The imagination in revision

 

20171204_091327.jpg

To revise.

If there are two words that stir dread in this writer, it’s these. I know, I know, I’m supposed to love to revise. (And I do, in the same way I “love” other things that are good for me, like yogurt and kale.) To revise is to make new–and hopefully better. Back to the drawing board. A new lease, blah, blah, blah.

Here’s the thing: revision requires imagination (Daily Prompt).

Revision demands that we unplug from everything but our WIP and allow the mind–and the plot and character and theme, etc.–to change. A WIP off course! Yes, this can–and even should–happen when we revise. Call it giving over control to the muse or your writer’s instinct or your better judgement, but it does require a loss of control.

Oh, we’ll be in control of our WIPs again. We just have to wait for the editing phase. Can’t rush these phases, though (so says my chapter three I’m currently re-seeing). The late, great Donald M. Murray tells us so, too:

We confuse revision, which is re-seeing, re-thinking, re-saying with editing which is making sure the facts are accurate, the words are spelled correctly, the rules of grammar and punctuation are followed.

–from Donald M. Murray‘s classic, The Craft of Revision

A tribute to Murray from a former writing student

*Photo taken from my village’s community pier. (Credit: Bill Moon. Thanks, Dad!) This foggy scene seemed right for this post, since working through a revision often feels like charting a course through thick fog!

Are you revising at the moment? Does it require a leap of the imagination for you? Weigh in here.

Advertisements

Speak the language of publishing

books-768426_640

Just like there’s a language of, say, France or finance, there is a language of literary publishing.

In this language, I am no longer conversant (Daily Prompt); in fact I’m rather rusty.

Used to be, on a Friday night, I’d pore over the latest edition of the library copy of the Writers Market*, which was dog-eared from all the other aspiring-writer English majors who’d done the same before me. (I led a thrilling social life.) This door-stopper of a book was the bible of publishing. Study this tome, and one could at least sound like they were publishable.

Note that this language of literary publishing is a second language to the language of literary writing. Or should be.

Write. Write well. Write a ton. And only then worry about acquiring the language of literary publishing. That’s my advice. Why?

Because it’s like Greek (unless you’re Greek). Read more

Play nice, or burn the house down? A review of Little Fires Everywhere

51kgOTJWNXL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

 

To review, or not to review, that is the blogger’s question.

This blogger says yes–even when swamped with work (like I am right this minute) and with a novel revision tap, tap, tapping its impatient foot.

We must read well to write well, and writing a review helps me understand more fully what I’ve read–and understand what I’d like to mimic, and to avoid, in my own writing. Of course, I also hope my reviews help you decide what to read next. Because, life’s too short to read a meh or even a “nice” book.

In Mark Athitakis’s handy The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and the Rust Belt, the critic examines modern literature set in the Midwest. He argues that, while we writers and readers may have caught up with the place as it stands today–much of it post-agrarian, post-industrial–its reputation is stuck in the past. He quotes James R. Shortridge’s take on the Midwestern character of the 1800s:

“People there were seen as self-reliant and independent, kind, open, and thrifty…idealist, moral, and humble.”

Many would argue Midwesterners are still much this way, in a word: nice. (Others have met me.) Ng complicates this notion of the nice Midwesterner as she examines the tension between the stereotypical ideal and the spontaneous real in Little Fires Everywhere, her second novel, a character-driven story with lightening-fast pacing–not an easy feat.

The setting pits the ordered (wealthy) suburban ideal against the inspired, artistic–and even a little dangerous–real. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the (actual) place is described in the jacket copy, as “a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland,” where, “everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads to the colors of the houses to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead.”

Ng does a good job of setting this story against the larger, chaotic backdrop of America in the 90s–replete with pop culture, a la Jerry Springer on TV, Sir Mix-a-Lot on the radio, and the Bill Clinton and Monica scandal everywhere. Zoom in on Shaker Heights, however, and there are the guiding principles that drive this planned city–with its invisible trash cans and neat tree lawns, its over-achieving public schools and college-bound school children. Here is order, a refuge from chaos…so long as one abides by the rules. And the first characters upon the scene, the Richardsons–Shaker Heights royalty if there were such a thing–do, to the utmost. They are surface-y, but nice. Nice marriage, nice house, nice kids, nice bank account.

Enter the rule breakers, a single mother and artist and her teenage daughter–and the plot is off and running.

I hate the term page-turner, but this story was on fire from the first page (sorry). However, the characterization left me a little cold. For the author to examine and complicate stereotypes means the reader must bear stereotypical characters–the type-A, uber-planner matriarch, the blonde popular girl, the handsome jock, the sulky black sheep–until their characters are rounded out as they experience plot twists and turns. So…I didn’t cry for these characters when I should have; I didn’t feel their pain, because I knew them back when they were flat.

That said, if family saga is your thing, this book might be for you. The theme of mother-love running through rang true and provided an interesting examination of motherhood from various angles: genetic, adoptive, private, public, legal.

I did miss a bit of play in the language. A little rule-bending there would have added levity to the heavy theme. Yes, much of mother-love is extreme highs and lows, joy and anguish, success and defeat. But there’s also a lot of play in the happy mediums: the everyday moments of acceptance, when you look into your child’s face and see your own, reflected and real. I wouldn’t trade that for a false ideal any day.

Favorite passages from Little Fires Everywhere:

Later, when Moody saw the finished photos, he thought at first that Pearl looked like a delicate fossil, something caught for millennia in the skeleton belly of a prehistoric beast. Then he thought she looked like an angel resting with her wings spread out behind her. And then, after a moment, she looked simply like a girl asleep in a lush green bed, waiting for her lover to lie down beside her.

The idea that someone might take a mother’s child away: it horrified her. It was as if someone had slid a blade into her and with one quick twist hollowed her out, leaving nothing inside but a cold rush of air.

When the baby was found, she had been undernourished…her ribs and the small bones of her spine had been visible under her skin, like a string of beads.

My rating:

index

Have you read Little Fires Everywhere? What did you think?

A couple more honest reviews, from:

The Washington Post

The Guardian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name your bliss

paper-romance-symbol-valentine-159526.jpeg

 

Is it weird to mourn your mom on Valentine’s Day—with the holiday’s declarations of love, its overtures and SWAKs? This is love stuff, yes, but this is also word stuff.

In the dozen years since my mom left this life, I’ve become more fluent in the language of loss—and of life. Do not pity this post. I happily speak for me and her now, tell her stories to my kids who never knew her, keep her voice alive in mine.

This is mother-love, reborn, but it’s also language-love. Foreign at first and then familiar—even taken for granted—and all the more cherished when it’s gone.

Who among us writers doesn’t ascribe to “show don’t tell?” We illustrate and demonstrate; we craft a tactile scene. But let’s not forget to tell, while we have a voice to do it.

Did you see this coming?

Call your mom. (Or dad or kid or other love.)

Really, I can’t close without sharing some of the language I love most at the moment. If my mom were still alive, I would call her and read aloud this following passage. It’s from Michigan writer Bonnie Jo Campbell’s story collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters.

In The New Midwest, author and critic Mark Athitakis says Campbell’s stories “operate as both reportage and intimate human portraiture.” It’s this combination of stark tale and depth of character that draws me to Campbell’s work. But a well-turned phrase certainly doesn’t hurt. Try this on for size, this Valentine’s Day:

From Campbell’s story, “My Bliss”:

First I married the breakfast cereal in its small cardboard chapel, wax-coated, into which I poured milk. Then I married a cigarette, for the gauzy way the air hung around us when we were together, then a stone, because I thought he was a brick or a block, something I could use to build a home.

From my home to yours, wishing you a Happy Valentine’s, a Good Lent, and bliss in love and language, every day.

a bit of writerly advice

banner-2748305__480
Free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.

Hart Crane

Where I am, we’re soaked in more than words today (flood watches and warnings galore), and I’m happy for sump pumps and hopeful for drier weather, tomorrow.

As for the world of words, I abide by Crane’s advice to flood oneself with words–but I didn’t always. It used to be, I was careful to read one book at a time, careful that it not remind me too closely of the one-and-only-one WIP I was drafting, revising, or editing. These days, I’m not so careful. I’m usually reading three or more books at a time: one craft, one novel, one story collection. I’m usually working on my novel manuscript and a short story concurrently. And, of course, brainstorming the next blog post.

And this doesn’t include the research, reading, and writing I do for a living–for universities and health systems. It used to be I kept this work separate in my mind from the “creative.” But, words are words–and being awash in words of all kinds seems to help this writer pull “the right ones” out when needed (mostly, kinda).

What about you? How best do you write? Any tips you can share?

 

For the love of…dog

hemmingway
Papa Hemingway and one of his muses cats.*

Cats get a lot of love in the literary world–and not just in my writer-filled Facebook feed.

Last month, the The Guardian posted a creative writing Top Ten that went viral: “Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing.” (Two out of three ain’t bad, Hemingway.)

No. 10 on the list: get a cat, from writer Muriel Spark (or, a character of hers, anyway) who says:

If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially on some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat.

Amen, says this writer, who admires the clean and aloof companionship provided by a cat. One better: I could do more than acquire a cat (or cats, as I have in the past); I could steep myself in the literature of cats, of which there is plenty. Here, from bibliophile blogger Bookish Beck, would be a good place to start.

Instead, I must delve into the world of dog. Why?

Because, people, I am about to be overthrown. Yes, this cat-lover is on the cusp of acquiring a dog.

And so, at a time when other people might be researching breeds or stocking up on carpet cleaner or dog chow… When others might be drawing up a contract to divvy the responsibilities between one Rust Belt Girl and the men with whom she shares a household–one regular and two pint-sized… I’m doing what I’ve always done to confront a problem.

Stare it down? Address it head on? (Have we met?)

I read around it.

D-O-G. Sounds simple enough, right? Feeding, caring, sheltering. I mean, I have done this before. As a kid, my family in Ohio had a beagle mix named Anne (after my best friend–sorry, friend). But Anne was an “outside dog” with a dog house. Before you start to worry, yes, she was allowed in the house on snowy days and nights. But no one would have thought for a second to let her onto the couch much less into a bed.

However, my current cohabitants don’t want an outside dog; they want a new member of the family. And a puppy at that.

And so…I delve into the literary world of the dog, which, I have to say is much more playful than that of the cat. Not better, just very different.

There’s a lot of outside–away from writing implements–that happens with dogs in print (and on screen). Here on WordPress, one blogger finds her faith strengthened on hikes with her dog, Belle, a Border Collie mix. Another blogger, at Poppy Walks the Dog, does just that with his Japanese Chin, Mimsy. Meet her here.

Poppy provides the upside to the supposed downside of severing oneself from the current WIP (chapters 1 and 2 revised, only 16 more to go, if you’re following), poop bag in hand to walk around the block:

Ambling yields the real benefit to these walks. Time. Time to think. Time to contemplate the news and social media that I left behind in the house. Time to remember and reflect on friends and family.

Time. Remember that thing? Could it be that I might find more time–more head space to create–by acquiring and walking a dog?

The reflecting on family part sounds especially intriguing. After all, this dog will be a joint responsibility, right? Right?

And so the reading around the dog question hasn’t stopped with me. Together, my boys and I listened to and loved the audio version of One Dog and His Boy, a “canine classic,” according to this review.

And then, in the middle of my reading of Bonnie Jo Campbell‘s latest story collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, I met Roscoe, a stray dog who arrives at the home of a pregnant woman who decides to take him in:

…here was a living, breathing creature who needed me now, and in my fifth month, maybe my hormones were talking, too.

Or maybe those hormones were screaming, as the pregnant protagonist comes to believe that Roscoe is her late, handsome, philandering fiance, Oscar, come back to life as a twenty-pound mutt. The story is a wonder of intelligence and, well, wonder: mystery.

So, that’s where I am in my literary dog journey preceding my actual dog journey. Can’t say I’m not a planner–if only in (literary) theory.

Do you have a cat muse? A dog muse? Help a girl out here. I need advice.

Closing with the literary cliche that isn’t: a boy (mine) and a dog (neighbor’s). Stay tuned… ~ Rebecca

IMG_1247

 

*Hemingway photo courtesy of beekman1802.com

The Dark Side of Amazon’s Job Creation

Columbus, Ohio, the state’s capital, is still in the running among the cities being considered for Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2). Is this necessarily a good thing?

Longreads

Amazon’s announcement that it would invest $5 billion and create 50,000 jobs in the location where they choose to build their second headquarters set off intense competition among cities hoping to lure the e-commerce giant. But Alana Semuels reminds us in The Atlantic that cities desperate for jobs have welcomed Amazon before in the form of warehouse work at distribution centers. These jobs have typically started at $12 an hour and are so grueling that very few workers “make it to two years of continuous service.” Despite this, locals say any job is better than no job, but the adverse effects of low-paid, high turnover work on a depressed city have been clear:

San Bernardino is just one of the many communities across the country grappling with the same question: Is any new job a good job? These places, often located in the outskirts of major cities, have lost retail…

View original post 194 more words

a bit of writerly advice

banner-2748305__480

This is my advice:

Think of yourself as a worker.

Show up at the job.

 

–novelist, memoirist, essayist, and craft book writer Sandra Scofield

Still working through Scofield’s The Scene Book to help me revise my WIP, a behemoth historical novel manuscript.

And work is just what it is. Okay, some days are better than others–the synapses firing at a clip. Sometimes it feels like crafting; once in a while it even feels like making art.

For me, mindset matters. Work demands discipline; I’m responsible to it. No one calls in late for work with excuses like, the muse didn’t speak to me or the mood wasn’t right.

Later today, much of the U.S. will watch two teams of men go to work. We call it play, but my guess is they don’t.

Tomorrow, muse or not, mood or not, it’s back to work…