Archive for July, 2008

Friday Check-in

Yes- I much prefer checking in to fessing up. It conjures up a certain softness. Some compassion. A gentle curiosity. And that is what my writing self needs. I don’t do well with badgering, threats, or harsh and downright mean criticisms.

So for the last two days I’ve been trying this new thing. I write first thing in the morning. Thirty minutes. That’s all. But it has to be on my story. I’d write morning pages, then some writing practice then maybe respond to emails, or post to my blog and I considered all that “writing”. Well. We all know that isn’t really what I mean to accomplish. It’s a certain kind of writing but it is not helping me make any progress on my novel-in-stories (which is the project I have committed to finishing). So. Thirty minutes. First thing after I meditate. And this funny thing has happened. I feel lighter throughout the rest of my day. If I decide to read or watch a movie or any other thing I used to label as lazy procrastination since it kept me from my writing, I can now enjoy guilt-free.

The other thing that has happened is that it plugs me into my story right off the bat. So the story brews in the back of mind all day. I can always sit back down for another thirty minute session but the fact that I got anything written on this story lets me off the hook. I don’t have to if I don’t want to. But now I want to.

I’ve had this notion that a “real” writer sits down for hours at a stretch to write. During the school year I have hours at a stretch to do just that. But I don’t. Now I realize that’s not how I work. I work better in little snippets of time. At least for now that’s how I work. It’s great for the summer. I get my writing done before my daughters even wake up. Each week I’d like to add five minutes until I reach 45 maybe a full hour tops. But then I need a break. Even just fifteen minutes to take a walk or throw in a load of laundry or do some dishes. The story is still with me.  I did that for while last year. Three or four 45-minutes sessions throughout the day. It seems to work for me. For now. And that’s what this blog is kind of about. Noticing my creative process and adjusting it to work for me in the moment.


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As I sit here at my desk there is a little brown bunny in our driveway nibbling at the edge of our grass. A huge storm passed through earlier. Torrential rain. Some thunder. It darkened the house which made a nap irresistible. A brief one. Which is what makes it a nap and not, you know, actual sleep. But it was the kind of nap where I woke up refreshed. And the sun is now out.

I am forty-three today. My daughters made me the best presents ever. They are meant only for me, only I would truly appreciate them which makes them perfect gifts. We were at an art festival last week and I saw a hand tinted black and white photo of a stack of classic books. It caught my eye. But the price didn’t. I put it back. So my oldest daughter searched our house for some old, classic books, stacked them on her dresser and photographed them. She enlarged it to 8 x 10 and framed it. How thoughtful. How creative.

My youngest daughter, 11, has been working on some mammoth birthday project for days now. She was on the computer for five hours yesterday. She needed my favorite story that I had written. She had random questions that she needed me to answer and I had no idea what she was up to until she presented it to me this afternoon. She created “Mom Magazine” and in addition to articles on going green, family vacation spots and a mom quiz she included my story…all 24 pages of it. She designed each page, wrote each article. It’s amazing. First, what an incredibly thoughtful idea and then what focus and time it took to complete this project. I have amazing children. Truly.

And let’s not forget an amazing husband who just brought me a plate of cocktail shrimp and is now in the middle of grilling salmon and scallops and cooking corn on the cob. Instead of cake I requested fresh cherries and a big slab of watermelon with a candle stuck in it. And I will be going to a spa for a pedicure and facial later this month.

It’s a lovely day… just one in a truly lovely life.

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New Classics Meme

I found this meme here. Below is the list of Entertainment Weekly’s 100 “new classics.” Bold the ones you have read. Place an asterisk next to the ones you have loved. Italicize the ones you want to read. Strike the ones you hated with a fiery passion. And always, if you are so inclined, post this meme on your own blog and leave a link to your answers in the comments.

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)*
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)

4. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001) -own it
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)*
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)*
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990) – own it
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)

22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)

29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)*
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)

35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)*

40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende – own it
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World’s Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000) – own it
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006) – own it
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000) – own it
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993) – own it
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989) (I haven’t gotten past the first hundred pages yet) -own it
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)*
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994) – own it
84. Holes, Louis Sachar
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)*
98. The Predators’ Ball, Connie Bruck
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

I didn’t actaully hate any of the books on the list. The only book I ever recall truly loathing was a James Patterson one that my book club read several years ago. But this was fun. Now I have more books to add to my to-be-read-in-this-lifetime pile. Luckily I own several of them already.

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Friday again…

I’m cutting myself some slack this summer. Especially this month. The bathroom is almost finished. And the girls are moved back into their newly decorated bedrooms. I can see the light at the end of the home improvement tunnel.

As far as writing goes… I went to the coffee shop and wrote for two hours yesterday. Just freewrites. A way to keep my hand moving, my mind limber. I am also working with “Deepening Fiction: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers” by Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren. I did go over my latest story that was workshopped by my group and for the first time am really at a loss as to where to start or what to do next. Many conflicting suggestions, which happens. If I was confident in the story I would know which ones to heed and which to discard but apparently I am not. I thought I was. I thought I’d whip through the first six stories, get feedback, whip out quick, easy revisions before moving on to the last third of the novel-in-stories that I know needs much more work. So I’m kind of stuck. How I proceed from here will affect the rest of the story.

But it’s summer. If I made my living as a writer, I’d make myself adhere to a strict writing schedule. But I don’t. Yet, anyway. This is for fun. Because I love it, most of the time. So I will continue to report my progress here on Fridays just because I like the accountability but I think I’ll stop referring to it as ‘fessing up which implies I am doing something wrong or something I should feel guilty about. Our best friends are flying in from Arizona next week for ten days. I may write, I may not. No pressure. It’s summer… a time to kick back, relax, go with the flow… you get the idea.

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“Unaccustomed Earth” stories and novella by Jhumpa Lahiri
The stores in this collection are exquisite. Each one a gem to admire. She reminds me of Alice Munro in that each story contains an entire world, an entire lifetime. Every detail is relevant. Each character is carefully observed. Every writer needs to read her. The way she handles time is a lesson in itself. The novella is now one of my favorite love stories of all time and it gives new meaning and depth to the cover illustration. This is one book that I will read again and again this time with a pen in hand to mark and admire her dazzling prose, her superb story telling ability and the deft rendering of human lives.

“The Untelling” a novel by Tayari Jones
This is from my TBR list for this year. It kept me up until after midnight so I could finish it. What I love about this book are the vivid, complex characters and a plot that swept me away. It made me rethink about what questions I have planted in my own stories that make a reader want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens long past midnight.

“God is Dead” fiction by Ron Currie, Jr.
The title reveals the plot. God disguised as a woman in the Sudan is killed. When she dies, God dies too and is then eaten by a pack of feral dogs who absorb the Creator’s  essence and are suddenly able to communicate with humans, speak Aramaic and walk on water. As news of God’s demise circles the world, everything changes. High schoolers form suicide packs, parents worship children. It is funny, disturbing and not a little chilling. The premise is so outrageous but he makes it work through the use of meticulous details, a vivid voice and compelling stories.

“Red Ant House” stories by Ann Cummins
Here’s another one from my TBR Challenge. The back covers blurbs this collection of stories as a cross between Denis Johnson and Flannery O’Connor, which seems to sum it up completely. The stories are set in the southwest and possess a kind of weird almost fable-like quality. The characters stretch far beyond quirky and sometimes feel so stripped bare and honest that I skimmed or glanced away as if witnessing a gruesome car accident. Some of the characters include a woman pushed to edge of a mountain pass, a hypnotist with strange powers, a kleptomaniac who is married to a cop. They all seem to be skirting the edge of darkness. They are not the kind of stories I am inclined to write myself but there is so much to admire.

“the dead & the gone” a YA adult novel by Susan Beth Pfeffer
This is a companion novel to “Life As we Knew It”. It examines what happens to life in NYC when an asteroid knocks the moon out of its orbit triggering a chain reaction of climate and weather catastrophes. It is told through the point of view of Alex Morales, a seventeen year old focused on getting into a good college. His parents go missing and he is left responsible for his two younger sisters. Don’t ask me why I am so fascinated by all these apocalyptic stories, but I am. I read this one in less than twenty-four hours.

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