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Miscellaneous updates: a q & a at The Seattle Review of Books, a review of DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR, an author-editor panel

7 Jul

 

My, My, My, My, My by Tara Hardy

Some heartbreaking poems I’ve been reading.

The Seattle Review of Books invited me to participate in their fun & breezy column, “Whatcha Reading?” I touched on dark psychological fiction, heartbreaking poetry, an essay on the cleverness of crows, and more. Something for everyone! Plus: a preview of some Women in Translation Month picks.

Over on the Magic Realism blog, Zoe Brooks had this to say about Daughters of the Air: “In every way this is a mature intelligent book which may not suit all readers, but it is an example of how magic realism is so suited to ambiguity and  to difficult subjects.” You can read the whole review here.

 

Also, I wrote a very personal essay about life choices here on Healthline.

Finally, this Monday at 6:30 pm at the Phinney Neighborhood Association, I will be participating in a panel discussion on the author-editor relationship at the Northwest Independent Editors’ Guild. The panel will include Dave Boling, author of The Lost History of Stars and Jamie Swenson of the University of Washington marketing and communications department. Matthew Bennett of the guild will moderate. Not in town but curious about the topic? You can tune in live on YouTube.

Notes from #AWP18, Part C: “The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got,” plus book fair porn (e.g. the requisite book haul on a hotel bed shot)

17 Mar

bookhaulIn my last post I promised blood. Well, I’ll just say I slid my boot off Friday night and it was like I was one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. I’m still limping. On to day 3!

What is a better breakfast than a leftover Cuban sandwich? Leftover fried oysters. Just kidding! The Cuban sandwich was much better. Day 3 was the best because Michael got a one-day pass and we got to roam the book fair together.

“The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got” is an irresistible title, so of course we wrenched ourselves away from the book fair for it. Here, without narrative, a fun grab-bag of quotes:

  • “Creative writing aphorisms are as useful as Dr. Phil.” –Chris Abani
  • “Your book won’t save you. It’s just something you’re going to do because you’re nuts.” –Min Jin Lee
  • “How do I handle writer’s block? I don’t write.” –Ada Limón

I appreciated Limón’s story of navigating two groups of people: those who roll their eyes at “abuelita poems” and those who say, “where’s your abuelita poem?” And Melissa Stein‘s remark that dread may be a sign that advice you’ve been given may not be for you, anxiety might mean it’s worth exploring the challenge, and excitement is obviously a good sign. Abani noted that “Craft advice is only important if you’re asking questions. What are you trying to do?”

We stuck around for a reading and conversation between Min Jin Lee and Sigrid Nunez. Nunez on writing about sex: “The vocabulary is not there. It’s either coy, clinical, or filthy, none of which do justice to human sexuality.” At the book signing, Lee called Michael and me adorable. So that happened.

My attention span went out the door by mid-afternoon, so it was off to the hotel bar for wine and fried calamari! Naturally, someone in panda suit wandered in. panda

Next year in Portland! Maybe Seattleites can get some party buses organized…

Notes From #AWP18, Part 2: “Sound Makes Sense: Reading the Lyric Sentence” and Various & Sundries (Gonzo Links Edition)

16 Mar
Sunrise view from my hotel room

Sunrise from our hotel room

The Friday of AWP is always the best day. The nervous energy of Thursday has dissipated, and the inevitable Saturday flu epidemic has not yet emerged. I woke early to respond to student stories and breakfasted on a leftover Cuban sandwich, wondering if it would make me barf later. Reader, it did not! A fortifying start.

Alan Sincic, the fantastic Orlando-based writer who was The Furnace’s Writer-in-Residence, was on a 9 am panel on the lyric sentence. I’m a fan of Sincic’s prose *and* mad presentation skills, so the early start was well worth it. The moderator, Pearl Abraham, kicked off the discussion with this advice: “If the voice doesn’t work, write better sentences.” 

Then Sincic woke up the crowd with a call-and-response activity, that gradually built up to us chanting together: “I am an individual and will not surrender my voice to the crowd.” He said, “A sentence is less like the beam of a house and more like the branch of a tree,” that a sentence has ghost limbs lost in the editing process. He proceeded to take apart this Mark Twain sentence, examining each word choice and its placement as a way of generating suspense and delight: “Is a tail absolutely necessary to the comfort and convenience of a dog?”

Baylea Jones analyzed a sentence from Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, graphing sounds and letters, including patterns of consonant use, and internal rhymes: “Black walnut trees dropped their green-black fuzzy bulbs on Aunt Ruth’s matted lawn, past where their knotty roots rose up out of the ground like the elbows and knees of dirty children suntanned dark and covered with scars.” Wow! I had fun retyping that.

AuthorSigningI ducked out early to get to my book signing at the Lanternfish Press table, where I got to hang out with my editor Christine Neulieb and publisher Amanda Thomas,  and connect with new readers and old friends, including Julia Mascoli, who was in my Tin House workshop in 2013 and who is Deputy Director of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop doing great work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Washington, D.C. (Seattle-area folks, you can donate books to prisons and other under-served communities via Seattle7Writers Pocket Libraries program.)

Later, I chilled at the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop table, celebrating the release of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, which includes my “Summer-Inspired Writing Prompts.” Co-editor Rita Banerjee was there with her mythic poetry collection Echo in Four Beats, as was Maya Sonenberg, whose new chapbook After the Death of Shostakovich Père is out from PANK Books.

That night, the celebration continued at the Helen Gordon Davis Center for Women, a beautiful old mansion a mile away from the convention center. There were many, many readings. One was from Women in the Literary Landscape; crowds whooped in appreciation for Anne Bradstreet, Virginia Kirkus, and the biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt. (I am a rube for not remember which biographer was mentioned, so here are five of them!)  Nell Painter, author of A History of White People, read from her forthcoming memoir Old in Art School, Diana Norma Szokolayi read her poem “Sarajevo,” Sonenberg read an anti-plot manifesto, and I read an excerpt from Daughters of the Air in which Pluta has committed arson in Brooklyn and found refuge in an abandoned Times Square theater. Fun! There is so much more to write…! I’ll wrap things up in one more post. Sneak preview: there will be blood.

5StarDiveBar

Reading at Strange Theater: A Menagerie of Fabulists. Photo courtesy of Daniel A. Hoyt. I swear, there were more people here. We agreed the line up was so good we’ll do it again in Portland, but weirder!

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?

The Tangible, The Visceral

3 Nov

My latest blog post for Ploughshares explores the sense of touch in writing, with wisdom from Aristotle, Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E at the Henry Art Gallery, Natalie Goldberg, Diane Ackerman, and John Edgar Wideman, and with a bit of inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. Here’s how the post begins:

Touch is the sense common to all species. So wrote Aristotle in Historia Animalum and De Anima. And so is the premise for the art show Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, which I’ve been helping out with here in Seattle, and which explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature, as well as our ability to be touched, emotionally and intellectually, through the private act of reading.

This got me thinking about the importance of touch in writing. Like the sense of smell, touch is a tad neglected when compared to the senses we gravitate toward first: the visual and the auditory. But think about how connected you’ve felt to a text when the author captures a particular tactile sensation or visceral reaction? How do those moments create emotional and intellectual resonance?

continue reading

Escalating Conflict

13 Oct

My latest blog post for Ploughshares offers suggestions for inserting and escalating conflict in fiction, with advice from Stephanie Kallos, Janet Burroway, and Merrill Feitell. Here’s how it starts:

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. For the conflict averse, instilling a story with juicy conflict may take some practice. Someone who has read many drafts of many of my short stories once dubbed me “Anca Did She Forget the Conflict Szilagyi”–a moniker that has become helpful as I work on second and third drafts of stories. As is often the case in learning something, I was aware, theoretically, that I had this problem. But how to proceed?

Continue reading

Skitter on SoundCloud

13 Jul

In honor of Friday the 13th, I’ve uploaded to SoundCloud a recording of a short story of mine, “Skitter,” about a man losing all of this teeth. It’s the first time I’ve recorded myself (except for an experiment or two for teaching English as a second language), so please forgive the faint whine of a lawn mower coming from outside! I think it adds a certain je ne sais quoi. More aural fun to come!

Titles of Novels I’ll Probably Never Write

8 Jun

I used to strong-arm my undergraduate students into thinking more about titles – not because I’m one for strong-arming, but because sometimes titles are a last minute concern, whereas I believe they’re essential to the writing process. It was important for expository writing students to focus their essays through thinking of apt titles, and it was important for fiction students to think about how a title can add sharpness and/or layers of meaning to a story. Donald Murray, a big teaching-of-writing guy, used to generate about 150 titles per piece. He allowed himself to be clumsy and awkward in order to find what was precise and just right. Whenever I told my students this, they would grip their notebooks in apprehension until I’d say, “we’re not going to generate 150 titles today, but we are going to generate 20.” They’d sigh with relief, then get antsy by the tenth prompt. Some were eager to share new titles at the end and others said, with arms crossed over their chests or with a twinkle in their eye, “My original title is still better.” In any case, keeping a list of titles to potentially write to, even if I never write the piece, is something I enjoy doing and find quite useful. That said, lately I’ve been collecting imaginary titles for novels that, in all likelihood, I won’t write. (I’m keeping titles of actual works-in-progress close to my chest for now.) Here are the imaginary titles:

The Sex Lives of Traffic Engineers

Young Jewish Men Arguing in Diners

The Sweat Pickle

The Fishmonger’s Uncle’s Tax Accountant

Hard Drinking Elsewhere

The Ghost of Obligation

The Ineffectual Perfectionist

People Alone in Cars Reading E-mail

Now you try!

Filtering

8 Dec

Last week, I finished a fourth draft of my novel (whew!). One thing I tried to excise was filtering. I’d used “look” about 178 times in about 65k words (thanks Find All function). This was not to my loving. Verb choice aside, as John Gardner notes in The Art of Fiction and as Janet Burroway points out in Writing Fiction, filtering is an unnecessary and common mistake. Phrases like “she noticed”, “she saw”, “she looked at”, or “she remembered” needlessly take readers one step away from the story rather than letting them inhabit the story and experience it with or through the characters. Now, the act of seeing is important in my novel, but I definitely didn’t need to let filtering phrases run rampant in the manuscript. Combing through the draft, I found instances in which removing the offending filter helped me expand and deepen imagery and sensory detail. That isn’t to say you can never ever use those verbs (that’s silly). But you’ll want to ask yourself if you really need to.

p.s. Readers, out in the ether or down the street, what do you think of bolded text in blog posts? This is my second such use. Helpful?  Unnecessary?

Revise, Rinse, Repeat

12 Oct A step in the revision process

A step in the revision process

On Saturday I took a fabulous one-day class on revision with Karin de Weille at the Richard Hugo House. I’m between the third and fourth drafts of my first novel, taking a month-long break so that I might return to the manuscript with fresh eyes. Though I sometimes get the itch to go back to the novel, I’ve found that if I interrupt the fallow period too soon, I start to lose steam. The time away is so key. In the meantime, perhaps the most heartening lesson I’ve taken from the revision class was to luxuriate and indulge in the revision process – rushing is the last thing you want to do (I guess I knew this, but it’s always a helpful reminder). I’ve plunged myself back into the world of the short story, drafting some new ones, splicing and rejuvenating  a few I wrote last spring, and sending out a couple that seem “done”. Onward!

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