a bit of writerly advice…for International Women’s Day

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Free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

Write from the specific knowledge that you have that nobody else has.

Bonnie Jo Campbell

Yep, lots of writers say this, but I thought this was a good reminder, coming from one of my fave women writers–on this day celebrating us.

Above, I’ve linked to a great (2016) article written by Julia MacDonnell at Philadelphia Stories. In it, she talks about meeting and learning more about Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of story collection Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. MacDonnell also details the specific knowledge Campbell draws on to write her award-winning fiction. In short, the Kalamazoo, Michigan, born and bred author:

“grew up on a farm, learning how to milk cows and castrate pigs. She rides, she runs, she rows. She has traveled with the Ringling Brothers Circus, hitchhiked across country, and organized cycling tours throughout Europe. In other words, she has plenty of specific knowledge to use as material.”

Whew!

What’s your material? Do you use it, mine it, shy away from it?

 

Name your bliss

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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.

Today’s library haul

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Yep, this pic is backwards–just testing your eyesight.

That’s…

one well-loved copy of The Boys of My Youth (by now a veritable classic among modern story collections) by Jo Ann Beard, author of the novel In Zanesville, which I reviewed here last year.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, a story collection by National Book Award finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell, queen of rural noir–if you’re asking me. I touch on her collection, American Salvage, here. Prefer novels? Campbell’s Once Upon a River is a nearly perfect little gem set in rural Michigan. Sorta rural rust.

Touted as a “masterful saga” of the “conflicted city” of Cleveland, Ohio, is Mark Winegardner’s Crooked River Burning. Can’t believe I haven’t read this one yet. The front material for the novel includes:

Cleveland city of light, city of magic,

Cleveland, city of light, you’re callin’ me.

Cleveland, even now I can remember

’Cause the Cuyahoga River

Goes smokin’ through my dreams.

                                    —Randy Newman, “Burn On”

 

What’s in your to-read pile?