A-Z Bookish Questions

This idea came from Cherie over at ThatBlogWhereCherieMovestoGermany, who got the idea from They Call Me Tater, who found it at Ashley’s Blog, who found it at The Boundless Books Blog. Whew! Why not join in, or leave your own answers to a few of these questions in the comments?

Author You’ve Read the Most From:

In fiction, probably Ian McEwan or Alice McDermott (I try not to miss anything from her; she visited with an online book club I belong to, not long ago, and was as lovely as her prose. #authorswoon.) In nonfiction, David Giffels, who writes about my native NE Ohio with a keen eye and a big heart. In poetry, Ross Gay, who never fails to challenge the mind and delight the senses.

Best Sequel Ever:

I don’t read many series, but Marilynne Robinson’s masterpiece GILEAD, set after JACK, which was most recently published, is one of my all-time favorite novels. (I have yet to read the other two in the series: LILA and HOME, the latter of which is on my nightstand waiting patiently for me.)

Currently Reading:

I’m always reading a few at a time. Right now, I’m reading THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, set in 1600s Norway; WILD SWIMS, a collection of short and flash fiction from Dorthe Nors, who is Danish; and thumbing through THE KALEVALA: TALES OF MAGIC AND ADVENTURE by Kirsti Makinen, all to inform my own writing of a historical story I’m working on set in Finland.

I’m also reading OHIO APERTURES, creative nonfiction by Robert Miltner; and RUNNING FOR HOME by Edward McClelland, which I plan to talk about here at the blog.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Typical American: coffee. Black in the morning and with a little cream and sugar in the afternoon.

E-Reader or Physical Book:

Physical book. In a pinch, a PDF on my computer, but my hand-me-down Nook (yes, I’m that old) just collected dust, so I never upgraded.

I do love a good audio book, but I was finding that I was filling all my quiet time in the car and on walks with those stories, instead of using that time to hammer my own stories out in my head.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School:

Well, I was a ballet dancer in high school, so can we change this to “movie” character–and let’s go with Mikhail Baryshnikov in WHITE NIGHTS. (And, let’s change “actually” to “in my dreams.”)

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

I didn’t read much poetry until a handful of years ago, when a friend recommended Marie Howe to me. Her book MAGDALENE is now a favorite.

Hidden Gem Book:

THE NEW MIDWEST by Mark Athitakis is a guide to modern-day fiction of the Rust Belt and thereabouts that was published by a hidden gem press, Belt Publishing, out of Cleveland. I love books set in NYC and L.A. as much as the next reader, but it’s nice to find good ones set closer to home.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

Reading Ross Gay’s THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS, when I thought: Oh, I can write toward joy, too.  

Just Finished:

I just finished Dawn Newton’s THE REMNANTS OF SUMMER, set in a lakeside community in Michigan over two summers–a lovely coming-of-age novel that reminded me of home.

Kind of Books You Won’t Read:

Never say never, but I’m generally not a romance reader.

Longest Book You Read:

Lately, Caitlin Horrocks’s THE VEXATIONS–and it was worth every single word.

Major Book Hangover:

See above. I was so sad when that book ended, so sad to be thrust out of Erik Satie’s turn-of-the-century Paris, I went to thank the author on Twitter. Then I bought a signed copy from her local bookstore and am anxiously awaiting it. Can’t wait to begin the story again!

Number of Bookcases You Own:

In the house? Lots. There are four avid readers here. In my office, I have three small bookcases made for me by my dad. (Thanks, Dad!)

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

I have read ANGELA’S ASHES by Frank McCourt several times–once just before taking the Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour in Limerick, Ireland, on my honeymoon. It was drizzling and gray that day, as a small group of us traipsed around McCourt’s hometown and saw the sights from his celebrated memoir.

Preferred Place to Read:

On the porch, if the weather’s nice.

Quotes that Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From a Book You’ve Read:

“A crooked way / the world wends, and the rivers, and the prophets.” That’s a line from a poem by Dave Lucas called “River on Fire.”

Reading Regret:

That I don’t have twice (or thrice) the time to read.

Series You Started and Need to Finish (all books are out in series):

See above re: Marilynne Robinson’s books.

Three of Your All Time Favorite Books:

So tough. This week? Novels:

  • Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD
  • SHINER by Amy Jo Burns
  • Ian McEwan’s THE INNOCENT

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Ross Gay. Do poets and essayists have fangirls? I don’t know. But I admire his work greatly and am so thrilled I will get to meet him at my favorite literary festival, Lit Youngstown’s 2021 Fall Literary Festival. Registration is open. Why don’t you meet us there?

Worst Book Habit:

Reading a half dozen books at a time and losing them all over the house.

X Marks the Spot: Start at the Top LefT of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book:

Gabino Iglesias’s COYOTE SONGS

Your Latest Book Purchase:

FIERCE AND DELICATE: ESSAYS ON DANCE AND ILLNESS by Renee Nicholson

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (last book that kept you up Way Late):

I’ve been reading THE MERCIES before bed–it’s so good I wish I could stay up all night, reading it, but also I don’t want it to end!

Show me your poem of isolation reads

Just stack ’em up, any which way. Or, spend an hour creating your poem made up of titles you’ve read during the COVID-19 situation. (This doesn’t include my Google books, and does include books that I’m perpetually reading and a journal issue in which my words appear, but you get the picture.)

I didn’t come up with this idea, (shout-out to fellow blogger Lani, for introducing me to Steph @pieladybooks) but I think you can take a bit of license: add an article or two, play with punctuation and line breaks, of course. I went all ee cummings-lowercase, so the capitalization didn’t distract from the meaning. And my apologies to the late Sherwood Anderson, but I couldn’t help myself. Here it is, my poem of isolation reads. How about that near-rhyme at the end, right? Watch out, poets! And go ahead and suggest a title, if you’ve got one.

the heart is a full-wild beast, longing for an absent god
ruminate the everyday: old brown shiner, winesburg
o,
hi
o, find me!
magdalene, the virgin of prince street.
what you become in flight?
a catalog of unabashed gratitude, the book of delights

I’d love to see your poem of isolation reads! Still working on your reading arc–I’d love to see that, too.

I’ve done my best to chart and reflect on my family’s isolation here, even as restrictions begin to ease. Recreational boating is allowed again, so my guys will be back in Aqua Dove, that most glorious dinghy, soon. Maybe I’ll write a poem about it. Maybe not.

Want to read more of my isolation posts? I responded to WordPress Discover Prompts in April!–and you can, too. There’s no such thing as late work in blogging.

Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

What your reading arc says about you

Image by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

Hi, and how are you?

If you’re well, I hope you’re reading. If you’re reading, maybe you want to consider your reading arc. I never really had before. But, a Twitter contact, @MattWeinkam, associate director of Lit Cleveland, proposed a fun exercise for us reader sorts:

Chart your reading arc from childhood to present day in 10 books. After a bit of thinking, here’s mine:

A Very Young Dancer>Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret>Their Eyes Were Watching God>Come to Me: Stories>The Innocent>The Fortunate Pilgrim>Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir>Bel Canto>Magdalene: Poems>The Book of Delights: Essays

Of course, there are so many books I love that I had to leave out. If I had 11 slots, I would have added a craft book: maybe Stephen King’s On Writing, which was probably the first craft book I read; or maybe the classic, Donald M. Murray’s The Craft of Revision, which I return to again and again, of course; or maybe the recent Meander, Spiral, Explode (I talked about that one here) by Jane Alison, which upended so many writing “rules.”

What does my reading arc say about me? A lot you already know.

I was a dancer, myself, and a Catholic, drawn to the story aspects of both, I suppose. At 19, I moved from Ohio to Virginia–I left out my Tom Robbins obsession (remember Jitterbug Perfume?). College days brought courses like African American Autobiography and opened my eyes to stories outside what my mom had on her bookshelves from college in the 60s.

Short stories were my entry into the craft of writing–and Amy Bloom is one of my favorite story writers. (Good story collections are great writing teachers.)

Grad school left little time for pleasure reads, but when I could, I liked early Ian McEwan and books that informed my own writing.

If it’s not dance, song in story is a running theme. And for this writer who managed to get an MFA without writing a poem, I read a lot of poetry these days–and essays and hybrids of all sorts. And I think, you could say, I’m arcing toward joy in my reading habits.

I hope that means I’m arcing toward joy in life. I need it now more than ever.

So, show me your reading arc–in the comments or on your own blog. You might be surprised at what it reveals about your reading and your life.

Let’s read together. Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

a bit of writerly advice for July 20, 2019

Free image courtesy or KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared some good writing advice from an author. This piece comes from Ross Gay, award-winning poet and essayist, whose latest collection, The Book of Delights: Essays came out earlier this year. He’s also a professor at Indiana University and a big sports fan and former college football player–and what delights Gay are many and varied things, which is, for this reader, delightful.

Before I share his advice, I’ll share a story: I’m a little embarrassed to say that while I’m only 27K into my new WIP, I already have its epigraph–you know, the quote or quotes at the start of a book that suggest theme. In my WIP’s case, the working themes are around loss, sorrow, and joy. Loss we can all try to get our heads around together.

But sorrow is really loaded–especially for me as a Catholic. Funny thing, a friend of ours recently learned what my family’s parish is called. “Our Lady of Sorrows,” he said. “How depressing.” I’d never thought about the name, a common descriptor for Jesus’s mother, Mary, as depressing. For, like Mary’s, our sorrows are borne together; sometimes, they’re necessary, even life-changing, lifting us all up. I couldn’t articulate this to our friend at the time, but his words got me to thinking about the transformative power of sorrow.

That’s about when I started reading Ross Gay, and who knows if his words will stick as one of two quotes in the epigraph of a novel not even half finished, but these words of his, from his essay “Joy is Such a Human Madness,” have served as a good thematic guide:

What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying. / I’m saying: What if that is joy?

Ross Gay, The BOOK Of Delights: Essays

About the time I jotted this quote down was when I learned that Gay, like this aspiring author, is a Northeast Ohio native–making the possibility that I might one day hear him read in person pretty decent. (Joy!)

Until then, I’ll read his poems and essays and delight in learning about this inspirational author through interviews, like this one with Toni Fitzgerald in The Writer, in which Gay talks about his writing inspirations and process–our writing advice for the day:

…usually it’s thinking, reading, studying, trying to find something that turns you on and going for a bit.

Ross Gay

Light in the Darkness: Literary Chiaroscuro in the Work of Tove Jansson

Photo by Tristan Pokornyi on Pexels.com

Warning: I am full-on author-crushing right now. The author: Tove Jansson (1914-2001), Finland’s most famous writer-illustrator, who introduced the world to the Moomins–a family of peace-loving trolls brought to life in illustrated children’s books–and also wrote some really fantastic literature for adults.

In light of the first feature film about Jansson releasing next month, I’ve recently devoted much of my reading time to her novel, The Summer Book, and her short stories. All capture Finland from the inside–in a way no travelogue ever could. Thank goodness for translations (and Thomas Teal, in particular, who translated much of Jansson’s work into English). Since I don’t read Swedish–Jansson was born into Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority–or Finnish. I’ve got enough on my plate trying to capture moments in Finland’s history in my novel-in-progress, set in part in this Nordic place–at once beautiful and dangerous, light and dark, like the best photograph, painting, or story. I’m looking for and finding much inspiration in Jansson’s work.

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2 workshops, 2 prompts, and 1 weird writing season

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

Who even am I? Is pandemic time throwing anyone else’s writing for a loop? Just me then?

Really, I remember thinking to myself way back in March that I was going to use the time I was no longer spending driving my kids to and from school to write. I definitely wasn’t going to fill that time with shower-cries or deciding if I’m a chocolate-loving, peanut butter-loving, or original goodness-loving sort of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups connoisseur.

Silly me.

I have, despite these pandemic extracurriculars, been writing some–but certainly not the same as I was. Fiction has been tough-going, but I’ve written some short essays and snippets someone really nice (or related to me) might call prose poems. I’ll say it again: I am not a poet.

And while I’m not a big fan of Zooming as substitute for activities I was engaged with, pre-pandemic; I’ve enjoyed new Zoom opportunities, in particular two writing workshops I wouldn’t have made in person because of distance.

I thought of these workshops, one I attended just yesterday, when Lorna over at Gin & Lemonade mentioned writing prompts. (You’re going to want to visit her if you don’t already.)

Ah, writing prompts. Controversial stuff, right? I’ll admit to assuming most of my writing teachers who started every class with a prompt were using the time to lesson-plan on the fly. Maybe some were. I know I did just that, once I began teaching. As a student, however, I generally used writing prompt time to work on whatever short story or novel chapter I was mulling over, largely ignoring said prompt.

Prompts were for memoirists and poets always gazing longingly out the window for inspiration.

What a stubborn idiot I was. Sure, some prompts don’t hit you right, some work better than others. But the best ones flip a kind of switch in your brain to get at often-forgotten and sometimes really-weird-good material in there. I’d wade through a million mediocre prompts, now, to come across the best ones.

That said, there was no wading in either of the workshops I took this spring–both of which included several generative writing prompts. So, here are a couple of my favorite prompts and my responses.

Maybe one of these will flip your writing switch today?

You might remember that I interviewed poet and editor Jessica Fischoff, just the day before I took her Persona Workshop. Over Zoom from her home in Cincinnati, Jessica discussed persona poetry and character in prose–and then let us writers loose, scribbling to her prompts. Jessica is a prompts queen, but the one that flipped the right switch for me was to…

Use an inanimate object as the persona of a poem or prose piece, and here’s my attempt:

Figures the Ferris Wheel

If I could count, I would tell you
how many proposals I've heard
proposed at the apex of my grand wheel.
How many rings dropped, how many squeals
of delight, and how many women murmured
under their breathes, looked down at their bare fingers
gripping my bar, and said something like
"I have to think," softly, as if they knew I was listening.
I am always listening.

If I could count, I'd tell you how many boys scared girls,
and girls scared boys, shaking my cars, pretending they would 
break a spoke, heave this wheel, and make it all come crashing down
to the ground, where they would keep falling out of fear.
How many times.

~~~

Yesterday’s workshop with memoirist, essayist, and writing professor Sonja Livingston, who I interviewed right here and here for Rust Belt Girl, was also just what I needed to get out of my own way and write for an afternoon: new stuff, which is gratifying (especially when at work on a novel). New starts mean the writing well is not dry, folks! One of my attempts came in response to a prompt inspired by the work of Ross Gay. (If you’ve been here a while you know I’m always, always inspired by Ross Gay.):

Write about a “delight” or a list of “delights” and I picked one of my little guys:

My Son's Buckteeth

the orthodontist wants to fix
the goofy faces he pulls with them
the way his cowlick makes his blond hair stick up
hair that will go dirty like mine
and fall out like my brother's
the fact he still gives a good squeeze I don't have to take
the fact his hugs put him at my chest height but
he doesn't yet think this is weird

~~~

What weird and wonderful stuff have you come up with from a good writing prompt? Let me know if the comments.

What are you reading and writing this week? Are we social? Find me at FB and on Twitter and IG @MoonRuark

On reading GLORY DAYS…and other summertime scares

It starts with fire sirens, so loud the littlest children clap their hands over their ears. But not my guys, old enough now to tough it out–and join the parade on their decorated bikes to cheers from neighbors lined on both sides of the street.

Only … this Fourth of July Parade, one boy returned after he’d finished the short parade route, red-faced and sweating. The other wasn’t with him. “Where’s your brother?” was answered with a shrug. The street was empty. And I had the feeling of dread every parent knows, that hollowing out, followed by cold palms–on a very hot day.

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