Saturday, February 27, 2010

Significant Objects Volume 3

Significant Objects is doing it again, yep, yep,  Volume Three, proceeds to benefit the organization Girls Write Now. A great line-up of writers, too, for a worthy cause...including Charles Baxter (yes, the Charles Baxter) whose story is already up. So excuse me, I'm on my way to bid on the meteoric paperweight he so brilliantly created out of whole cloth.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Writing Lysacek Style

Watching the Olympics these past nights, suffering from Olympic Narcolepsy all the next, it starts late here on the West Coast and then goes later.  Doesn't make sense, since we're  pretty much in the same time zone as Vancouver, but there you have it.  Media playing yank-the time-zones.

Still, it's worth the sleep deprivation, as long as you're not one of my co-workers, who have to bear the brunt of my Olympic-sized crankiness the next day.

The Men's Figure Skating Shoot Out at the Pacific Coliseumn...omg...Lysacek! * What a stunningly beautiful five-minute eternity on ice. The perfect flow of energy, grace, power, control. Nothing broke my attention on his flawless execution; I wasn't caught up in how high he leaped or how many times he spun. I was enthralled, enraptured, transported to those moments of lost-to-the-world concentration. It hit me then: we want this same sort of focused, breathless attention from our readers; we want them  to be so caught up in our world that they are not aware of how high we leap or how many sentences it takes to construct the scene and setting; we don't want them to see any clunky transitions or biffed landings.  We just want them there, an engaged witness to the story.

So I went out to the woodshed and began revising. Again.

But I work with hope in my heart and a somewhat clearer vision of the way forward: ditch the un-essentials, streamline,  streamline, streamline and weave in about eight triple axels.

* Because NBC controls all video coming out of the Olympics, this link takes you to YouTube of Lysacek's 2009 Championship Free Skate. Pretty amazing stuff, but his performance at the Olympics was even more so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Napa Valley Writers Conference - Summer 2010

And speaking about the Napa Writers Conference ...  it looks like another bang-up summer of writing and workshops for what I (personally) consider the Best Little Writing Conference in the West.

Okay, so yes, I'm involved (Fiction Director this year), but I was a workshop participant for two years and loved it just as much then. This summer, check it out: Ron Carlson,  Lan Samantha Chang, Curtis Sittenfeld and Michael Byers as fiction faculty; C.D. Wright, Arthur Sze, Brenda Hillman and Major Johnson as poetry faculty.  Spending the last week of July in one of the most beautiful valleys in California, working with fabulous writers...really, what's not to like?

Rolling admissions worked well last year, so we're doing it again, which means we'll be accepting applications beginning March 1st  (in one week -yowzers! -- better get my eyeballs oiled and tuned up.) Scholarship deadline is April, writers, grab your keyboards; send me some apps!

Some photos from last year, courtesy of participant Charlene Kwon:

Some plein-air workshopping with ZZ Packer's group

  After the workshopping and writing, come the readings.

Gathering for wine and conversation before the Robert Boswell and Jane Hirschfield reading at Rubicon Winery (previously known as the Niebaum-Coppola Winery).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ron Carlson - "The Signal"

Speaking of Ron Carlson (previous post, down at the bottom), I was so impressed with his latest novel, "The Signal." (Of course, I am an RC fan, so not soooo much of a surprise there.) Still. The man can write.

(Although dedicated to local indie bookstores, I've included the link to Amazon above, simply for the excellent Washington Post review posted there. Read that, then log off and order/pick up the book at your LIB. )

The Washington Post reviewer, Ron Charles, notes that Carlson "writes like Hemingway without the misogyny and self-parody." Amen. It is one of the Carlson's qualities that I most admire (aside from his prose, that is). He writes both men and women characters with full respect for their humanity, rather than privileging one over the other, or parroting the cultural baggage of being male in this society. His stories that involve parenting are gems for revealing the depth of emotion and reality of being an engaged father.

Carlson's prose has a poetically tensile strength that is at times simply amazing; it defies description and must be read to be truly appreciated.  In "The Signal," he brings all the skills he's honed from crafting short stories, cutting out all the fluff usually acceptable in the form, so that it reads almost like a novella and yet.. it isn't quite. The prose is absolutely complelling; once I dip my eyeballs in the pool, I have to be yanked out by some obligation standing in front of face and shouting, "Hey, Mom, hey, Mom, hey, over here!" or the smoke alarm wailing because I've left the toast in the toaster way too long or the teakettle boiling to the point of a flamed and red bottom. And few authors can write the mountains the way he has in story after story, in "Five Skies", the previous novel, and now "The Signal."

And, even more fun, Carlson is one of the faculty this summer at the Napa Valley Writers Conference, the Best Little Writing Conference in the West, imho. So, folks, get your keyboards running: applications open March 1st and as Fiction Director this year, I'm waiting for your submission, yes, I am!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Objects of Significance, Objects that Signify

The Significant Objects Project rocks on. They're now at the end of the second round (the last object is up, folks, time to start bidding) the proceeds of which benefit 826 National, the writing program that Dave Eggers and crew began in SF and now has gone, umm, national. Sig. Obj. has now raised over $2,000 by  e-baying various thingamabobs, doohickeys and tchotchkes after they've been value-enhanced by a pertinent albeit invented history.  Rob Walker chats more about the project here at More Intelligent Life.

This past week, Sig Obj has been dedicated to objects collected by Underwater New York, which...well, to get the whole story you'll have to go there, but suffice it to say, these evocative objects have another whole layer of meaning sloughing off them; they've been underwater before being salvaged by the intrepid band of New Yorkers dedicated to seeing what is under their water. (hell yeah, they're brave! or... foolhardy?)  Yep, hop on over there, it'll all become clearer. But -- remember: come back!

So the Sig Obj project is looking at how a story enhances an object. It's fascinating that once we've engaged with an object, once we've attached value, symbolism, meaning to a thing, that thing becomes precious to us, even though it itself hasn't (usually) changed one iota and is probably, on the grand scheme of things, inherently worthless. Although Jamie Madigan's blog is about gamers and why they do what they do, this particular post considers the assigned vs absolute values of objects and he quotes some very interesting research about what happens when objects carry an emotional charge. Go there for the research...come back here to find out what the hell I think I'm talking about.

Okay, a story making objects valuable, we got that. But it got me thinking about the role of objects in fiction; how they carry meaning for the story. Not just symbolically, though that can happen. I'm thinking more like the inventory that Ron Carlson talks about: the stuff that arrives at the start of the first draft, the objects, attitudes, names, weather, etc., and how these things both define the story and can be used later in the draft to keep the story moving along. But the idea is that these specifics bring significance to the story, they give it life. To me it is the reverse of story granting significance to things; it's things granting significance to the story.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Professions that Require Large Shoes

Anyone up for a new curious list (as described in previous post) ?
Let's roll!
Professions that Require Large Shoes:

Carpenter's son

Winter trapper
Mythical Characters with a seven-league stride

More suggestions needed!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lucia Galloway: "Venus and Other Losses"

Great news! My friend and fellow-Antiochian Lucia Galloway's new book of poems, "Venus and Other Losses," has just been published by Plan View Press. I don't have copy to quote from yet, though I will soon. I've always admired her poetry; she has a great feel for formal structures, using them to her advantage, all the while messing around with them in most delicious ways.

I do have a link to a recently posted poem of hers, Seasonal, that will give you a taste of the delights to be found in her work. And if you go to her webapage, Lucia Galloway, you'll find other poems on her Portfolio page as well as links to other published work.

But wait, wait, update! Lucia generously sent me this poem, found on page 32 from "Venus and Other Losses," to post for you all.  Enjoy!

Poem without the Piano

Even if you’re expecting
just notes—
in tunes and rills
chords and counterpoint—
you may get minnows silvered
darting in little schools
or sumo wrestlers panting
groaning with the contest.
You may get Chinese acrobats
stacked up in pyramids
or paddle balls
or yo-yos
painted turtles
crawling from fissures
between the keys. Things
whose happening
takes shape in spaces
between the sounds.

~ Lucia Galloway

Monday, February 8, 2010

Breakfast for Dessert, anyone?

You know those mad, rushed, over-the-top days when breakfast-for-dinner is the best thing going?

Well, today I had dessert-for-breakfast. That's the sort of day it's been. You'd think things would have calmed down a bit at work, now that we're into the second week of the semester. But no.  Students are still duking it out for classes, and in my office, no less.

So I had my dessert first today, just in case. And besides which, a home-made eclair will get you though times of Big Trouble better than anything I know. Thanks, Gran'mom Marilyn!

Breakfast is the handiest, most satisfying meal there is and it never hurts to have two or three of them in a day. Guess lots of people had that urge when the forecasters called for a few feet of snow last week in the mid-Atlantic states. See the results: Snowpocalypse

Or as one commenter from Philadelphia said, when observing that stores sell out of bread, milk and eggs before a storm,"Why do people in Philly feel the need to make French Toast whenever it snows?"

As one who grew up in very Upstate New York (Potsdam and Buffalo), two feet of snow, well, it's snow, but I doubt we would have had a snow day. Of course, we were prepped for it with snow tires, winter woolies (down and fleece these days) and our pantry was kept topped up. No one rushed anywhere in the winter.  Unless they were on skis.  And then when we came in from a bit of cross-country or other snow-play, ahh, the  aromas of warm maple syrup and hot chocolate. And French toast. Fast, simple, hot.

So maybe it's an atavistic thing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Diagram A

Two weeks ago,  my dentist (yes, he's mine, he's too good to share ;-} ) drilled out a huge hunk of disintegrating silver amalgam from a lower front molar in preparation for yet another manufactured tooth. I think that gets me down to just a crooked little picket fence of bottom teeth, and maybe about 4 others, that are original issue from the gum up. All the other teeth are gold crowns or porcelain caps cemented onto some mighty stubborn roots, although most of those have been gutted by root canals. (see diagram A). By the time I'm done, my genetically worthless teeth will have become the best part of me, sturdy and hale, while the rest of me falls apart. 

I began my life terrified of dentists. In the fourth grade, whenever my mom told me I had an appointment after school, I'd run away from home. Not so far that my father couldn't find me by driving around the block a few times and ordering me into the car when he spotted me hiding behind a tree. My panicked escape was understandable. At the time, Novocaine was just beginning to make its way into the profession and our dentist didn't believe in using it. Yes, way back in the mists of time.  And there was so much work to be done; Dr Hart had a long list of cavities to tackle.  Dr Hart, my mom would say, flicking an inch-long ash off her Chesterfield, I'm not sure he has one.

Perhaps Dr Hart wasn't comfortable about being able to administer the proper amount to children, or maybe I was just too wiggly for him to get a good purchase on me with a needle in one hand. Anyway, the body memory stayed with me for a very long time, even after I went to many (hundreds, it seems like) other dentists and Novocaine became an essential of the procedure. All my adult life I've avoided making appointments, missed them, reset them. When I did get into the chair, I made sure I was numbed to my eyebrows. 

Today, I got the double-crown glued on (without Novocaine, too -- no drilling!) and I feel ready for another 50,000 miles. I bless the advances of the dental profession and the excellent technique and skills of my dentist.  But it's only the first installment, And so, bit by bit, the re-build begins.