My latest bullet-point book review is up on the Ploughshares blog. I’m so glad Ross Ufberg of New Vessel Press reached out to me about Shemi Zarhin’s novel Some Day and brought to my attention this new publishing house focused on translating foreign literature into English. I’m big on linguistic and literary diversity, border-crossing and mind-opening, and I’m looking forward to reading more books from New Vessel.
I’m excited to be teaching a class on fairy tales at Corinne Manning’s Living Room Workshops. Mid-December is wonderful time for contemplating magic, especially fairy tale magic. Here’s the course description, with nitty gritty info below:
Explore magical realism and fairy tales with 3 teachers over the course of one weekend in this moveable feast of a writing workshop. Participants will move from house to house gaining craft skills, knowledge, and writing some “marvelous” fiction and exploring the memoir as fairy tale. Readings will include Brothers Grimm, Angela Carter, and Alyssa Nutting.
Each class will last 1.5 hours and will take place in Capitol Hill and the Central District on Saturday, ending in Greenwood on Sunday. Carpooling is encouraged. Course must be taken as a whole. No single class drop ins. To enroll please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tale: A Two-day Moveable (Writing) Feast
I’m retraining myself to write novels. My first novel is floating in the ether, I wrote a quick, rough draft of my second novel some time ago, I focused on finishing my short story collection, and now, with the leaves falling off the trees outside, I’m in my dark office x-raying that second novel to get at an outline. I already had a couple outlines in hesitant pencil, one very bare bones, one a bit more detailed. But I’m hesitant to launch into a rewrite yet as I seem to still be in a fallow period. I’d have loved to take a suitcase full of books into the woods and just read for 10 days. Alas. A decent second option was to bolt to Vancouver with M. for the weekend, where two writer friends were visiting from New York. We gorged ourselves on dim sum, wandered around Coal Harbor and the West End, had cocktails at Cloud 9, a bar that rotates on top of the Empire Landmark hotel and that has some very 1995 cocktails (we stuck to a gin martini and an old-fashioned), and went on a short, mild hike where we spotted purple and orange mushrooms and black slugs and a seal. We waved at the seal, and the seal seemed to give us a little nod before disappearing in the water, probably grumbling that we took his lunch spot, Cod Rock. All this to say, there are different ways to refill the well. Reading and travel (and with travel, eating) are some of my favorite ways. So is looking at art.
I feel a little out of shape, novel-writing-wise, because I’m at the difficult step where I’ve decided to rewrite entirely. The first draft was quick fun, throwing details on the page and seeing what sticks. I want to be a lot more strategic about the second draft. I decided to try using novel writing software, to help me feel less scattered, and a few friends recommended Scrivener. This morning I finally started to get the hang of it, and now I have a more detailed outline with fancy arrows and nesting files and everything. Soon (hopefully!) I can go deeper into the writing cave to write those scenes.
Outlining at this point feels helpful, but sometimes I outline when I’m stuck in writing because I don’t know what else to do. I might already have the outline in my head. I might have gone over that outline obsessively already. But I still write it down, maybe more than once, as if I’m in a holding pattern, and then it just feels like treading water. In a way, it is like a writing exercise I used to do, coming up with arbitrary lists of specific things. But it is also very different from those lists. Rather than racing from plot point to plot point., those lists try to get me to think about very specific details or to think about words I don’t often use. Red things; things that start with the letter V. More particularly (while still being quite broad), Ray Bradbury recommended making lists of nouns as a way to jog creativity. He wrote, “Make a list of 10 things you hate and tear them down in a short story. Make a list of 10 things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.” Such sound advice, for not only finding ways into writing, but writing with passion.
Back in September, as Rosh Hoshanah approached and I thought about all the oncoming holidays (hello, Thanksgiving-Hanukkah merger), I thought it would be fun to just write a list of all the dishes my grandparents, great aunts, etc. were known for. I invited M. to add to that list. This got me thinking about how many stories might be in each these specific dishes as well, and how revisiting memories is another way to refill the well.
Here’s that dish list:
Grandma’s chopped liver
Aunt Shirley’s jello molds
Aunt Ellen’s meatballs in a sweet tomato sauce
Aunt Myra’s chicken schnitzel
Grandpa’s sarmale (large and loose and juicy)
Eva’s matzo balls (dense as bricks)
Aunt Shirley’s brisket
Grandpa’s meat pies
Bubby’s Swedish meatballs
Grandpa’s cheese pies
Bubby’s matzo balls (large and fluffy)
Aunt Myra’s walnut cake
Mami’s salade de boef
Grandma’s apples and rice
Grandma’s salade de boef
Eva’s fish soup
Eva’s salade de boef
Aunt Myra’s trifle
Eva’s sarmale (small and tight and smoky)
Grandpa’s fried kippers and onions
Grandma’s upside down cakes (fruity and light)
Eva’s plum dumplings
Grandma’s plum dumplings
Mr. C’s plum dumplings
Everybody’s plum dumplings
What do you do in your fallow periods? How do you get yourself ready for big creative projects?
This post is extra linky! I’m looking forward to reading at the second annual Seattle Lit Crawl as a part of Dark Coast Press: Works in Progress. I’ll be reading during Phase Two of the crawl (7-7:45 pm) at Sam’s Tavern (1024 E Pike St.) with Jarret Middleton and John Hamilton. As the name of the event implies, I’ll be reading new/unpublished work.
There will be tons of readings that night (about 60+ authors in 19 venues all about town). Before my reading, during Phase One of the crawl (6-6:45 pm), I plan to be at Three Jennys Walk into a Bar, also at Sam’s Tavern, and featuring Jennifer D. Munro, Jenny Hayes, and Jenny Forester, with host Jenny Neill; they’ll be telling tales of lust, loneliness, and the American West. After my reading, I’ll saunter down the street for Phase Three (8-8:45 pm) to Lobby Bar (916 E Pike St.) to see my Furnace reading series co-conspirator Corinne Manning and my fellow Made at Hugo House fellow Irene Keliher read alongside Cole Arden Peake and Jeremy Halinen, with host Jaimee Garbacik in A Big Ol’-Fashioned Queer Bash.
Then it’s off to the mother ship–Richard Hugo House– for the after party!
In case you couldn’t make it or wanted to watch again, here’s the video from my final Made at Hugo House reading. I read half of my story “Healers,” which I workshopped at the Tin House Writers’ Workshop this summer and which may be the final story in my collection MORE LIKE HOME THAN HOME. Many thanks to Samudre Media for recording!
The 2012-13 Made at Hugo House Fellowship is coming to an end (sad day!), and the first of our three final readings is this very Tuesday.
Come see what we’ve been toiling away at all year:
- Poetry! September 10. Katie Ogle will read from THE SMALLEST GUN I COULD FIND which follows a conversation between a speaker and her homonculus (Latin for “little man”). Bill Carty will read from YOU TROUBLER (Ahab to Elijah: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Taylor Swift: “I knew you were trouble.”)
- Fiction! September 25.Irene Keliher will read from her dystopian novel THE VISIONARIES, Eric McMillan will read from CLEAR, his novel about the Iraq war, and I will read from my story collection MORE LIKE HOME THAN HOME.
- Nonfiction! November 21. Elissa Washuta will read from her second memoir, STARVATION MODE, along with Claire Jackson and Catherine Slaton.
These readings will be amazing! Come, come, come!
It’s been a wonderful year meeting with these talented writers, hearing guest speakers on topics such as grants and first book publications, taking free Hugo House classes, and snatching up surprise opportunities along the way, like Hedgebrook’s Spring Salon. This year, I started to feel much more integrated in Seattle’s literary community. And the fellowship encouraged me to roll up my sleeves, get more writing done, and get my writing out into the world more aggressively than I have ever done before. “The Zoo,” the first story I wrote with the fellowship in mind (while nervously waiting to hear back about the fellowship, actually), was published in January, and two stories I’ve revised this year will be coming out later this fall (details to come). I workshopped what I believe will be the last story in MORE LIKE HOME THAN HOME at the Tin House conference, and I’m excited to read it on the 25th. Many thanks to Brian McGuigan for coming up with this program and to Hugo House for making it happen!
And check out the 2013-14 fellows!
(Whew. I think I exhausted my monthly allotment of exclamation points.)
After the Tin House conference, M. and I went to New York to visit family and get our fill of art and food. We structured our visit around three bizarre-sounding art exhibits: Matthew Barney’s drawings at the Morgan Library, Paul McCarthy’s massive installation at the Park Avenue armory, and Jane Alexander’s eerie sculptures at St. John the Divine.
Barney’s drawings were often framed in “self-lubricating” plastic, which was fascinating in and of itself, and sometimes more interesting than the faint, conceptual sketches contained within. Most intriguing in this exhibit were his copies of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, heavily marked up, cut up, splashed with gold leaf. This is part of his newest project, “River of Fundament,” a seven-part “opera” drawing on Mailer’s novel of Ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Book of the Dead and transposing it to 20th century American car culture.
“WS,” McCarthy’s exhibit, took up the entire armory with projections and sculptures of Snow White, the seven dwarves, and Walt Disney in an extremely debauched frat party. The set from the projected film took up the center of the armory, and you could walk around it, peeking into windows, catching sight of some very disturbing after-the-party messes. An enchanted forest lay beyond the house, and you couldn’t quite walk inside of it, but just below it, which was unsettling, along with the fact that trees intentionally resembled turds. And in side galleries, a series of other films with the same characters included food porn and a naked Snow White accosting Walt Disney’s mouth with a bar of soap. It was an impressive production, though I regret bringing my mother.
The most moving and complex was “Jane Alexander: Surveys (From the Cape of Good Hope),” which explores the legacy of Apartheid. Tucked away in various chapels at the back of St. John the Divine, these child-sized beast-human sculptures were strange and haunting. I half-expected them to start moving around and addressing me. Because of a calendar error, we caught the show on its last-last day, as it was being packed up, so it was doubly strange to see these small creatures being put into crates. Particularly arresting was “Security.” It featured a large wingless bird enclosed in razor-wire inside a courtyard that was once the north transept of the church before the roof burned down in 2001. Surrounded by red rubber work gloves and rusting machetes and sickles and standing atop wheat and earth, the bird is watched over, sort of, by a dull-eyed, monkey-like “Custodian” perched on a window sill and a pointing “Monkey Boy”. The New York Times has a photo gallery here.
In other news, I’m very happy to be on a panel at the 2014 AWP in Seattle! I will be reading at “New Fairy Tales from the North” with Maya Sonenberg, Valerie Arvidson, and Rikki Ducornet. The panel description begins with this choice Angela Carter quote from “The Werewolf”:
“It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.”
Whew, July was busy. I went to the Tin House Writer’s Workshop for the first time, and I hope not the last. And I went to New York for a week after that (more in a subsequent post). There’s still a ton of information from the conference sifting through the crevices of my mind, but here’s a grab bag of favorites, with some bolded text and lots of links just for fun.
- I studied with Benjamin Percey, who advised our short story workshop to “Grab [readers] by the throat and drag ‘em down the rabbit hole,” which might be my favorite writing advice, second only to “Forget the reuben. Focus on the ninjas.”
- In a panel on publishing and Tin House, Rob Spillman advised, “Don’t send your work out when you’re feeling creative. Send it out when you’re feeling organized,” which is a useful reminder, and at the agent panel he called debut author advances “Capitalism at its scariest,” which is something that will lurk in a corner of my brain for a good long while.
- On character, Jodi Angel said, “We don’t go to the page to make friends. We go to see something other and apart from who we are.”
- Karen Russell gave a talk on the art of long sentences and how they can give an “occult sense of how another mind moves, from word to word.”
- On place, Luis Urrea urged, “Don’t use place. Inhabit it. [....] You are a place. As a place, you must be a shame-free zone [....] Writing prompt: go out and rub dirt on your face.”
- On time, Jess Walter suggested: if you’re stuck in a story, consider making the clock more specific.
- Anthony Doerr‘s talk on failure ended with this.
- Also, I fell in love with Dorothea Lasky. Her latest collection of poetry is Thunderbird.
Again and again, throughout the week, it seemed everyone suggested you should write the story that only you can write, that you should pay “ruthless and tender attention” (Steve Almond, there) to life. At least some of the talks will be available online sometime. In the meantime, here’s a link to podcasts from previous conferences.
Genre:literary fiction, debut.
Concerning: Lucy, a young woman whose different way of seeing and behaving has compelled her image-conscious, frustrated mother, Mum mum, to abandon her on a farm.
And: Samantha, a pregnant teenager on the same farm.
And: Missus and Mister, their caretakers. (And later, kidnappers of Samantha’s baby.)
And: two maybe-magical animals, namely, a talking baby chicken named Jennifer and a silent Yellow Eyed Dog.
In other news, I’ll be teaching at Richard Hugo House’s Write-O-Rama tomorrow. This will be the third time I’m pitching in for a fun day of mini-lessons and writing frenzies, with proceeds going to Hugo House. My mini-lesson will include reading Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Shawl” and thinking about how objects in fiction can take on tremendous power. Check out all the fabulous class descriptions here and come by tomorrow between 10 and 5!
I’ve recorded a brief excerpt from the opening to my novel Dirty and uploaded it to SoundCloud. You can listen to it right here:
In case you missed it, an essay I wrote about my novel was featured in Airplane Reading.