Just reread Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, an amazing collection of short stories. Each one is its own little world of isolation and redemption. Where boys or men learn how to feel something new or learn how to let go of something old.
I love them all, but the message that sticks with me longest is from “Sweethearts”:
Somehow, and for no apparent reason, your decisions got tipped over and you lost your hold. And one day you woke up and you found yourself in the situation you said you would never ever be in, and you did not know what was most important to you anymore. And after that, it was all over. And I did not want that to happen to me–did not, in fact, think it ever would. I knew what love was about. It was about not giving trouble or inviting it. It was about not leaving a woman for the thought of another one. It was about never being in that place you said you’d never be in. And it was not about being alone. Never that. Never that.
Okay, so I am absolutely VILE for not always reading litrahtooor, but sometimes I need to cleanse my palate and, you know, just read for fun and entertainment.
Anyway, I read a couple of fun books this past weekend, both handed over to my by friends (i.e. I didn’t buy them).
Being Committed by Anna Maxted (think this one is only out in the UK at present): a fun and often hilarious book about Hannah, a private detective with fear of committment which ruins her life. When the book opens she is turning down the proposal of her boyfriend with IBS, Jason (he has just finished being “sick” in the toilet when he proposes–and he’s right by the toilet as he does so). From there we follow her through her path of self-discovery (and find out the root of her fear) and into the arms of her true love. This book doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and for that I really liked it.
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger: Liked (well, maybe enjoyed would be a better word here than liked) this book more than I expected to. It gets off to a rocky start, writingwise (lots of cliche ridden language). I thought I was going to end up giving up on it after a few pages, but I was hooked. The main character paints herself as something of a martyr for most of it (and I’m still really not sure what she’s learned by the end of it other than that she hated her horrible job. To which I felt like saying, umm, it’s better than cleaning toilets, princess) but she is likeable in that she is so put upon by her evil bitch of a boss. Okay, so there’s not much that’s going to stay with me in regards to this novel, but it was a fun read for a sunny, Sunday afternoon.
from post #68:
Costas* says, “I’m worried about something. I’m worried you’ll hate me if you know.” I don’t say, “Thanks for telling me. I look forward to talking further next session.” I’m too curious. There’s something about Costas* that encourages a no-bullshit approach, so I say, “well you left that ’till the last minute, din’tcha. You can either sit back down for another few minutes and have a proper talk about it, or we can wait until next week, but I’m not having a chat with you halfway out the door.” It sounds harsher than I’d intended, probably because I suspect what’s coming.
The Métier of Blossoming, Denise Levertov
The brilliant new issue of edifice WRECKED is now live, including a kick-ass flash entitled “Bleeder” by Ellen Meister.
Once Upon Crime in this past Sunday’s The Boston Globe Magazine explores just what it is about Boston that breeds such talented crime writers as Dennis Lehane and Robert B. Parker (among others). One conclusion drawn is:
But there is something besides aesthetics that Boston has over many other cities, and that’s an unbelievably emotional history of strife, tension, and disappointment. From the tea party to the Irish gangs, from the racial battles to the Red Sox, the city’s past provides endless layers of material for aspiring writers and helps them build complex characters who ultimately lead to great crime fiction.
The article is a great read whether you love, hate, or love to hate bean town.
Teens claim to set new TV-viewing record:
A pair of teenagers who spent more than two straight days publicly glued to a television set say they have set a new world record for uninterrupted TV viewing.
These People Are Us is a fantastic collection. Loved everything about it. Found it brilliant in voice, humor and poignancy. The stories are mostly relationship stories (man and woman), covering all the bases from a man who ends up with his wife’s sister to a man who caulks his entire house (my favorite story in the collection, “Caulk”) because his wife is such a pain in the ass about having the house caulked. The great thing is that none of the characters comes off as great–sure there is a male narrator and he’s more often than not bitching about the woman in his life, but he is no angel and by telling his story, you get the feeling he kind of knows it. That sort of honesty is rare both in storytelling and life.
Powells.com is hosting the Decade of Reading Essay Contest to celebrate ten years of online bookselling. The author of the best essay will win $1,000 in books and ten runners-up will receive $100 in books.
I don’t know if you know this or not but Pamela Anderson has a new “novel” out entitled Star: A Novel. Best as I can tell, it’s a thinly veiled autobiography that doesn’t really tell all.
Nerve.com has an excerpt, tantalizingly titled “Flower Duet“. To give you a clue of the earth shattering prose, I offer this snippet of dialogue:
“Thank you, you darling man,” Star said, stroking his face. “My heart’s desire. I don’t know how you knew, but you knew.”
“You see,” he said quietly. “I told you I got far more out of giving little gifts than it ever cost me. I’m just glad I got the chance to see you this happy. Thank you.”
I guess I don’t really have to say anything else.
Sven Birkerts‘ “Submission Guidelines” (from AGNI #59) is an honest and revealing look at Birkerts’ process of deciding what stays (and gets further reading) and what goes (into the reject bin)from AGNI‘s slush pile.
It would be easy to take Birkerts to task for “making editorial judgments based in many cases on a reading of a paragraph or two of prose, sometimes less”, but what’s the sense in being angry? He’s being honest. He’s letting all the poor, disillusioned and yet hopeful writers out there know how it really works in his world and for this, I am grateful.
The point is that EVERY WORD COUNTS. Every word matters. There are no throw aways. And to ask yourself what he is looking for is almost pointless because in the end it is about an ethereal and personal aesthetic. Birkerts says:
As for the qualities, the attributes, the instancings of vision I find myself searching for—how can I compose a coherent list? They are intangible, as variable as the plastic expressions of the face. But these selections, I believe, share something in common: They all go after the density and complication of inwardness, avoiding the feint of posed simplicity or the postmodern defensiveness of ironic self-consciousness. They offer up—from the floundering Jew to the foundering Finn to the prism of poetry and beyond—a sense of the irrational thrust of living, its comedy and its horror, and in this they honor, implicitly, the carrying power of the word.
Great essay and well worth the read.
Just back from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Workshop. It was an intense week of daily three hour workshop and then panels, readings and conferences, which lasted from 9am-9pm (+). I am exhausted and invigorated.
Along with the focus on one’s own writing, there was the generous sharing of the work of published authors. We were treated to so many readings that my head is still spinning.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the readings/talks I attended:
Amy Tan: on the first day, Amy Tan gave an inspired talk on “The Muse, Research, Serendipity & Intervention.” The gist of this talk was how one should pay attention to signs in one’s life as they often lead to the core of what is written. One of the funniest moments was when she referenced one of her little ones (or babies or something like that) and those of us in the back didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about until we stood on tiptoes and saw that she had two Yorkshire Terriers in her lap.
Janet Fitch: “Writing the Landscape” was Janet Fitch’s talk on how to use sensory perception to write about what one sees, hears, tastes, etc.—her thesis is that these details bring the reader into the story, let the reader live the story, ground the reader in time and place, and make it all more believable. While this seems an obvious concept, it was one of the talks that was somewhat groundbreaking for me and caused an epiphany of sorts. I’m still processing what I feel—more on this later. Later in the week, Fitch also read from her (not yet published) new novel. It was a lyrical, ethereal piece that has stayed with me (I don’t want to go into too much detail about it as it is not yet pubbed).
Richard Ford: I admire his writing as it makes me laugh, makes me feel sad—essentially causes some sort of catharsis even though it is so finely crafted and subtle it would be easy to miss that one is being moved. Ford spoke on a “publishing short stories” panel—and spoke with such honesty and compassion that those of us (struggling) writers in the audience were moved, felt understood, regained hope. (On a side note: Ford and Tan had both attended the Squaw workshop as participants and talked about how it renewed their hope or increased their vision for their writing—hearing this was mind blowing, to say the least. And then, later in the week, experiencing an epiphany myself—only served to reinforce how special this experience is). Later in the week, Ford read a BRILLIANT story (I think it was a novel excerpt actually but it was so perfectly self-contained that it read as a story)—I believe he, too, was reading from an unpublished work so I will refrain from speaking about the details of the story, other than to say it was delicious.
Anne Lamott: Anne gave a hilarious, off the cuff talk on writing. At this point, I can’t even remember what the talk was specifically about but I remember we all laughed our heads off. She is FUNNY. On a side note: had a weird encounter when Anne Lamott came rushing up to me where I was sitting at a table with Steph. She shoved her hand at me and said, “Hi. I’m Annie.” And I said (like the fucking IDIOT I am), “I know who you are. I think you’re amazing.” She kind of stopped short and then shook Steph’s (who had the good sense to introduce herself instead of acting like a fool like I did) hand and rushed off. Afterwards, I was feeling like such an asshole, but I was really caught of guard. So later in the week we learned that Anne was selling her sister-in-law’s jewelry so we figured maybe that was why she came over to us. The quirkiness of it made me like her even more even though I feel like an idiot (and am still blushing).
Mark Childress: He is absolutely hilarious and brilliant. Loved his reading about a group of friends in Alabama (not sure if that is the right state) who go to a Sonny and Cher concert (and the two boys end up meeting Cher) and encounter some disapproving adults. GREAT stuff. Go out right now and buy his books–you won’t regret it.
Alan Cheuse: He was my workshop leader on day one. He set the whole thing off on a nice tone. He is absolutely brilliant (and seems to have some sort of freakish photographic memory). He gave a talk on the history of dialogue, which I found fascinating.
Varley O’Connor: What a lovely person. She was the leader of my group when my story was workshopped and she was very kind and supportive. She gave a reading one night of her novel (which is about three actors in NYC)—very funny and interesting, just what we all needed after so much heavy material.
Louis B. Jones: He was our workshop leader on Tuesday and brought a really interesting dimension to our group. The stories we had that day were really spectacular and I thought Louis did an excellent job of helping us to see them in a new light.
Sands Hall: Sands was my group’s workshop leader on Wednesday. I found her absolutely lovely: funny, honest, open, interesting. She was a great leader and brought such a wonderful knowledge into our discussion of POV. I would love to have her as a teacher.
Martin J. Smith: He was also a leader of our workshop one day. I enjoyed him very much. His reading was about a puppy that had sort of adopted his family one night (and then had some sort of yucky anal gland issue)—VERY funny.
Michael Jaime-Becerra: This guy writes beautifully—so heartfelt, funny, poignant. He read a short story (from a collection, I believe) from the point of view of a boy whose sister is getting married.
There was just so much more but I can’t even think of anything else… wait… there’s more: Diane Johnson read a funny CNF piece. Lynn Freed read a moving and funny piece from her memoir. Gill Dennis gave his brilliant talk on “Finding the Story.”
I had a one-on-one session with Andrew Tonkovich who is the EIC at Santa Monica Review. Andrew was generous and extremely helpful. I’m looking forward to revising my story with the insight he provided me.
On top of all of these well-known folks, were all the people (like me) who were there to learn. I was treated to so many moments of brilliance from these folks that it makes my head feel like it is going disintegrate.
What a week. Can’t wait to go back again.