Archive by Author

On Writing Difficult Material

2 Mar

Over on the Hugo House blog, I’ve got a mini-lesson previewing my upcoming one-day class at the Henry Art Gallery. The excerpt of class reading I chose comes from the opening of Mercè Rodoreda’s novel Death in Spring, which is the new book integrated into Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E(The first book was J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine.)

Death in Spring is a stunning novel, for its poetic language, lush imagery, and its tackling cruelty among humans as well as violence in nature. Rodoreda was a Catalan writer living during Franco’s dictatorship, and the novel can be read as a metaphor for that regime or for any oppressed society.The violence is also of mythological proportions, and the beauty of the language helps make reading it bearable. This technique was something that was made explicit for me by Rikki Ducornet speaking at an AWP panel on “Magic and Intellect”: “For a difficult book to be readable, find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating.”

The class will go beyond this topic, delving into the many layers of Ann Hamilton’s monumental show, on our relationship to animals, the sense of touch, and being touched–emotionally and intellectually–through the private act of reading. Death in Spring will definitely bring home this last idea of being touched–being moved in profound ways by another’s experience and creation.

“Cauliflower Tells You” in Monkeybicycle

27 Feb
Partial inspiration for "Cauliflower Tells You."

Partial inspiration for “Cauliflower Tells You” — a magic dress shop in Victoria, B.C.

One of the weirdest short short stories I’ve ever written, “Cauliflower Tells You,” was published today on Monkeybicycle. It happens to be my 33rd birthday, so this is an excellent birthday present from the universe.  Here’s how it begins:

Cauliflower perches behind your ear and talks to you in a tinny voice.

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Elements of this story have been floating around in my head for some time, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with them. (Like “Raven in a Jar,” I had an atmosphere first, then a story.) Then one day this past fall, after immersing myself in Anne Carson and Haruki Murakami, and after eating a rainbow cookie, and after finding myself on the couch with the flu, this story poured out into a notebook, following the intensely strange logic of a fever dream.

“Raven in a Jar” in CICADA

19 Feb
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Another misty PNW place that deserves a fairy tale…One day?

I’m over the moon. My story “Raven in a Jar” is in CICADA’s “Tricksters & Thieves” issue. CICADA is a YA literary magazine, part of a family of children’s publications. I used to subscribe to Cricket. In fact, I think Cricket was the first place I submitted my work. I was in the fourth grade, and it was a poem about Ottawa, I think. Not that I’d been there, yet.

“Raven in a Jar” gestated slowly, starting with my first visit to Victoria, B.C., in my first winter of the Pacific Northwest. I knew I wanted to write something about that place, had a clear sense of atmosphere, but it took another year for the story to emerge, inspired in part by the Haida myths about the Raven Who Steals the Light, and several more years of expanding, cutting, expanding, cutting, focusing…you get the idea.

Here’s how the story begins:

Young mouth in a hard line, Lala bundled her wool coat tightly around herself as she crossed the narrow pebbled beach at the foot of the bluffs. Her pockets and boots were stuffed with provisions — crackers, tins of sardines — and she lugged an exceptionally large jar filled with her grandmother’s custard. She extracted her father’s pocketknife and cut a boat from the dock near the house, rowing away. Sea gulls squawked and whooped. Dive-bombed.

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I worked on revising this story as a part of my Made at Hugo House project, the story collection MORE LIKE HOME THAN HOME. Happy this story found a fantastic home.

Working Backwards

28 Jan
View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

I haven’t posted story snippets to this blog in a long time, but I had such a wonderful time this morning at a generative workshop for the Jack Straw fellows, I wanted to share one here. We discussed our writing concerns and what we’re dwelling on now, and the general theme among us all had to do with connecting dots and making leaps. Kevin Craft, our curator, then offered this concept he learned from Heather McHugh about hypotaxis and parataxis–the causal-oriented and the free associating, waking logic and dream logic.

Then he pitched the Story Spine exercise, which originates from improv. It’s a basic exercise offering a rigid structure for a story that is then written quickly, using free association. The stakes are low. I used the basic plot of the novel I’m working on now, which made the exercise feel somewhat mechanical, though the final step seemed to open up for me a more expansive way of seeing the ending–something I will continue to ruminate.

Then Kevin asked us to do the exercise in reverse. I decided not to write from my novel and just let myself go. This version of the exercise was very fun. And I can see why you need to go forward first, to feel the mechanics of an unfolding story, and why thinking backwards can allow the writing to get wilder. Here’s that backward story I wrote:

And ever since that day, she held that stone in her mouth before bed, as a reminder. Finally, she chose a slick green stone on a rocky beach strewn with sea vegetables. And because of that, she went to the coast, to look at something wild and open and to fill her lungs with salt. Because of that, she felt all tied up in a box, a sensory deprivation tank. Until one day she crouched in on herself into the tightest ball. And every day she tried to be smaller and smaller. Once upon a time, she didn’t want to be seen.

One month into this program, and it is already so helpful and generative and amazing.

Baby Kentagyi, Part II

13 Jan

There’s one day left in our Baby Kentagyi campaign! Over on Facebook, Mike and I have been posting, drip by drip, Top Ten Reasons Why Mike and Anca Will Be Great Parents. Here’s that list, all in one place. If you’ve been thinking about donating, now’s the time. And thanks so very much. This is the last day.

Top 10 Reasons Anca and Mike Will Be Great Parents:

#10: It’s not fair that Anca should be the only one subjected to Mike’s puns and corny dad jokes.

#9: Anca reading Goodnight Moon to a blank wall is starting to get creepy.

#8: Our chocolate collection is not going to polish itself off – we’ll need help!

#7: Now that Mike is sleeping through the night, Anca will need someone else to keep her on a 90-minute sleep cycle.

#6 We need a better excuse to put meat in a blender.

#5: Pacifiers make us nostalgic for our days as ravers.

#4 We can’t keep going around burping strangers on the bus. King County Metro has a three-strike burping rule, and we’ve been warned.

#3: A two-person conga line is pathetic.

#2 Mike’s outgrown the Baby Bjorn and has given Anca a hernia.

#1 Because of you. Because of the network of family and friends who have supported us through this journey, and who we know will help us foster a loving, nurturing home for our future little one. With one day left in our adoption fundraiser, we’ve received 62 contributions totaling $6,665. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

This is the last of the fundraise-y posts! Thank you for bearing with me. I’m looking forward to writing about the home study process next, which is what we’re doing through early February.

Jack Straw Writers Program

10 Jan

I’m very happy to have been chosen for the 2015 Jack Straw Writers Program by curator Kevin Craft. This is a great program in Seattle (though folks from Portland; Vancouver, B.C.; Olympia; Walla Walla and elsewhere in the region have participated) giving writers training and experience with recording, presentation, and author interviews as well as encouraging the development of new work and providing new venues for sharing their work with the public.

I’ll be using the program to continue developing my second novel, which I’m calling Paralegal for now, though that might change. We had a very nice orientation last night, and it was really lovely to hear snippets of poetry and fiction from each of the eleven other fellows! Stay tuned for the public readings (starting in May and continuing through the end of 2015) and a podcast featuring excerpts from my reading and author interview.

On the Docket for 2015

2 Jan
A partial reading list for Novel #3.

A partial reading list for Novel #3.

In 2014, I focused my blogging attentions to 16 posts on writing prompts for PloughsharesNow that the series is done (though stay tuned–I have plans for them), here’s a little update on what I’ve got on deck for 2015.

What are your plans for 2015?

All-Time Favorite Writing Prompts

18 Dec

My sixteenth set of writing prompts for Ploughshares, and the last post in this series, compiles 29 all-time favorite prompts from writers and writing teachers across the internet. Here’s how it begins:

To round out this year of blogging about writing prompts, I polled writers and writing teachers for their favorite writing prompts–generally, simple prompts that have been useful to them as writers, students, and teachers. One such prompt that I found extremely useful in my early days of writing was, “Write about an obsession.” From this straightforward suggestion, I learned a lot about what can drive a compelling story.

Some of these prompts are accessible and instructive; others offer wonderfully evocative images and ideas. For ease of reference, I’ve grouped the prompts into several categories, but certainly some would fit into multiple boxes. It is my hope that these twenty-nine prompts–some specific, some quite open-ended–will help you jump-start any stalled works-in-progress and generate lots and lots of new material.

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The prompt I mentioned as one of my favorites encountered as a writing student, “write about an obsession,” resulted in my story “Go East,” published in Pindeldyboz back in 2006. It’s about one of the most addictive computer games ever. Guess which one!

Baby Kentagyi

2 Dec
A new kind of reading list.

A new kind of reading list.

Now here is a blog post that is most personal. My husband and I are adopting a baby. It’s an exciting time, to say the least. We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary in May with brunch at a Basque restaurant and an information session at the Wallingford branch of the library, with an organization called Families Like Ours. There, we learned about types of adoption and agencies in the area that were especially recommended. We jotted down the names of three in particular: WACAP, Amara, and Open Adoption & Family Services (OA&FS). Then we spent the summer going to information sessions for each of those agencies.

After some follow up questions and spreadsheets and pros/cons lists, we decided OA&FS was our best bet because we want to adopt an infant and 88% of their adoptions are newborns. We also appreciated their emphasis on openness and communication and their thorough process. We feel like we’re in great hands.

The first step in OA&FS’s process is a 12-hour pre-adoption seminar. This class just scratches the surface of the many things we need to think about: the emotional, legal, and logistical aspects of open adoption. We talked about grieving infertility in all its guises (they define infertility broadly as the inability to have children for whatever biological reason–in my case, a primary immunodeficiency that could put me and potential offspring at risk, as pregnancy would require getting off my medication, and I’ve done so well on my medication); we talked about the grieving experienced by birth parents. Two birth mothers came in and told us their stories; later two adoptive parents did the same. We talked about the hurdles and ultimately the great benefit of adoptive children knowing their birth parents–always knowing the unique story of who they are and that both their adoptive and birth parents love them. We felt further confirmed that we’re in the right place.

In October, we submitted the first round of paper work, the application, and had our 2.5 hour intake meeting with our case manager. As I predicted to Mike beforehand, I cried. But who wouldn’t well up at such a conversation? Mike, wonderful Mike, and our case manager, who is everything we could hope for–smart, funny, kind–helped me through. We left feeling even more excited than before. The next week, our application was approved.

Now we are getting deep into the real deal paperwork, home study preparation: background and credit checks, reference letters, autobiographies, doctors’ reports, and some very difficult self-assessments that will require further reading on topics such as attachment, transracial adoption, infants exposed to substances in utero. Our case manager will come inspect our house and interview us; then we each get interviewed separately; then she returns to our house a second time and interviews us together again. Then she writes a 15-20 page report. All in all, this part of the process can take up to six months. And then we’re in the pool: we write an introductory letter to birth parents, make a book about who we are, and wait to get picked. There’s no waiting list; it’s up to the birth parents to pick us. It could happen right away or it could take three years. More happens once we’re picked of course: we meet the birth parent and make sure it’s a right fit, and, if it is, we plan the adoption. On average, the whole process takes 18-24 months.

We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign, because adoption is expensive–nearly $30,000. We’ve been blown away by the generosity and love family and friends have shown us thus far. In a little over three weeks, we raised 17% of what we need. If we meet our goal by Indiegogo’s deadline, which is January 14, we only pay 4% to Indiegogo. If we don’t meet our goal, we still get to keep the funds raised, but pay 9%. If we exceed our goal, all funds will go to Baby Kentagyi’s college fund! (Baby Kentagyi is the portmanteau of Kent and Szilagyi….I’ve assured my parents that we will not be making the child’s legal name Kentagyi.) I hope you’ll check out our Indiegogo campaign, consider donating if you can, and help us spread the word. We can’t wait to share with our little one the love so many have shown us.

Triangular Relationships

1 Dec

My 15th set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores triangular relationships in fiction, with discussions of Mavis Gallant’s “Lena”, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, and Peter Mountford’s The Dismal Science, and featuring Kathleen Skeels’ wonderfully suggestive drawings. Here’s how it begins:

In a previous blog post, I mentioned my difficulty with conflict and tension.  For this reason, I love triangular relationships, which bring up conflicting desires, competing loyalties, and dilemmas. All the things that make a juicy story go. When I was just starting out writing fiction, when my writing tended to be a formless blob and I learned that good writing needs a shape, a design, I turned to the idea of things happening in threes, and then I turned to triangles. As I learned along the way, there are many, many ways you might use triangles in your fiction.

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