthouse” by Jim Crace
I have this morbid fascination with end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories. That is exactly what Jim Crace has written. An America of the future is practically deserted and those left are heading east toward the ships that will take them to the “Promised Land” of Europe. Life is back to the very basics the earth can provide: fire, water, land and air. Metal is an incomprehensible relic that some deem the Devil’s work and claim was the downfall of civilization. When Margaret is banned from her small community to the Pesthouse to sweat out her fever, fearful that she carries the deadly flux, Franklin Lopez comes across her and together they set out to hopefully gain passage on a ship to Europe away from the deserted toxic wasteland their country has become. For days afterward I found myself hyper aware of all the luxurious necessities we take for granted: electricity, grocery stores, cars, TV and I couldn’t help but take note of our abundant use of metal. Reading stories like this I find myself thinking that it is not a question of if this will happen but when.

“What You Have Left” by Will Allison
Two of my favorite writers blurbed this book: Janet Fitch and Dan Chaon. This story has grief, addiction, abandonment, desire and Nascar driving. Allison does an amazing job of shifting through time and POV. We think we know a character then suddenly we are thrust backward and more is revealed, yet another layer. The story raises questions of what our parents hand down to us- intentionally or not- and is that particular Fate written in stone.

“The Soul Thief” by Charles Baxter
I bought this after having lunch and attending a reading by the author. I had the good luck of being seated right next to him for lunch and found him to be a warm, thoughtful lunch companion. The premise of identity theft intrigued me. But it is not the usual credit card type of theft. No, this is about a person who attempts to steal another’s essence, their actual “soul”. The first part takes place in Buffalo amidst a group a graduate students which is where Nathan comes across Jerome Coolberg. At times these students felt just too smart for their own good and they seemed to try so hard to be odd and quirky. Then we move ahead thirty years or so and Nathan has created a family life, Buffalo behind him when Jerome reaches out to him in his present life. It’s quite a psychological mind game and you never quite know who is winning.

“Rabbit Punches” by Jason Ockert
I picked up this collection a few years ago at the Ann Arbor Book Festival. I love the opening of every single story but several of them seemed to get away from me as I continued reading. The style and voice seemed front and center much of the time but the stories themselves are intriguing.

“Bang Crunch” by Neil Smith
The title of this collection got me. It refers to the title story which features a girl with Fred Hoyle syndrome. Her “age expands and contracts like the universe”. Quite haunting, really. These stories feel utterly unique. Only one or two lost me as they veered into the just plain weird.

“Her Last Death” by Susanna Sonneberg
I read this memoir early in the month. It tells the story of a woman who grew up with her larger than life mother who knew no boundaries. She wove a net of outrageous lies around her daughter, introduced her to drugs at an early age first by her own example then as a gift for her birthday. She talked to her daughter about things that the girls of Sex in the City would blush at. But I love how this doesn’t become a poor me story. Sonneberg grows up and struggles to keep track of her own boundaries, to establish some between her and her mother and to find them as she resolves to be a good mother to her own children.

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What Was I Thinking?

It was the first week of the new year. We had a beautiful snowfall that seemed to make an official clean slate for the coming year. I had a brand new blog and a list of grand intentions and goals for the year. That was when I stumbled across this amazing blog that offered the amazing challenge of doing something creative everyday. Perfect, I thought. Just what I need. It falls right into my plans for the new me for the new year. Well. Uh… not so much. I have yet to post one single creative thing that I have accomplished in the last two months. What I imagined was photos of the lovely layered textured journal pages I would create. Or any one of the six 3-D pieces I have planned. Or even just three observations written in my notebook. But, no.

Not that I haven’t been creative. I have. For example:

• I have the first 26 pages of my novel written and submitted to my group and have even settled on a structure that I think works. I have created new characters and new scenes so it is not just a rearranging of the elements from the first draft.

• I have created flyers and business cards for our writing group in an effort to recruit more members.

• I have created new posts to my blogs.

• I create time to read, write, meditate, exercise, most days of the week.

• I created a cozy space in which to write during these cold months.

• I create a nurturing home for my family filled with healthy home-cooked meals, stacks of clean laundry and plenty of love and attention on a daily basis.

So, it’s not exactly what my goody-two-shoes perfectionist had in mind when I signed up for this challenge but then I think one of my resolutions needs to be to ignore her. She is way too high maintenance and just sucks all the creative energy out of me which is the exact opposite of what this challenge is all about.

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Who Knew?

Who knew that Otter was allergic to peanuts? I didn’t. Not until I sat down to write a scene with his grandma Lydia on a plane and she passed her tiny bag of peanuts to the man next to her saying that her grandson was so allergic that if she ate a peanut then kissed him it could be lethal. And who knew that she kicked her husband out of their lives when Grace was just a baby when she saw him slow dancing with that Nancy Patterson through a window from the street? If she had caught them in bed she thought that maybe she could’ve forgiven him but to see him dancing  like that after all those years of claiming to not know how and to see him do this completely intimate thing with her and not his own wife, well that she just couldn’t stand for.

These are things I learned about the characters in my novel when I showed up to write yesterday. Now I know two pivotal things that I didn’t know before. I don’t want to jinx it but I have to say that  I am a little enamored with this whole writing process right now. And especially of this particular story. As I read through the thirty or so pages of my revision so far I kept thinking that this is really good. That this is a book that I would pick up and buy if I were browsing a bookstore. Now that’s an amazing feeling…

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Funky February Blues

It’s that time of year again. Gray skies. Too cold to do much outside. Two snow days in a row. We’ve all been kind of half-heartedly passing some kind of germ back and forth. It never turns into the full blown flu or anything. You just feel kind of yucky. Blah. Didn’t do much but lay on the sofa curled up in a down comforter watching TV. Way way too much TV. That’s okay for a day but then it leaves me feeling even worse. Edgy, restless, cranky, disjointed, disconnected. So after my wonderful massage today I bypassed the TV and went into my office which is freezing this time of year. So I bought a little space heater. I cranked that up, closed the door, lit a candle and boy was that cozy. I’ve been writing all evening. Have over thirty pages of my novel revised and typed up. Now I feel the exact opposite as when I OD on TV. I feel focused, energized, connected, balanced. I just printed out the pages and will take them to the coffee shop tomorrow to read them over. See where I’m at. Where I need to go next. Get a little list going of upcoming scenes. Then, as a reward, I’m going to see “The Savages”.

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