Wrestling

Does the writing life feel like a wrestling match?  Trying and trying to get those words on paper in a way that tells the beautiful/gory/heartbreaking story that lives within your imagination, in the very fiber of your being? 

My title was inspired by last week's column at Writer Unboxed with Porter Anderson.  He wrote about the war for attention. http://writerunboxed.com/2017/05/19/an-arms-race-of-monetized-distraction/

But, whereas, Porter Anderson writes about macro-attention time-stealers, I'm more about micro-timestealers. Getting caught up in facebook. Pfaffing over the worksheets I create for my story. Hopping over to my blog stats too many times. I can just imagine how rodent-wheeling I'll be once I start querying. I'll be hitting the refresh button on my email site every stinking second!  

And it's so easy to not let my focus go astray. Just open the word document to my current spot I'm working on and I fall in love with my story all over again and dig into it. Bringing out its shine the best way I know how at this moment in time. 

But, getting back to the Writer Unboxed column. He quoted one of the presenters there who spoke about the commodification and the commercialization of monetized attention. 

I don't know about you but that phrase is spooky. 

Is that all we're about anymore? Money? And with money as the bottom line (and yes, writers need to earn money too) along comes its brother and sister: commodification and commercialization.  

Those last two words feel so cold because all relationships have been taken out of them. And that's my objection: when money becomes the bottom line for how to conduct ourselves. Especially if we subscribe to the paradigm of scarcity.

If I believe in scarcity, there's only so much to go around and I'm going to hoard what's mine for me and my people.  If there's enough left for you after I get my fill, fine and dandy. If not, well tough cookies. The problem is--if we're not awake to the effect of money and it's power over us, we become slaves of money, greedy, avaricious. An antithesis to human relationships. 

I could go off on so many tangents with this article from Writer Unboxed. I found it thought provoking and I'm caught up in the realities of the war for attention, just to get my story written, let alone hoping it will someday grab readers' attention and hold them, in a nanosecond twitter world. 

 

 

Diversity conversations

Last week, Writer Unboxed printed a column about diversity. It was well-written and brought up the provocative Lionel Shriver keynote speech that provoked reactions and responses of outrage.

Columnist for the day, Keith Cronin, explores his own meanderings down the road of political correctness and cultural misappropriation.  

His article and the comments which followed were thoughtful, courteous, nuanced. If you're interested in this topic of conversation (which I am, obviously), I invite you to head over to Writer Unboxed to read the May 9th column and comments.  

Study: classic reads

This year I've been trying to read one book each week across a variety of genres. This past week I read a Toni Morrison book, Sula.

I have people of color in my stories. And I know that I'm woefully short in reading books by diverse authors. I shouldn't be, because Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are considered classics, right? 

But, when I google classics the top names that come up are white, European, or American. Mostly men--Don Quixote, 1984, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

On one website, there's not a female name mentioned until #10 George Eliot a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), author of Middlemarch. And #11 lists Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), the Colombian author of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Out of that list of 99 books, I found more women authors but not until #64 did I encounter another person of color, Sun Tzu (544-496 BC), a Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War. Towards the end, a couple of anthologies and short story collections were listed:  Arabian Nights, an anthology of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories, and The Aleph and other short stories by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.  

What makes a classic?  At AbeBooks, their article and video (from 2014) describe a classic as a book: that outlasts time, is historical, is required reading at high school, demonstrates universal themes of life, gets better over time, is colloquial, is educational, and has style.

Perhaps it's time we add other characteristics to our definition of classic literature or at least, to look at themes beyond our customary American and European white-based stories.

What is your definition of classic literature?  

 

Real Live Writer's Group

Writing is a head oriented activity-using our imagination to create stories and selecting words to communicate those images to someone else.

But, to have a vivid imagination, we need curiosity and experience. We need to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

Last night, I went to my first, in a very long time, writer's group. 

This group meets monthly and a facilitator steers the group. She had assigned a writing exercise, asking them to use the five senses. (My brief reflection above the picture? I wrote that before I went to the meeting! How's that for coincidence in real life?) There were ten of us last night. Most of them shared their writing pieces.

It was an informal meeting, perhaps because it's the last night until September. They also shared information about the open house for a new artist studio in town, the author's open mike night at a cafe, a couple of books, and one person had attended a workshop at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. 

Though I've been curious about the Loft, between work, cost, and the energy to google directions, drive, and sit in class with new people? Those three things haven't meshed enough yet to propel me there. Someday. Maybe!

As an introvert, I did not participate much last night but observed and watched. I've already received a welcome email from the facilitator that shared again the dates and locations of events mentioned last night. And I'll be glad of opportunities to get to know this group better.

Some of the people in my facebook writer's group pointed out various types of groups which was helpful. I did not have any expectations and it seems this group is more about support of writing habits group rather than critique of manuscripts group.

How about you? What type of writer's group(s) do you participate in? 

    

Study: the craft of writing

This week I've looked at Jodi Picoult's most recent novel, Small Great Things. By the way, there are NO SPOILERS in this post.

You noticed my verbs of choice? I have not read the book as a reader. Not yet. I've looked at it. I've studied it. And I will study the book some more. Then I will read it.

I am not able to study a book and read it at the same time. And, to be honest, this is my way of reading the ending first before reading the book as a reader. 

In my own writing, I have been most troubled with saggy middles and the climactic sequence. I wanted to see how Picoult deals with these areas.

And, my other reason for studying this book? The story narrates a polemical topic, which is one of the braids in my story--racism.

Picoult's story tackles this subject in a pointed and obvious manner. She uses the point-of-views of three main characters: two women and a man.

  • The man is a white supremacist whose wife just had a baby.
  • The black woman is a nurse in the labor and delivery unit of the hospital.
  • The white woman is the public defender who takes this case of the nurse against the white supremacist's accusations after his baby dies.

These three characters connect through circumstance and they begin their relationships with one another within the hospital and within the court system. The two women build a relationship when the nurse is appointed a public defender. The public defender becomes aware of how white privilege seeps into our lives.

My story is about a bi-racial family. There is a hospital involved but there's also the complexity of family love, and personality likes and dislikes among the family members. While one scene has a direct confrontation about issues of racism between two women related by marriage, the focus of my story is more on the continuum of racism. (although Picoult also deals with the continuum too) 

My pov character for the 2013 braid* is Addison, a Millennialist who treasures close-knit connections with her brother and four cousins. When the family draws together to deal with a cousin's hospitalization and to support one another, various emotions and issues come forth. 

White writers struggle to get the issues of racism and white privilege right, as evidenced by critiques of their writing. I'm thinking in particular of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Will white writers ever get the issue of racism and white privilege right? In our time, I think writers will, mostly, remain clumsy in our attempts but if we are earnest in our writing, it will be well worth the effort. We will create common language and better understanding as we learn. 

Have you read Picoult's book yet?  What are your thoughts? 

 

*My other braid is from the pov of the WWII East Prussian refugee, Amalie, who is a great-great Tante to Addison and her cousins.

Living Values

Minimalism, simplicity, green-living, frugality, self-care...all mix and meander together in a beautiful harmonious mishmash but at other times conflict stridently.

Nothing like spring or Easter, and having lived through the recent death of a significant loved one, to get a person philosophizing.

What is our greatest yearning in life? Isn't it a longing for connection, a longing to be authentic to who we are called to be.

Faith has always played an understated role in my life, a bedrock for the values I prioritize in my life. I have always connected spirituality with living simply, with living as lightly on earth as I can. No, I've not  always been successful. But, I've tried.

As a young adult, I volunteered and shopped in the local Food Coop. I wanted to make a difference, to place my money where my values were.

As a single parent, I adopted a frugal lifestyle based on the books, Your Money or Your Life and The Tightwad Gazette. Very 1990s. At that time, I pastored a small church in a small village (no clothing stores, eventually no grocery store) during that time and I drove 30 minutes to get to the nearest town with a hospital. I did not shop often and when I did, I was usually in a rush. So I did not buy into the consumer culture that accumulating things would make me happy. 

But living frugally and living greenly did not always go hand-in-hand. Purchasing frugally meant buying the cheapest, usually a box store. Living greenly or sustainably meant purchasing for long-lasting quality. Expensive. No easy answers in my desire to let my money show my values. My lifestyle values required me to think and decide and live with the consequences. 

Today, the language has shifted yet again. Bloggers speak of living a minimal lifestyle such as No Sidebar and Project 333

As millennialists move from a culture of accumulating fine and beautiful THINGS into a culture of acquiring fine and beautiful EXPERIENCES, I get caught between my parents' "but we have these objects to pass on that tell our history" and my children's "no, we don't want or need anymore stuff."  History is important but not necessarily by owning and acquiring artifacts. 

What do you value? And, perhaps more importantly, are you able to earn enough money that you can support the values you have that you'd like to see continued into the next generation? 

As a new homeowner who is single and works part-time, I make choices. Getting the basics of my household in order (why are there so many water issues with this house?) is  more of a priority than having stylish clothing or more jewelry. Being a writer is more important than having a full-time job (hm....but it would be nice to not live quite so close to the edge.)

Today? The sun is shining. My daffodils are blooming. And there is yard work to be done which I am quite happy to do. Today.   

Searching for the unsearchable

Have you ever skimmed a writers blog, got caught by a book description, and attempted to find the book online at Indie Bound bookstores or search your local library digitally so you could put a hold on it?

Then discover it's not out yet?

Ha! I did that just yesterday while reading the Kill Zone, a blog for suspense writers.

Judith Newton guest blogged and her new book, Oink: A Food for Thought Mystery, comes out April 17. As its title proclaims, Oink is a mystery; specifically, it's a cozy. 

comes out April 17

comes out April 17

I'm intrigued. 

 

writing

For an author's blog, I've certainly been derailed as well as allowed my focus to become distracted. But after not working on my story for two months, I've gained distance from it so I'm better equipped to revise and edit. 

And last week, I put in two full days of writing. (Do I hear applause anyone? Thank you, thank you!) reworking a couple of 1939 chapters. My protagonist and her younger brother move--from Königsberg, East Prussia to Oban, Scotland--to live with their grandfather's sister. 

One of the things I was attentive to in this rewrite was dialogue. The native language for Amalie and her brother is German while their Aunt Moira is a Scotswoman. So Amalie and her brother speak a more formal English whereas I try to give Aunt Moira a more rhythmic pattern of speech.

I lived in Scotland for a couple years and still have friends there, so I remember a bit of Scotland's distinctive accents and brogues. Soooo different from Midwest American! Which is why I'm not doing a Glaswegian brogue!

On my first flight overseas. I flew by myself, heading to a programme week at Iona Abbey. I had not slept well on the overnight flight but I made it through emigration, found my luggage, then went outside to get a taxi. As soon as I heard the taxi driver speak, I figured I may as well turn around and head home for all the sense I could make of his words. 

Four years later, I worked with a man who spoke that brogue. I never did catch on to it. (I have a hearing impairment which complicated things.) To make sure I understood him, he would stand in front of me so we faced one another and he spoke directly to me, dropping most of his brogue, then asked to make sure I'd understood him. And we'd laugh!

Today, I focused on composing a query. Again. I probably have about a gazillion query iterations (well, I suppose not quite that many). When I became serious about completing my story (back in, oh about 2013), I studied the query column in Writer's Digest but I learned the most from Query Shark's biting critiques of the queries emailed to her for that purpose. Writing a query works different writing habits. Queries, and synopses, are short, focused, concrete-oriented pieces. And that's a habit I need to develop because I tend to wander around in my writing.   

So I often bounce my writing times between my manuscript, my query, and my synopsis. Together, they're like a Rubik's cube. They each remind me of the different pieces of the story I wish to tell.

book review

An excellent book, copyright 2009, written with humor about a newly-retired, old-fashioned, gay lawyer, his eccentric ex-wife's rocky entry into widowhood, and his now-adult stepdaughter's re-entry into his quiet life. Since newbie writer's are encouraged to seriously study first sentences so they can create their own first sentence that sparkles, how does Lipman, author of nine previous books, begin this one?

Henry Archer did not attend his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral, but he did send a note of condolence. The former Denise Archer wrote back immediately and urgently: Would he believe, after twenty-four reasonably happy years, that life as she knew it had been snatched out from under her?
— The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

A sparkly beginning? Well, maybe not sparkly but it grabs me. It makes me ask questions. Why would he even think to attend that funeral? And then there's the next sentence which clinches it for me.

Her postscript said, “Your number’s unlisted. Call me,” and there it was, a bridge he’d never planned to cross.
— The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

Why did he bother to send her a sympathy card? Obviously, he had felt no need to be in touch with her previously. And doesn't she sound needy as well as demanding?

Between the beginning paragraph, the title of Chapter 1 (I Hate You Still), and the cover flap description, I was hooked and each chapter continued to pull me and draw me into the world she had created and the eyes out of which I looked into her world. I needed that kind of a break from my own life.   

Have you ever found books which entered your life during a time in which you needed that specific type of book? 

living as if

Grieving for the death of a loved one when it hasn't yet completely sunk in. Surely he's just in the next room and I just need to call his name and he will be back out. Surely she just went to the store and will be back in due time. 

And my mind spins along a drunken trail that weaves in and out of memories and reality, of family togetherness that sometimes becomes too much, of compassion that is there for others but not necessarily for self.

So I live as if life is going on as normal. As much as I can.

The same thing with the writerly life. I live as if I am a writer. For I am. I do not earn a living at it. Not yet. Maybe never. But I write. 

I walked this afternoon and picked up three books from a Little Library: Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood, Julia & the Master of Morancourt by Janet Aylmer, and The Family Man by Elinor Lipman. That shows you how unfocused my mind is--a collection of short stories, a regency romance, and a comedy.  

I had started reading Henna House last month by Nomi Eve, enthralled by the story until the half-way point. It's about a young Yemenite Jewish girl in the 1920s, her fear of the Confiscator, and the complicated dynamics of oppression, and the lack of safety and security. Fascinating story. But I began to feel too heavy with dread for what might come. And so I will put it away for now, to read completely at some later date. 

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