The Sunshine Blogger Award: Woot (if tardy)!

Thank you to Writer Side of Life for nominating me for this award (ages ago). If you haven’t yet checked out Kim’s blog, please do. There you’ll find engaging posts about books and the writing life, inspirational interviews with New Zealand authors, lessons learned from “dragging” her kids to France for a research excursion–and much more.

So, as I said, I am tardy, actually more than tardy, to my own award presentation. Imagine one of those big show venues, with all the glitz, glamor, and champagne–after it’s stripped down. The place echos with emptiness, and next up for the venue is, I don’t know, the opposite of glamor, maybe a taxidermy show.

Welcome, folks, to my stuffed dead things award presentation. (See what tardiness gets you?)

Award rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog so others can find them.

2. Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.

5. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and/or your blog site.

My answers:

What is your favourite place in the world? (“Favourite” spelling Kim’s)

I have extolled many of the wonders of my home city of Cleveland, Ohio, here on the blog. For those who don’t know, Cleveland has long been the butt of jokes, and while it might have lost a little of its sheen from its Gilded Age, industry-fed glory, C-town today is where you want to go for sports, arts, outdoors, and popular culture when you’re in the Midwest. List of major attractions here. From the home of the Cleveland Browns (who won yesterday!) to one of  the premiere art museums in the U.S.; and from the Metroparks system to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, there’s no place I’d rather be. And…Paris is also nice.

What do you want people to get out of your blog?

I hope my blog helps people come to know and appreciate the literature–poetry, fiction, memoir, and more–coming out of the U.S. Rust Belt, generally, and Ohio specifically.

Cat person or dog person?

Cat person; however, if my boys have their way, I may be switching sides one of these days.

Who is your best author?

At this very moment, I’m going to say Alice McDermott, because she is local to me here in Maryland and I’ve never run into her in the grocery store or anywhere else and I’m putting this out into the ether in the hopes that our paths may one day cross (so I can hide nervously in the canned tuna aisle.) I’ve read most of her fiction but her latest, The Ninth Hour, was just a revelation. Also, I admire her for writing about Catholics–and her own native stomping grounds of New York–no matter the (er) weather.

What is your favourite comfort food?

My mom’s split pea soup with ham, or any of her soups really, which are like love in a bowl.

As a child, what did you dream of doing for a living?

The short answer: ballet dancer. The long answer–replete with bunhead-and-tutu pics–can be found in this interview conducted by the lovely Jennifer over at Unfold and Begin. There were also moments when I thought it’d be nice to be an architect, an ice cream scooper, or one who gets to ride up to the power lines in a bucket.

Most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?

Dancing at a club in college in stilettos comes to mind (bloodied toes). Ballet (more of the same). Bearing twin boys who will in 6 short years be learning to drive at the same time? How’s that?

Would you trust a self-driving car?

Sure. I live dangerously, as you can see from my answer above.

What’s the best thing about your own country?

Self-serving answer: the Rust Belt.

Which three favorite people would you invite for dinner?

Ohio native Toni Morrison and the aforementioned Alice McDermott for coffee and a chat, and Freddie Mercury for the after-party.

What is your favourite quote?

Do. Or do not. There is no try. –Yoda.

Please find me and much more Rust Belt reading and writing goodness here at the blog and also on Facebook and on Twitter. (You, yes you, could be my 66th follower!)

Nominations:

My questions for my nominees (feel free to play fast and loose with these):

  1. If you could live in a book setting, where would that be?
  2. The best kept secret about your town or city?
  3. What do you hope 2019 holds for your blog?
  4. Are you a blogger who writes or a writer who blogs?
  5. Your favorite singer/songwriter or band?
  6. Cake or pie?
  7. Favorite blogging or writing advice?
  8. One thing you want your blog followers to know about you?
  9. Which is better–a lotta likes or a few comments?
  10. Your favorite blog post of yours? Go ahead, brag it out!
  11. Your favorite image on your blog–either yours, or credit someone else?


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The Game of (Writing) Life

At historic boardwalk arcade, Marty’s Playland*, in Ocean City, Md, the Crane Digger machines date to the 1940s. But what do games of chance have to do with the writing life?

Yep, It’s All Fun and Games Until December.

It’s pretty arbitrary, really, the turning over of the calendar page to the next month, the next year.

We writers and readers would do better to stay on track to achieve our goals, every day, all year long, rather than make December feel like the last, flash round in a game of Writing Life. Of course, it doesn’t help that this is the time when we round up the year’s favorite reads; I weighed in on one of these myself, here. We log our “win” (or “loss”) at NaNoWriMo, the contest with the aim of churning out 50,000 words in the month of November. We chart our year’s submissions-to-acceptances ratio on Submittable; our agent query stats on Query Tracker. And we plan to do better–and more–next year. As if, in doing all this, we will reach some Writing Life finish line, win the game–and the fortune that goes with it.

Will we win or lose at the Writing Life? Even the Fortune Teller can’t say.

Only, as I’m finding through listening to more experienced writers and authors, there is no finish line. There are stats and figures we can attach to our progress, sure. If you care, my NaNoWriMo “loss” stands at 9,738 words–the start of a new manuscript that is coming along; my 2018 short story submissions-to-acceptances is 29-to-2 (stay tuned for publication news in January); agent query-to-rejections: 4-to-1.

There are book contests and award shows. There are book coaches and pitch wars. Though it can feel like it, the writing life isn’t a game but a life, a way of connecting with the world through the written word.

Vintage arcade games

We can make a game of the writing life. But, if we’re here, we’ve already won.

I have to say I get a little overloaded by all the prescriptions for gratitude this time of year. However, to be living any kind of life that involves art–whether of the literary, visual, or performing variety–in a shared community is an immense blessing. I’m glad we can hash this stuff out together.

So, now it’s your turn. What’s your take on the Game of (Writing) Life? What does your 2019 fortune hold? Maybe even more importantly: skee-ball or pinball?


*On our annual off-season trip to the beach, we had one day of sun and one day of rainy arcade fun. More on Marty’s Playland here.

Rounding Up the Best Reads of 2018

No, not beach reads. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Revived from my Thanksgiving food coma, my family made our almost annual trek to the beach for off-season rates on a boardwalk-front room, rainy trips to the arcade (we can all agree on skee ball), and reading to the tune of some pretty good surf (or so I was told).

With November and its captive, NaNoWriMo, losing their grip, I turn to logging some of my best reads of 2018, including Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas’s book of poems called Weather, which (trust me) is a perfect name for a collection including many place poems set in Northeast Ohio. (More on this poet soon, I hope.)

Seems I’m “on” again with poetry, a reading practice which helps the fiction flow. But I haven’t stopped mooning over my fave novel I read this year, Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow, which I talked about here. (Expecting some kind of twice-tolling timepiece this year, Santa!)

So when my favorite writing- and book-blogger from New Zealand, Kim at Writer Side of Life, asked for 2018 fave books, I couldn’t resist singing the praises of that very Gentleman. Here is Kim’s entire list of Bloggers’ Picks: Best Reads of 2018, which includes historical and modern novels, the literary and popular, a memoir and even a murder. Of that list, I’ve read three–including Charles Frazier’s Varina, which I talked about here and Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, which I…um…didn’t. What would you add to this Best Reads list? Comment here or on my Facebook page.

And since we’re heading into gifting season, what are your fave books to gift–for children and adults?

*For those of you who pay attention to my nonsense, my new muse in stone (likely actually Zeus or Heracles/Hercules) has been (diplomatically) dubbed: Grateful Edgar deVacca and titled muse of resourceful NaNo writers everywhere. (More on NaNo lessons learned coming soon…)

Plentiful

Grateful Edgar deVacca, muse of resourceful NaNo writers everywhere

I was raised on The Whiners.

Remember them? Doug and Wendy Whiner (played by Joe Piscopo and Robin Duke) from Saturday Night Live? Get a healthy dose of the 1980s favorite whining sketch comedy duo here. Don’t miss the one where New York City Mayor Ed Koch gives the couple the key to the city and they whine ungratefully, “We wanted to go to Toledo.”

Sometimes I can’t help myself. All the fullness of life–the blessings of busyness with family. A full table. Work that fulfills me. Friends who get me. But some days, I just want to go to Toledo. You know what I mean, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Toledo. (I’ve been there; your city has a lovely zoo.)

So, I’m taking a moment before I get caught up in the bustling cornucopia of life that is Thanksgiving Week here in the U.S. to say that I’m thankful for you.

…And also for my new marble muse in recline, above. (Thanks Momentmal at Pixabay.com.) Suggest a name for this old guy below, and I’ll reveal the winner once I recover from my food coma on Friday.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

a bit of writerly advice for #NaNo day 13…

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Free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

Read.

Yep, that’s my writing advice for this luckiest of days during NaNoWriMo (at a point when my word count is stalled at 8,237).

Last night, I finished the novella (remember those; they’re having a renaissance, I hope) titled Camp Olvido. I could have been writing or plotting (ha, that’s a joke), but I needed to recharge. So I read.

Written by Lawrence Coates, Camp Olvido is set in a Depression-era migrant workers’ camp in California and will remind you of Steinbeck’s work, but this 2015 book is its own rare and wonderful gem. Read it for the compelling history, story, images and language that will leave you awed. It’s that good.

So, I wrote the author to tell him. OK, maybe it’s two pieces of writing advice today: No. 1: read. No. 2: respond to what sings true and clear for you on the page.

Happy reading and writing. Happy NaNo!

How’s it going, if it’s going? No NaNo for you this year? What are you reading and loving right now?

Feeling social? Let’s connect on FB and Twitter. Like a post of mine; I hope you’ll share with your friends–both social and otherwise!

 

 

Writing to find the way home

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I am home.

When my husband and I found our house on this street in the best little riverside village we didn’t even know existed, that was it: we were home.

However, there’s more than one way to go home; just as there are so many wonderful and varied definitions of what home means to different people. Check out Christine’s take on this week’s Gin & Lemonade With a Twist writing prompt, Home, at I’m Sick and So Are You: “My Body is My Home.” And another blogger friend posits home as a feeling.

What is home to you?

Ever get olfactory déjà vu, and you think: this place smells like home? Or, a person’s accent takes your mind to the street where you grew up? Or the way a loved one squeezes your knee or tucks your hair behind your ear ignites your primitive brain and takes you there, wherever that is, home.

I write fiction to get my characters–and by extension me–home.

I generally start writing when I have that first, budding image of my main character. Before I sit down to write, I feel a sense of unease, even anxiety, rising as I begin to imagine this character’s problem. (There has to be a problem.) Sometimes, I’ll also imagine the final image, problem righted, character home (if not in geography, in body or mind or spirit.)

Between the beginning image and the end is the journey–home.

Wow, when I write it out like this, it sounds simple. (It’s not simple.) But maybe thinking about the fiction-writing process in this way can ease the actual writing part just a little bit, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not.

And here’s a writing advice gem in the The Guardian from an author with quite a few books under her belt, Kate Pullinger. So, she’s reached home a lot. This quote speaks to so many aspects of my life, really:

Writing is a kind of confidence trick – you have to con yourself into thinking you can do it, into thinking that what you are writing is the Real McCoy.

Back at it…

I hope you’ll join in.

Handy links:

Lorna’s Gin & Lemonade With a Twist writing prompt for the week: Home.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated (and sane).

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNo progress: or, the method writer’s lament

NaNo progress–see how I did that?

OK, let’s call it NaNo Lite, this journey I’m on.

What’s NaNo? NaNoWriMo, if we’re being formal, is a kooky little challenge, whereby one writes a 50,000-word novel draft in the month of November.

Yeah. That.

You see, this past weekend was the first weekend (before monsoon season returned in force) that felt like fall. Crisp, sunny, sweater weather. I tossed a baseball with my kid, twice, and it was like a Hallmark card. Forgive me if I couldn’t hole myself up 24/7 in my office to bang away on my keyboard, but I’ve written before about the importance of living to writing that is not-so-sucky. Yep, dreams.

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My wonderful neighbor’s Little Free Library and bench provide a good spot to stop and smell the book glue.

Another excuse for my lackluster NaNo progress: this manuscript I’m beginning is historical (in parts), which requires research, which is SLOW, but not un-fun. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been researching Finland–it’s Winter War (which began in 1939) and its culture (then and now), which I believe would have slapped me hard had I wasted my glorious fall weekend indoors–NaNo or not.

There are method actors, right? I think I need to be the next method writer. (Just imagine how clever I just thought I was coming up with that idea; until I googled and found this, and this, and this.) Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

However, speaking of sun, why not, in addition to getting inside my characters’ heads, get outside in an environment like that experienced by my characters. In short, this novel may require me to brave some colder temps this fall–maybe even some cold-weather swimming (up to my knees, perhaps!). In doing so, I hope to find my sisu (a Finnish term for stick-to-it-iveness, fortitude, guts) and maybe also find this novel.

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My ride to my outdoors writing spot. I know, right? Notebooks and special pen (first draft is always longhand!) in the basket.

You want numbers? NaNo is a numbers game. Well, I admit I started with several thousand words prior to Nov. 1 and have hit 7,115. A good chunk of it I wrote outside, Sunday, using up that extra hour given to us by the Fall Back gods here in the U.S.

I’ve also finished reading one book on Finnish culture, and the pertinent parts of another on the Winter War against the Soviets (which is all kinds of David vs. Goliath awe-inspiring). As I research, I keep adding books to my TBR: a book on Finnish fairy tales; a translation of the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala; a book about the Lottas, the female version of the Finnish Defense Corps. (Special shout-out to my Finnish blog followers (of which I believe I have two!))

And thanks to all for sticking with me on this blogging journey and NaNo detour. Here’s hoping the destination is sunny.

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My view from my outdoor writing spot. I’m not complaining; well, my butt got a little cold sitting at a picnic table, but still…

Are you doing NaNo? How’s it going? What’s your word count? How many research books have you added to your TBR since Nov. 1?

 

 

Art Works

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This post’s photos taken by me of Donald Stoltenberg paintings on display (and for sale) at Annapolis Marine Art Gallery, Annapolis, Maryland.

Give me a painting of a shipyard over a regatta, a work boat over a pleasure cruiser. Give me the smell of diesel, sweat, and fish. Might not be pretty, but it works.

For me, art that works–that shows scenes of toil and industry, of creating and crafting–appeals more than art that features placid scenes. Sorry Manet, Monet, and pretty much anything on a rou de someplace.

Why? Well, there’s the Rust Belt influence, the legacy and lore of waterways that sustained the heavy industry that built places like my native Cleveland, Ohio, along Lake Erie, and like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with its three rivers.

And, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the late artist, Donald Stoltenberg, was born in 1927. Stoltenberg was new to me, until a recent visit to nearby Annapolis.

While I gravitate to industry and toil in art, I look for the same in the literature I read–and write. To me, a character is never more him- or herself than when working. Why? Simple. Work breeds conflict and conflict drives story.

Some of the best advice I received as a writing student was to introduce characters to  readers by showing them at work. This gets the characters out in the world, acting and reacting–and soon (as we all do) facing big problems, problems that will need to be, ya know, worked out.

So, as I think about the characters of my current WIP*, I’m putting them to work, testing their mettle, and seeing what they’re made of. Works for me, and I bet it’ll work for you.

What are you working on right now? A blog post? A story? A piece of art? What works for your characters? For you?

 

*Speaking of my WIP, I’ll be taking much of the month of November off from actively blogging to focus my attention on research and work for my WIP, as well as submitting to journals and agents before the end of the year. But I will be back! In the meantime, please see my categories above for writing advice, author interviews, publishing journey woes and successes–and keep on reading and writing (the Rust Belt and everywhere else).

 

Finding Fantasy…

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Author Lesley Nneka Arimah reads from her debut story collection, What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, at Lit Youngstown’s 2018 fall literary festival. The reading was held in the stone sanctuary of St. John’s Episcopal Church. (Photo credit: Courtney Kensinger)

in literature, of course.

Ahem.

So, I don’t know…maybe fantastical literature fell under the heading of “books and games to be avoided”–along with Dungeons & Dragons–in the C.C.D. program directed at us Catholic middle school kids. Or maybe it was my mom, for whom a talking spider and talking mouse, in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, respectively, were fantastical enough.

Whatever…it took me a long while to appreciate fantasy, or magical realism, as the genre is called among the literary fiction set.

It wasn’t until I had my kids that I began to really like fantasy–because those stories were the ones that kept my restless elementary-age boys rapt at bedtime, that kept them from becoming distracted enough by their bodies to turn to wrestling each other, thereby gaining a second wind that would keep them–and me–up past my bedtime.

The Chronicles of Narnia served as our gateway children’s fantasy. Lately, Susan Cooper stories featuring ghosts are our typical m.o. And on their nightstand at the moment: Endling #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate. Myth and mystery… The maybe-end of a rare species of dog-like creatures… A wobbyk named Tobble. (Hello, alliteration!) Really, I enjoy the characters and language as much as my kids do; but what I really love about the middle-grade fantasy I’m now exposed to…

The world-building.

Of course, as a fiction writer, I’ve been building worlds for a long time–even if they look and act like our world. But I’d never called it that. I constructed settings for scenes, putting a character in a concrete time and place. However, because those places were  recognizable, I didn’t give this process enough attention. It was scene-dressing.

That’s changed.

At Lit Youngstown’s fall literary festival, author Lesley Nneka Arimah read a few stories from her debut short story collection, titled What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky: Stories. Arimah’s gift with language–she crafts  sentences that are graceful and slyly, darkly witty at the same time–and her knack at exposing the tender underbellies of familial relationships are enough to make for truly memorable tales.

For me, what sets her fiction apart is the use of fantasy. She builds worlds we know–the stories are set in the U.S. and Nigeria. (Arimah was raised in the U.K. and Nigeria and moved to the U.S. when she was a teenager.) But these worlds are slightly tilted, set off kilter through the introduction of myth or fable or superstition.

Being born under the wrong star, as the main character was in the story, “Glory,” is much more than a young woman having a run of bad luck. Still, the main character operates in a place we can recognize, a Minneapolis call center where she listens to an endless litany of foreclosure complaints from distraught homeowners. Here we have familiar, realistic world-building. Likewise, in many of the stories in this collection, the “magical” in the realism isn’t in the setting.

Not so in the stunning titular story. In “What it Means…,” Arimah creates a world of the future, a time riven by natural disasters and wars between the classes. The solution this society has devised to create order: a mathematical formula to fix people, even those who have suffered tremendous losses, by allowing some specialists to devour others’ grief.*

“When things began to fall apart [Chinua Achebe nod?], the world cracked open…into the vacuum stepped…[a mathematician] who discovered a formula that explained the universe. It, like the universe was infinite, and the idea that the formula had no end and, perhaps, by extension humanity had no end was exactly what the world needed.”

Then, the formula faltered…and I’ll let you read the rest for yourself.

At her literary festival reading, Arimah spoke about her literary influences. She talked about the trips she took to the library as a kid and the reading she did: across all book types and genres–and absolutely voraciously.

So, here’s to fantasy, even in the uber-realistic Rust Belt. (I am currently reading Stephen Markley’s novel, Ohio; do story elements count as fantastical if they’re drug-induced? That’s a question for another day.) Here’s to inventive play in all the elements of story.

Thank you to Lesley Nneka Arimah for allowing me to post her picture and feature a snippet of her story. Please visit her author site for more information, and go buy What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky at your local bookstore.

Do you write fantasy or magical realism? Do you blog about it? Do you read it to your kids?

 

*As I schedule this post, my heart is heavy. Condolences to the people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where on Saturday 11 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Prayers for the dead and for the grieving, today and everyday…

 

 

Rust Belt Girl guest: Maresa Whitehead with “Layers”

Screenshot_2018-10-24 Just another WordPress site

What’s this? A guest spot?

Yes! I am thrilled to introduce you to Maresa Whitehead, a talented writer and poet I met at Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival last month. From her website:

Maresa writes poetry which explores the beauty in darkness and dark images, particularly as they relate to nature and place.

Maresa currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing–Poetry from Chatham University. I count myself so very fortunate that Maresa agreed to share with us her wonderful Rust Belt-inspired poem. Whatever season you’re experiencing where you live, I’m sure you too will appreciate the unfolding and discovery going on here:

Layers

Once, this city forebode,
dormant, suppressed
by charcoal snow,
glaciated, atrophied,
bitter as if poisonous
until thawed.

Now, defrosted,
it’s pungent as it ripens,
unfurls petals, entreats
pollination from swarms
which spread its seed.

Each season peels its rind,
extracts the pulp of Pittsburgh,
succulent, unexpected
like the creamy black-specked
marrow eclipsed at first
by the green-tipped pink
husk of the dragon fruit.

          by Maresa Whitehead

Thank you again to Maresa for allowing me to publish your poem here at Rust Belt Girl!

All, please help me share her voice far and wide—on the social networks of your choice. Visit Maresa Whitehead’s site for her complete bio and more of her writing.

Have a favorite seasonal poem? One that celebrates all you love—or don’t—about your town? Share in the comments!