Sunday, November 27, 2011

Did You Notice the Word ‘Random’ in my Title?

Being a writer, by definition, means being a reader as well. You can’t write, without reading. Today’s post is more about reading than writing.

I just returned from the airport after taking my son out for his flight home following the Thanksgiving festivities. And this morning I had another mission on my mind besides the obvious airport farewell scene. Despite many opportunities to purchase Colin Meloy’s book Wildwood, (including at Wordstock where he read from the book), I finally decided that today was the day: I had to get that book into my hands! So I said my goodbyes, gave hugs, and hurried over to the tiny airport Powell’s Books store (you gotta love Portland!) to make my purchase. Now, Colin, best known as the lead singer of the Decemberists, is a Portland boy, and the book is set here, but I was still surprised that they had only ONE copy left. I snatched it up, like a forlorn puppy at the pound, and it now awaits that moment when I finally get to open its beautiful cover and delve into the world of the Impassable Wilderness!     My book as it waits patiently for its reader:

Three years ago my good friend Chris convinced me that I should try listening to audiobooks. Not in place of my regular reading of course, but in addition to. I had argued with him for months that I am not an auditory person, and could never follow a book I listened to. But I’m always trying to find ways to grow new dendrites in my brain to offset any possible onset of the Alzheimer’s disease that took my father, so I finally gave in, thinking it would at the very least be good for my brain, and at best be entertaining. Now, three years later I have plenty of new dendrites, and have been greatly entertained. My ipod goes on trips, accompanies me while gardening, and is always there while cleaning or cooking. But there is always this feeling of “not really reading a book” when I listen to one. Like I’m cheating. This morning’s New York Times Book Review has two articles that address this issue. One poses the thesis that audiobooks are more true to the literary spirit, in that literature began as oral storytelling. The other could have been written by me: the author has experienced that feeling of being a fraud for listening to books. Both are excellent and if you do ‘read’ audiobooks, or have thought of doing so, check them out. “The Mind’s Ear” by James Parker, and “Wired for Sound” by John Schwartz in today’s NYTimes Book Review.

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Homework

After a productive two days of writing at the beach (alright, it was because I had been an idiot and sprained my knee necessitating elevating and icing said knee all weekend) and another productive afternoon off of work, (again due to knee) I have managed to add about 7,000 words to my Civil War novel. This allowed me some time this week to investigate other writing blogs, including blogs on how to write blogs. I learned I’m doing everything wrong, so today I’ve set myself some homework.

“Keep it short.” “Leave plenty of white space.” “Add images to give the eyes a rest.” These are among the many tips I’ve read this week, many of which come from the excellent blog,"Confident Writing." Throughout my life I have always been one to take few risks; I’ve preferred to know everything possible before undertaking something new. But for some reason, with writing, I’ve just jumped right in, both feet first, straight into the deep end. My blogging is a perfect example. I just decided one day that I would blog, picked a title for it, and posted that first post. I had never even read very many blogs, so had little idea of what one should look like.

Beyond the mechanics of blogging, the greater challenge for me has been trying to figure out all the ins and outs of Blogger. I’m going to attempt to make a change or two today in the look of my blog, but that may have to wait for another day. This I because I’m heading out soon to a taping of Live Wire, a local public radio show which purports itself to be: Variety for the Ears; Vaudeville for the Mind. They always include interesting authors. Can’t wait!

Keep it short: B-  Leave plenty of white space: B     Add images to give the eyes a rest: C+
Not too bad. As with my fiction writing, I'll continue to try to improve.
Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sprains and Inspiration

I am the world’s biggest klutz! My husband and I are down at the Oregon coast for a relaxing three day weekend, a much needed respite. Along with the requisite rain gear, I packed the laptop and Civil War notes for writing, and books for recreational reading, anticipating uber relaxation. We had been in the room for no more than 5 minutes, when I took a step backwards, stepping on a shoe I had just removed, and my knee went in a direction I wasn’t planning on. Ended up on the floor in some considerable pain. Long and short of it is I’m spending the weekend doing the old R.I.C.E. cure for sprains: rest, ice, compression, and elevation, which, it turns out, are quite conducive for writing. Yesterday was the best writing day I’ve had in several weeks! Knee raised, iced, compressed, while sitting in front of a fire, with a spectacular view of the ocean. Could have done without the sprain, but all in all not a lot to complain about.
I’m excited because I wrote a pivotal scene yesterday and I’m very pleased with how it came out. As soon as I’m finished here I’m back to 1862, where Elizabeth is about to use her fingers to dig into a wounded soldier’s shoulder in order to remove the bullet lodged there. She’s quite conflicted about this, as he is the enemy!

A couple of weeks ago I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear David Guterson read from his latest novel Ed King. The man is brilliant (best known for his magnificent Snow Falling on Cedars), and he spent nearly 45 minutes, beyond the reading, discussing his inspiration for the book, the writing process, and general thoughts about today’s society. I have the book with me this weekend, and I highly recommend it. As he will tell you, each of his books is very unique—he has no one style, so if you have only read Snow, you will be surprised by how different this book is. When I take breaks from the miseries of the Civil War I’m spending time with Ed King.
Looks like a storm is moving in; should be perfect for writing about Elizabeth’s adventures with that bullet. Just need to get the ice pack!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Craft

WRITING IS A CRAFT. This was news to me several months ago when I first attempted to write. Craft. I first encountered that alien idea in the excellent book by Jerry Cleaver, Immediate Fiction. It was both a daunting idea and a very reassuring one. Daunting because I had no idea what was meant by it, and if I didn’t know what was meant by it I obviously had no business trying to write. Reassuring because the word craft implies something which can be learned and mastered. You practice a craft, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, improve upon your product, and continually become better at it. That, I could do. I was already excellent at making mistakes. Now I just needed to learn from those mistakes and improve at the craft. But how?
Immediate Fiction was an excellent place to start, and I highly recommend it to any fledgling writer. Then, not long into this new journey I was given the opportunity to attend a two day writing workshop. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first day I was utterly and completely overwhelmed and quickly came to the conclusion that I had no business being there. I was obviously a fraud, an imposter. I attended with a dear friend, who had also just started writing in earnest, and she too wanted to run from the room on that first day. Terms and ideas that we had never heard of were thrown around, bewildering and paralyzing us. However, on the second day, the instructor changed tactics a bit, and everything she presented seemed much more accessible. I was no longer paralyzed, but was now inspired. I went home and practiced my craft.
I am a very fortunate reader and writer in that I live in a city which embraces and nourishes those who love the written word. Last month Portland enjoyed the seventh (I think!!) Wordstock Festival. This feast for anyone who loves books, whether as a reader or a writer or both, was two days of inspiration and education. I listened to many wonderful writers share their work and knowledge of the craft. Among these I heard Michael Ondaatje read from and discuss his new book The Cat’s Table, listened to Steve Almond who spoke as a member of a panel on sex in books, heard Johnny Shaw speak on structure in novels, and attended four writing workshops, the best of which was presented by David Rocklin, the debut author of The Luminist. His topic was on using setting as character, and I found everything he shared to be very helpful for my Civil War novel. David is adorable, and kept joking about being a “sparkly vampire.” At one point he and I had a little Twilight Zone moment, when he seemed to have read my mind, and I kidded him that he really WAS a sparkly vampire (who of course can read minds…all except for that one!) I couldn’t wait to get home and continue practicing my craft.
I have a stack of books on the craft of writing that I’m slowly making my way through, and I’m always on the lookout for the next inspiring workshop to attend!
Happy Reading!