Archive for August, 2008

Weekly Check-In

Managed to work on my story everyday this week even though it was our 20th wedding anniversary and we went away overnight on Wednesday. For the first time I didn’t bring a notebook or journal or any writing supplies and that felt a little strange. Like I was missing a part of me.

The story is coming along. I wrote the end of one scene and knew it wasn’t right. It felt too precious. Sentimental. So I went back in and slowed down and hit upon something that I am now trailing to see where it leads me. Where it leads the story.

I’d like to take a day this weekend to go to the coffee shop and just freewrite for a couple of hours. I like to do that on a fairly regular basis. It balances the side of me that is working on producing a story, ultimately for publication. It keeps my mind nimble, free and loose which then bleeds into the writing of fiction. It’s fun. It allows me to just immerse myself in the writing process and hopefully that will also bleed into the rest of my writing.


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Books Read in July

“A Peculiar Grace” a novel by Jeffrey Lent
This recommendation came from a friend and honestly I didn’t get into the story at first. Now that could have been because I was extremely distracted with my house being torn apart for some remodeling so I gave it the 100 page test. Once I got past 100 pages I was hooked. It was a perfect summer book to sink into. It is just a story that you get lost in. I appreciated his sense of place and the role of art in our lives and how it’s used as a way to heal. He explores many lives and the secrets we keep from each other. He does this interesting thing with time, dipping back and forth so we see a fuller picture. The only thing that bothered me was a particular story line that seemed fairly significant was dropped and never resolved. But there are some beautiful images and dialogue exchanges that I would’ve underlined if it hadn’t been a library book.

“Dancing After Hours” stories by Andre Dubus
An article in the latest issue of “Poets & Writers” inspired me to pick up this book from the library. Tobias Wolff and Kurt Vonnegut blurbed it. These tenderly searing stories remind me of Raymond Carver but are a bit more sensual. They are told straight forward and the characters are carefully observed. The stories appear simple enough but seem to have a much larger arc than a typical short story. Much to admire and learn from.

“Stop That Girl” fiction by Elizabeth McKenzie
This is the book that almost made me give up on one of my projects. I’ve been working on these stories for many years and realized a few years ago that they are a novel-in-stories about a girl at different stages of her life from about nine to adulthood. “Stop That Girl” is similar. They are interconnected stories about quirky Ann Ransom as she breaks her grandmother’s arm, navigates the landmines of her mother’s moods and tries to outrun her grandmother with Allen Ginsberg in the car. I really enjoyed the book and plan to read it again to see how she did so well. The blurbs are what got me. I didn’t know that “it would be easy to give up on the quirky, girly coming-of-age novel” or that the novel-in-stories and the coming-of-age story are two difficult forms on their own but putting them together is apparently asking for disaster, except if you are Elizabeth McKenzie.  Part of me thought that if she already did it so well, why even bother trying? Part of me still thinks that but the other part of me pushes her aside and slides into the chair at my computer, pulls up the current story and peers at it, straining to see what Martha will do next. I’ve decided to let the book inspire and motivate me instead of deflate and depress me.

“Comfort- A Journey Through Grief” a memoir by Ann Hood
I’ve read everything she has written. Right about the time I noticed that she hadn’t had a new book out in awhile I read that her five-year-old daughter, Grace, had died suddenly from a virulent form of strep. This memoir takes us through those moments before she died, the moments as she died and the many many moments that have come since she died. Ann Hood was unable to read or write after her daughter’s death. The one thing that had brought her comfort and helped her make sense had disappeared. She turned instead to knitting. The words finally came back to her and she wrote a novel based on the experience. In this memoir she tackles death and grief head on, without blinking. It is honest, painful yet ultimately hopeful. The thing I admired most was the way the book is written in this almost spiral kind of way, much the way grief is. It is not linear. It isn’t neat and tidy. It just is.

“Georgia Under Water” stories by Heather Sellers
I am a huge fan of her books on writing and wanted to read the results of her taking her own advice. Plus it is another set of interconnected stories featuring a quirky, smart adolescent girl. It is done so well. Often painfully mesmerizing and I felt as if I read with one eye closed ready to veer off the page if it got too raw. I love what Janet Burroway says in her blurb that  “the life of Georgia Jackson skids at the edge of the surreal.” Her parents give dysfunctional new meaning yet Georgia slips and slides her way through it all with an edgy fierceness that I wish I had at that age.

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Weekly Check-In

I scribble little stars at the bottom of each day in my day planner, signifying that I worked on my story. Looking back on this week I see seven stars. Granted a couple of the stars got there by the skin of their teeth, meaning I wrote a sentence or two but it kept me connected and that’s what counts. At least that’s all that counts at this stage of summer and at this stage of revision where it has not all clicked yet and I have no idea if I am on the right path or not. So I just keep showing up and giving myself little tasks. Set up her age earlier. Place her in a definite setting early. Describe her appearance today. Write a scene before her mom is lost in her own grief. Show her parents interacting. Move this scene to later in the story.

The days when I get up and write first thing are alway more productive than when I wait until later in the day. Later in the day means a sentence or two. Later in the day means massive guilt when I do anything other than write. Later in the day means I am cranky and restless until I sit down, shut up and write already.

I met a friend this week for a writing date at a coffee shop and we wrote for about an hour and half which is more than I’ve been doing on my own this summer. Writing is such a solitary activity. Locked in a room, locked in your own head. It’s nice to meet out in the world with somebody else sitting next to you, struggling to do the same thing.

I received a nice rejection that commented on my “commitment to quality writing” and they hope I will send them more work in the future. Not as good as an acceptance. Better than nothing. I do have days marked in my calendar of the dates when more journals are open to submissions. So I will just keep sending my stuff out. My strategy is to get so much work out there that the odds of having it accepted somewhere are increased just by the sheer number of submissions I send out into the world.

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