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Archive for March, 2008

March Books

“Candy Girl” by Diablo Cody
I’ve seen this book but never had any great desire to read about a stripper. But then when I realized it was by the same woman who wrote “Juno” and won an Academy Award for it- I just had to pick it up. My buried treasure of a secret dream is to write a screenplay and win that same award. I love books. I love movies. And the movies I love are movies that always remind me of really good short stories. They are so well written like Juno, American Beauty, You Can Count on Me, The Savages, Sliding Doors to name just a few. I stayed up to watch the entire awards show this year just to see if she won and when she did I let out a great whoop of joy for her. Now, her book- just as well-written as the movie. Face it, she is a kick-ass writer. Granted, I know way more about being a stripper than I ever needed to know and there are several images burned in my memory bank that I could do without, but her voice is just so engaging. And she is so honest and real. At first I really wanted to know why she was doing it but by the end the fact that she doesn’t tie up her reasons in a neat little bow worked for me. It was real. How often do we do things without knowing the reason why? Uh, so much of the time is the answer.

“The Best Day the Worst Day” by Donald Hall
Loved this memoir. It tells the story of their twenty-three year marriage and his wife’s last months as she battled leukemia. Chapters alternate between the early days of their relationship and the grueling fifteen months of her illness and ultimate death. He references several of her poems so it was nice to have the collection “Otherwise” next to me to read each poem as it was mentioned and knowing the context of its creation. He writes with brutal honesty and clear vision of the stark medical treatments she underwent and there is a loving eye and heart as he writes of his wife, her life, her death, their marriage, their art and their pets and ultimately the life they created and shared on a daily basis.

“My Lost and Found Life” by Medodie Bowsher
This is a young adult novel and it was suggested to me that I might attempt one myself some day since I seem to be able to channel that teenage voice so naturally. That may be because I still feel like a 14-year-old so much of the time. The story was interesting enough- a teenage girl’s mother disappears after rumors that she embezzled money and her daughter ends up homeless. It was kind of predictable but the writing was fine. Not blown away but still a good story. The thing it brought up for me is this: what makes a book young adult as opposed to a novel with a teenage protagonist marketed to adults? “White Oleander” and “Paint it Black” (both by Janet Fitch) for example. They both feature teenage girls or a young twenty-ish but are not considered young adult. Both of those books have so much more depth to them somehow. Not that “My Lost and Found Life” talks down to its audience. That drives me crazy. But it did seem to feature a built in message or lesson for the reader. What about writers like Joyce Carol Oates or Carl Hiassen who write for both markets. What internal switch do they flip to change the writing focus to a younger audience? If anybody has thoughts on this please leave me a comment.

“The End of the World As We Know It” by Robert Goolrick
I started this memoir before the holidays and had to put it down. It was just too much of a downer- kind of like watching “Leaving Las Vegas” was- it just left me in a black cloud for days- and who needs that at Christmas? But I picked it up again and the black cloud was still there but I could handle it. It is subtitled “Scenes from a Life” and the scenes are riveting, horrifying and yet I never felt he got maudlin or was going for the shock factor. The writing is deeply moving even as he writes the worst scene imaginable. You read it with one eye closed but your heart wide open as he delves into his past and finds some semblance of a patchwork peace and perhaps even a fragile redemption.

“Write is a Verb” by Bill O’Hanlon
I read just about every writing book that comes out. It’s one of my vices. I should write more and read about it less but that’s for another post. I resisted this when it first came out. It seemed a little too gimmicky but it caught me at a down time yesterday and I read the entire book in one day. It is focused more on non-fiction but basically writing is writing. It didn’t really tell me anything new. I know that writing begets writing, that not writing begets not writing. I live it. I know it. It’s a no nonsense kick in the pant kind of book and apparently I needed that. Here I am writing today instead of thinking about it or dreaming about it or kicking myself for not doing it.

“The Liar’s Diary” by Patry Francis
I learned of this book in the blogosphere. The author has maintained a very successful blog www.simplywait.blogspot.com detailing her life as writer while watiressing and raising a family. Just as her novel was published she was diagnosed with cancer and would be unable to do all the publicity needed to launch a first time novel so hundreds of bloggers got together to launch it for her. It worked. That’s how I heard of it, bought it, read it and am now passing the info on to you. It’s a psychological thriller plummeting the depths of friendship and family loyalty. There are many twists and turns so just when you think you know what happened, you realize you really don’t. I’ve been reading lots of mysteries lately between this and “The best American Mystery Stories” to see how they make things happens. So many “literary” stories are about emotional angst but what about what physically happens in these stories. I don’t think I’ll write a mystery but it is giving me insight into keeping the action moving and interesting within my own stories. Anyway, rack up some good writer’s karma and support this writer.

“No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy
Okay, I’m probably not the first to say this but this man is a master. Seriously. It’s only the second book of his I’ve read but I am once again blown away. I had to read it before seeing the movie but now I’m not so sure I want to see the movie. I’m afraid the visual violence will overshadow the rest of the story. In the novel the violence is graphic but it’s words on a page. To see the actual blood and gore, well… I’m not sold on that yet. The voices are so distinct throughout. The prose is sparse and raw but the story is so rich and incredibly layered. We aren’t just left thinking about this one particular crime spree or criminal but the difference from generation to generation, the history of our land. It is truly another amazing story.

“Wintering- A Novel of Sylvia Plath” by Kate Moses
I know the basic facts of Sylvia Plath’s life. I’ve read her book of letters. Never was able to get through her journals. They are just too raw, too exhausting. This novel takes the basic facts of her life and then imagines the private moments that link them. It takes place in the months after she separated from Ted Hughes, moved to London and wrote an abundance of poetry which later became “Ariel”. The prose itself is poetic, so lyrical and seems to accurately reflect Plath’s state of mind. Here are a few tidbits that I copied into my writer’s notebook:

“Feverish, a child takes on an eerie, radiant beauty, its skin even more lush, dry with the consuming inner fire of a cinder, velveted as the lips of a foal.”

“..the browned lace skeletons of leaves.”

“Morning flares blue, then copper, then white, like the flames of a candle.”

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1. No dishes to wash

2. No laundry begging to be washed, dried, folded, put away

3. No TV to tempt me

4. Yummy soy green tea latte

5. People around me

6. People who talk to me about my writng like the gentleman today:

“So did you finish writing  in your diary?”

Diary? Huh? Why assume it’s a diary? 

I shake my head as I pack up my bag. “No. I’m actually writing a novel.”

Oh, God. Why did I say that? 

“A novel? Really?”

I brace myself for the inevitable questions. The proof that I do what I say I do. But it doesn’t come.

“What kind of novel? Mystery?”

“No. More literary fiction, a family drama.”

He nods his head. “That’s great.”

“Yeah. It is.”

He gets a call and I finish packing up and as I leave he waves. I wave back carrying the pages I wrote there in the back booth of my coffee shop today, silently blessing the man for acknowledging the fact that I am writing a novel without asking for proof of it in the form of who’s my agent? where can he buy my book? has he ever heard of me? I’m a writer because I wrote today. I’m a writer who wrote today.

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I know that rejection is part of this business. A huge part. I know all the numbers of rejections by writers who are now hugely popular. I know the ridiculous amount of submissions journals get each month compared to the handful they actually have room to accept and publish. I know that it can be very subjective. I know I shouldn’t take it personally. I know that I should just keep sending the stories out there. I know all these things. Really… I do.

But. Here’s the thing. The very first story I ever sent out was to a really prestigious magazine that used to publish stories each month and I received a personal note from the editor outlining what worked and what didn’t and to keep them in mind for future submissions. That was six years ago. I’ve written a couple dozen stories since then and, in my totally objective opinion, they keep getting better. I’ve had three stories published, one of which won first prize in a small university competition. Three stories. Six years. That’s not the frustrating part. Well, not the most frustrating anyway.

See, yesterday I received one of my SASE and I could see the tiny three inch square of paper through the envelope and almost didn’t bother opening it since I knew what it was but I did on the off chance that somebody with Lilliputian handwriting had scrawled something encouraging. Uh, no. And I was so disappointed. Totally unreasonable. I should know better. Really I should because I know what I’m up against. And this was one of my “A” list journals. I was more annoyed that I let it bother me. Then I realized this: I am more frustrated with myself. I know I am not giving my writing all that I can. I could work much harder than I do. So much of my writing energy is wasted on why I fight it so much, or the actual resisting of it and the subsequent beating myself up over not writing enough. See what a draining vicious cycle this is? It’s endless and fruitless and in twenty years has gotten me three stories published.  So this is so not working for me anymore. I don’t even care why it’s hard for me get to my desk and write most days. I don’t care that part of me feels like a fraud because I have to trick myself by going out to a coffee shop to write. I don’t care that I’m afraid of success and/or failure. I don’t care what neuroses keep me away from the page. I just don’t care anymore. I’m done resisting the resistance. What I do care about is the fact that when I don’t write I become a self-indulgent lazy blob who snaps at her family. I care that when I write I feel like a weight has been lifted. I care that when I write my life feels in alignment. So today I wrote. I wrote morning pages. I wrote four book reviews to be posted later this month on my blog. I pulled out an old story and worked on that and during my massage today those characters swirled around in my head and now I know where to go next. And I wrote here. And the day’s not over yet…

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Take a look at this next time you face your writing gremlin, demon… whatever you choose to call that armor of Resistance that holds you and your writing hostage.

http://www.lumeneclipse.com/gallery/14/white/

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Okay, I’m Hooked

I started the memoir “The Best Day, The Worst day” by Donald Hall on his life with Jane Kenyon and I can’t put it down. There is something about a poet writing prose. Moments are captured so simply yet intricately. Everything is observed with a keen eye and ear. The words and images are strung together like a precious strand of pearls. And I’m not even on page 50 yet!

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The Book Finds you

I’m a big believer in the book finding you. Lately I’ve perused my own bookshelves and find myself drawn to certain books and they end up mirroring exactly what I am feeling or giving me a new perspective on it. Today I roamed through the poetry section at the bookstore and found myself drawn to Jane Kenyon. I have the lovely memoir her husband wrote after she died. Today I picked up her book of poems, “Otherwise” (and that title poem may now be my favorite poem ever) as well as “A Hundred White Daffodils” which contains essays, interviews, newspaper columns and one poem. I am going to immerse myself in her life and work and creative process. Not sure why but am trusting my instinct.

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