Friday, August 29, 2014

Poem for the Weekend


I've had Mark Strand on the brain this week, after reading a flash fiction piece he wrote (I mentioned the collection in my last post). And so, I went to find a poem for this week's entry. It wasn't easy to choose just one. Strand has collected just about every award and accolade a poet can, for good reason. You can read about him here.

The Prediction

by Mark Strand

That night the moon drifted over the pond,
turning the water to milk, and under
the boughs of the trees, the blue trees,
a young woman walked, and for an instant

the future came to her:
rain falling on her husband's grave, rain falling
on the lawns on her children, her own mouth
filling with cold air, strangers moving into her house,

a man in her room writing a poem, the moon drifting into it,
a woman strolling under its trees, thinking of death,
thinking of him thinking of her, and the wind rising
and taking the moon and leaving the paper dark.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cross-training for Writers

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up this book in a thrift shop while on vacation. This collection of "very short stories" was chosen by staff and students at Wright State University in 1992 and follows three previous collections with some form of "Sudden Fiction" in the title. The introduction touches on this change, explaining the criteria for "Flash Fiction;" basically, it's shorter than sudden fiction. It's interesting to think of the ways short fiction has and hasn't evolved in the past twenty years, with the dawning of Twitter and sound bites, and but then again, Haiku is ancient.

Flash Fiction is a fantastic collection of pieces, really stellar. I kept waiting for the stories to decrease in quality as I went along (this often happens with collections) but they never did. So many searing images and nuanced insights, so much feeling in these short works. There are stories by Carver, Atwood, and Updike, by Mark Strand, Tim O'Brien and Jamaica Kincaid. Lots of authors you may know, and some you probably won't. But all of the stories had something in common: each was a short, vivid experience.

I realized that reading these brief pieces of fiction would be a really great exercise for any writer wishing to think about writing scenes, because that's what many of them were. A writer could do worse than to strive for the immediacy and sensory immersion usually evident in flash fiction. Even in the breadth of a novel, it could be helpful to envision an hourglass when you're writing a scene. Be purposeful, present an experience, create a tension.

Sometimes, I'm asked in interviews to give advice to writers and really, the same thing always comes to mind: READ! Read the type of books you want to write, and read everything else too. Consider yourself an athlete in training. You have to exercise different parts of your brain, like an athlete moves from one muscle group to the next. Read flash fiction to learn about creating impactful scenes. Read poetry to remind yourself of rhythm and beauty, biographies for character insight, non-fiction for cause-and-effect and reason, memoir to experience someone else's feelings. And always, always read fiction because there you will find the most crystallized stories and voices, and grains of sand turned to gem.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blog Hop: On Importance

One rewarding aspect of my burgeoning career as a writer is connecting with kindred souls. The expanding cocktail party of writers in which I’ve had the pleasure to mingle the past several years is an ongoing source of motivation, commiseration and support. And so, when I have a chance to highlight some of these talented folks, I usually jump at it. I’ve been asked to participate in this Blog Hop by the effervescent Katie O’Rourke, who probably is repaying me for roping her into the last one (!), but I’m happy to bring her and her work to your attention again. You can read Katie’s answer to the Blog Hop question here, and find information about her two published novels, Monsoon Season and A Long Thaw, as well as excerpts from her next one, Finding Charlie.
Why are you working on the project you are writing now? Why is it important? (to you, or to the world, or...)
I'm beginning work on a novel, with two great working titles which I won't share with you because of superstition. But it's about, in the main, being a person and what it means to be whole or complete. Of course, this feels like a very momentous undertaking to me (all projects do, at the start!). It's very important to me to work out these thoughts, to explore the characters who have started to crowd and talk over each other in my mind. I'd like to think anything I write might have some relevance to readers, that maybe someone will find a new insight or feel connected, even if for the length of a story. That's important, I think, when it happens.
And now, I'd like to tag two authors you'd be very wise to check out. They'll answer this same question soon. 
Douglas Bornemann is the author of The Demon of Histlewick Downs, a recently-released fantasy novel already garnering great reviews, and currently priced a steal for the ebook. I met Doug and his wife Genelle at a conference and they are brilliant and talented, so I'm looking forward to diving into his book, which looks top-notch on my Kindle! Doug also blogs here, where you'll find his upcoming post.
Patricia Morris is a writer I met through years ago. Her novel, Going Out in Style, was one of the more inventive, quirky and touching things I read, and the story has stayed with me all these years. I follow her blog, where she always has something illuminating and interesting to say. You should follow her too.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Poem for the Weekend


Recently I expressed a desire to read more poetry, which is true. Well, here’s me doing something about it. Do you want to read more poetry but don’t know where to start, can’t find the time? Let’s do this together! Every Friday, I’ll share a Poem for the Weekend. Something I read during the week and enjoyed. My only requirement—that it not be too long. I’m trying to ease into this, after all; I may change this requirement eventually. I’d love it if you shared a poem back, or pointed me in the direction of a poet or collection that you love.

Here’s the first, by James Schuyler who said “much of poetry is as concerned with looking at things and trying to transcribe them as painting is.” Seems a good start for this late-summer day and for my blog, which is all about shimmers of inspiration.


by James Schuyler

The pear tree that last year
was heavy-laden this year
bears little fruit. Was
it that wet spring we had?
All the pear tree leaves
go shimmer, all at once. The
August sun blasts down
into the coolness from the
ocean. The New York Times
is on strike. My daily
fare! I'll starve! Not
quite. On my sill, balls
of twine wrapped up in
cellophane glitter. The
brown, the white and one
I think you'd call ecru.
The sunlight falls partly
in a cup: it has a blue
transfer of two boys, a
dog and a duck and says,
"Come Away Pompey." I
like that cup, half
full of sunlight. Today
you could take up the
tattered shadows off
the grass. Roll them
and stow them. And collect
the shimmerings in a
cup, like the coffee
here at my right hand.

James Schuyler was born in Chicago, worked as a secretary for W.H. Auden, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. More about his life here, and you can hear him read other poems here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Real Book

I met a lovely woman at this dance show the other night. She and her husband asked about the translation of my shoulder tattoo, which is in Hebrew and taken from a poem by Stephen Crane, which led to a discussion of The Red Badge of Courage, to what is taught in high school English these days, and about books, and my book. She asked whether she could get my novel at Amazon or in bookstores and when I told her it was distributed by the publisher, she said “Oh, so it’s a real book.”

And I felt this as a blow, even though I’d come out on the sunny side of her assessment, I guess. Immediately, I thought about all of my self-published friends who had to do quite a lot of “real” work, stuff I didn’t have to do—cover design, formatting, etc.—and who invested mass quantities of their own time and money to make their “real” product available. Now, I will note that the discussion had also included this very nice lady telling me about a book her relative had written (doesn’t everyone have a relative with a book??) and so, her assessment about real books vs. not-real books very well could have been deferring to me after talking about her relative’s self-published effort. Honestly, she was very kind.

Still, it got me thinking about those types of comments and especially, about that word: real. When I explain to people that I have my mother, and also my biological mother, whom I met when I was twenty. “Oh, so that’s your real mom.” When people are curious about the fact that our kids are called by their middle names. “Oh, so (first name) is his real name.” And you end up sounding like a curmudgeon if you try to clarify. Someone forces their analysis on you and you are the one in danger of offending.

So yes, my book is a real book. And so is that one, and that one, and that one. And you are a real person. At least, I think you are. And this is a real day, and the next, and the next. To each his own reality, I'd say, but maybe we should keep them to ourselves sometimes.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka