Friday, May 28, 2010

Rock and Sand

Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand."

All of the props were pulled out from beneath us recently. Love kept us from plummeting, and Hope, and Support. The sand still sort of swirls around me. If I peer into it, my eyes sting with the grit of Injustice and Fear. I try not to look. Standing with Jay and Clara is all I need right now.

So okay. Standing and solid. Back I go, then, to my story. My story is ready for rewriting. I pulled it up yesterday and officially began revisions. I love revisions, love cutting. Huge dangers, though, in spending 60 minutes on two sentences. Did that this morning. Can't succumb. The goal is to have round 1 of revisions and research done by the end of June.

*sigh. Here we go. A little shakey, a little pale. But determined to get back in. I hope you will join me again. I've missed you. :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Poetry Tuesday

Facing such trials these days that I do very little but play with my daughter, scrub things, and read Hafiz. Sometimes, when the lights go out, the familiar touch of his longing guides me better than my own instincts. In the dark, his voice says, I am blind, too.

The Poor and Pure of Heart
by Hafiz

In this city, in all these stores, I have spent
Everything I have, even my last dime.

I'm so hungry now, I'm chewing on my hands for food
And my emotions have turned from callousness into insights.

Like the rose whose petals fall after blooming,
In my body and spirit I have set a fire.

Last night a nightingale came to my window and sang.
Its song was so sweet I listened, and it had this to say:

"O pilgrim, be happy. Your Beloved is often angry because of
Poverty and bad luck. There is no need for you to act like this!

"If spiritual enlightenment is taking too long and you are tired of the world,
Then give up everything, even your words.

"Even if waves of misfortune were to come crashing on the roof of the sky,
The poor and pure of heart would stay completely dry."

O Hafiz, what if it were possible to achieve union with God?
Do you think that for even a moment you'd continue to behave this way?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is This Week 1? and Writery Treats

This week was peppered with writery treats. One brought snuggish sighs, one giggles, and one barbaric yawps.

First, I finished Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It's a rain-drenched, small-town mystery well over 500 pages, offering some terrific stuff for readers and writers: gorgeous southern setting, a newness to the old (and fading) tale of supernaturally-crossed love. Heart-melting bad-guy-making-good-choices with the drawl and self-possession of Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in Tombstone (love, love!). Also, great lessons on character. Most of them--protagonist Ethan, his green-eyed mystery girl, Ethan's recluse father, bff/goofball Link, razor-sharp town librarian--are relatable and consistent with unique p.o.v's delivered in strong dialogue. Not perfect (what is?), but captivating. Fantastic with ginger tea and chocolates! ;)

Speaking of good writing, Salon's Laura Miller posted an amusing article on bad writing today. In her article, she included a link to a story about the Inklings--that group of smarty-smarts like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein who would gather to read and discuss their writing. Well, the Inklings would gather and challenge one another to read from a certain novel, Irene Iddesleigh, by Amanda McKittrick Ros. The challenge was to read as far into the novel as one could without laughing. How mean! And how hilarious! Imagine those dusty, brilliant, tweeded professors with pink cheeks and glittering eyes, stifling their laughter. According to the linked article, Ros has earned the title "The Greatest Bad Writer Who Ever Lived." Isn't that provocative? Don't you want to read her books just to find out? I see one of her novels is available on Amazon for $250. :( What a loss. Don't you think we could learn so much to read the worst writing ever?) How I would love to play the Inklings' game.

Last, I found a new writer to love this week. Has anyone read Malinda Lo's Ash? I haven't yet, but I saw it was on UW-Madison's recommended reading for 2010, so I looked Lo up. And she is fierce! Unapologetic! Have I been worrying about the pull and suck of blogging? Malinda has a list of thoughtful blogging policies. Have I been stressing out about how to review the YA books I've been reading (Struts and Frets, A Kiss in Time) that haven't thrilled me? Malinda declares that reviews are useful for readers, but not at all for writers, and she "refuse[s] to be drawn into the psychosis-inducing vortex of Amazon/Goodreads/Google doom that befalls many writers!" Check her out if you need some strong talk. She has great tidbits on writing books and publishing as well.

So, speaking of writing books . . . who out there is writing a book? Who wrote a scene that surprised you? Who watched a character make a choice you had no idea was coming? Who wrote something on page 112 that is going to change everything that character did in the previous 111 pages? :) This is our glory, yes? Our delight. I got out 3300 words this week. I wanted more, but I'm shirking a scene.

I'll tell you a secret: I think I need to drink a little too much to write a certain scene. Is that a cop out, do you think? Too naughty? Too irresponsible? But I'm not channeling my inner Hemingway; I'm channeling my inner Bridget Jones. :) In Fielding's second novel (nothing like the movie!), Bridget writes Christmas cards while polishing off a bottle of wine. You can imagine, her letters get more and more revealing. I want to write a scene that sounds something like Bridget writing a Christmas letter to her boss, ending with (something like--I'm paraphrasing!), "and I love you not just as a boss but as a man."

What do you think? Should we all get a little shliquored, write, and then share what came out? Could be totally fuu-uun (needly sing-song). ;) Oh, man. What would Kay Ryan say?


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Poetry Sunday

I've been thinking about Kay Ryan more these last several days.

A few nights ago, I spent hours scouring writers' blogs. By the end of the evening, I couldn't help but wonder what she would say about our blogging community. In some writing/blogging circles, the idea of building followers is imperative. The idea of creating blogging gimmicks to attract readers is mandatory. The skill of commenting personally yet wittily on each blog you follow is an absolute necessity.

How would Kay handle herself in this world? The answer clearly abides in her choice to stay far removed from it. She does not tweet or blog; she loathes the idea of modern 'mentors' and 'workshopping.' She has never taken or taught a creative writing class. She lives quietly, teaches remedial English, hikes in the desert. No tenure and guest speaking at great universities. No gimmicks. No ambitions beyond living truthfully to herself and to her art.

It's interesting that her privacy may have hampered her success. One article suggests that Ryan's work may have taken decades to attract wide readership in part by her lack of literary connections. But is that such a bad thing? She has said, "I think the people who become the most interesting writers are always going to come from, in some sense, desperate circumstances. There is a great deal of very private testing that has to happen in a writer. It has to be faced. I'm not sure it is good idea to hold hands with others too much."

Holding hands. That's what we're doing as we network on the internet and attend luncheons and retreats. In a way, attending these events is, to me, delightful. And in a way it is, for me, imperative. I don't know that I would have carved out the time necessary to write a novel if Laini hadn't gathered us up and cheered us on. I wouldn't have continued if Jennie and Jay and jldy didn't keep holding my hands through April.

But as I consider Kay Ryan tonight, I wonder what it would take to become a "most interesting writer."Stop blogging? Stop reading blogs? No; I like you guys too much. :) I will stay devoted to a small circle of lovelies whom I enjoy and find inspiring. But I won't believe it when I hear folks say a new writer has to blog, has to have hundreds of followers. We don't have to. We can succeed without them. I think what our poet laureate can teach me is to rely on the wind and the desert, the cup in my hand and the dog howling out back . . . rely on the world to shape my writing, not the computer. And rely on myself to succeed--but, oh, how daunting that sounds.

I will try to blend my delight for connection and need for support with the reality of a writer's inevitable private testing. I'm certain I will not grow roots as deep as Ryan's, but I'll trust I'll blossom sweetly, all the same. :)

Outside Art

Most of it's too dreary
or too cherry red.
If it's a chair, it's
covered with things
the savior said
or should have said--
dense admonishments
in nail polish
too small to be read.
If it's a picture,
the frame is either
burnt matches glued together
or a regular frame painted over
to extend the picture. There never
seems to be a surface equal
to the needs of these people.
Their purpose wraps
around the backs of things
and under arms;
they gouge and hatch
and glue on charms
till likable materials--
apple crates and canning funnels--
lose their rural ease. We are not
pleased the way we thought
we would be pleased.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

One More Round?

High fives, my friends! Clinks of crystal goblets glittering with champagne! Noogies, hugs, fist-pumps (and/or fist-bumps), and cheers led by team captain, Jennie! What an extraordinary achievement: to have committed to writing for a month, and to share that month's ups and downs together. So brave! So vulnerable! So awesome! I couldn't be more delighted to be among you all. What a treat to have traveled this road with you.
We each came into this venture at different spots of our novels: jldy, just beginning a long-loved story; DM giving fresh eyes to a story you've been working on (and living out in your imagination) for three years. Jennie, in the delicious throes of following a story that you had developed well but that was twisting its own plot, and I was pushing through a story I had started in November but really hadn't devoted time to until Laini Taylor called for a mini-nano in March.

So where did we end up? Did we meet any personal goals? Or was this month really just about developing: developing both our stories and ourselves?

I don't think I could list all the lessons and blessings I gathered through this experience.

You three are enormous blessings. (With the door always open for new writers. We're a friendly bunch; come join us!)

I learned that most of us have "the sky was purple" moments, and I also (humbly!) learned that it's probably better that the sky was purple rather than "the amethyst twilight kissed the tips of the quivering aspen while the June breezes slipped in and out of Carla's red curls, blah, blah, blah."

This lesson is due to a fantastic essay on how important it is to write like we talk. Author Timothy Hallinan shares this fantastic piece of advice: Read it [your story] aloud to someone you like and trust – someone like your ideal reader. It's amazing how the better pieces of writing zip right by when you're reading your work to someone, and how the less-good patches seem to take longer to get through. You can actually feel the energy – both yours and your listener's – flag when the over-written material makes its appearance. Circle or underline those passages and keep reading. You'll come back to them during your next writing session.

Note to self: NO OVERWRITING

I also learned to stop taking my issues out on the NaNo. Poor NaNo. I gave it a hard time last week. :) To make up, I'll share this wildly successful NaNo story:

Stephanie Perkins wrote a novel during the 2007 NaNo WriMo. She cleaned it up, sent it to an agent, sold it to an editor, cleaned it up a bazillion times more, and her novel Anna and the French Kiss is coming out this winter. Hurray Stephanie!! Bravo for drive and resilience and creativity and--lest I forget to say it--hurray for the NaNo that brought you and Anna together! :) (Seriously, click on her name and then scroll down a little in her blog. She lists the events of the whole whirlwindish ride. Totally inspiring.)

So are we going to go again? One more ride on the roller coaster? Are we up to sharing out ups, and down with sharing our downs?

I'm totally in.

In March, I wrote 14,000 words; in April, 9400. I would love to finish the bare-bones of this story in May--another 7,000? And then start revising.

What do you say?

It's within view, guys! :) Can we make it through the poppies? Will weariness overtake us?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Two Joys

Time to share lemon-drops of joy!

My first May Joy is this ray of sunshine:

Could she be cuter?
And can you see the spikes?
And will she forgive me when she's older? :)

My second May Joy is this newly tilled garden:

Oh, the possibilities . . . :)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Poetry Sunday

Editor and blogger Molly O'Neill occasionally celebrates 'Poetry Friday' by sharing a favorite poem with her readers. I find that little tradition completely lovely and wish to adopt it.

Kay Ryan is a poet who reminds me so much of Annie Dillard: a rooted muser, a wit and a wonderer, but never the fool. To get to know her better, enjoy an essay she wrote in 2005 about her experiences at that thing she dreads the most, the Writers Conference. Some snippets I cherish--

On the old way of mailing one's writing to an editor:

Whether or not I started out liking the patient discipline of this exchange, I came to like it. It slowed me down. If I’d gotten those poems back at email speed, say, they wouldn’t have been away long enough for me to lose hope the way you need to. You really shouldn’t be living for a reaction all the time. I also liked the fact that there were no faces or voices; we were all disembodied, writer and editor alike. Just the slow old mail. I wanted my poems to fight their way like that. Fight and fight again. No networking, no friends in high places, no internships. I think that’s how poems finally have to live, alone without your help, so they should get used to it.

On writers' workshops:

I have to assume that the writer respects these other writers’ opinions, and that just scares the daylights out of me. It doesn’t matter if their opinions really are respectable; I just think the writer has given up way too much inside. Let’s not share. Really. Go off in your own direction way too far, get lost, test the metal of your work in your own acids.

On poetry readings in an auditorium of hundreds of listeners:

But what could you tell about anybody’s poetry in this big-top atmosphere? The room is all out of proportion with how poetry works. The pressure is all wrong. This place is right for revivals and mass conversions, for stars and demagogues. I don’t think I’d trust poetry that worked too well here. Aren’t the persuasions of poetry private? To my mind, the right sized room to hear poetry is my head, the words speaking from the page.


Here is her poem, "That Vase of Lilacs," to celebrate the budding of ours.

That Vase of Lilacs

Not just lilacs
are like that;
other purples also
leave us vacant
portals, susceptible
to vagrant spirits.
But take that vase
of lilacs: who goes
near it is erased.
In spite of Proust,
the sense don't
attach us to a place
or time: we're used
by sweetness--
taken, defenseless,
invaded by a line
of Saracens,
Picts, Angles,
double rows of
matched casually
by nose in an
impersonal and
intermittent immortality
of purple.