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.
I’m trying to remain open, these days of isolation, to what might pass for connection now. I try not to rail against the world for small annoyances–and thereby close my heart to possibilities. I try not to cry at the faulty internet connection that makes me drop my first-ever Zoom call. I should be happy for technology, for the virtual happy hour with my friends in town, happy to have friends, a town, a house, a basement I can sit in–which is dry despite all the rain–where the Wi-Fi works best.
Another friend dropped toilet paper at my kitchen door today–the best kind of pandemic calling card. Yet another friend, far away, is teaching her four-year-old his letters and decided to bring pen pals back. My own boys are practicing their cursive on loose-leaf (I’m glad we don’t have to re-purpose for the bathroom) and have discovered the joys of snail mail. My freelance work has me writing for hospitals, which makes fiction feel not just false but useless. My creative writing is changed, not closed, but working through different channels now.
A novelist friend, when addressing how to write at such a time as this, suggested acting like a different kind of artist. Writers, try on your dancing shoes. Performers, take to the page. That kind of thing. I desperately miss singing in my choir, raising my voice in song. I’ve written about it here and here and mused on singing for Ruminate, here. But I don’t seem to be able to open my mouth in song today.
I recent days, I have written a short essay and a flash fiction piece, departures from my WIPs–historical novels that don’t let me address this present moment. It’s a moment I don’t want to close myself off from–or forget–for the lessons it might teach me. Meanwhile, I should be teaching my kids; we should be writing a middle grade book together. Maybe we will, and set the story in a wooden boat.
The day before my state’s governor issued the latest isolation mandates, my husband and sons took to the water. My younger twin named the dinghy, “Aqua Dove”–big name for a small boat. With oars, a centerboard, and a little sail, I hope it will give my boys a sense of freedom on open water, when this is over.
Remember daydreaming? That old creativity-inducing distraction? I do–if just barely.
Now, even our distractions are automated and customized and curated by an algorithm that seems to know what we should be daydreaming about before we can even get to it. What’s more, the rabbit holes we find ourselves distractedly falling down end not in a constructively weird place–but all too often in a place that might be weird but probably will cost us money. So, a destination that leaves us both distracted and poorer. Happy 2020! From a fun piece by Kathryn Schulz from 2015 in The New Yorker. She saw it coming:
How did “rabbit hole,” which started its figurative life as a conduit to a fantastical land [in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland], evolve into a metaphor for extreme distraction? One obvious culprit is the Internet, which has altered to an indescribable degree the ways that we distract ourselves.
Thank you for Internet-ing right here, this Monday morning, when there are so many rabbit holes clambering for us, desiring to drive us to distraction–to forget our intentions, our destinations, our worth, even ourselves.
Can I tell you I’ve been distracted?
While others have been setting down their 2020 resolutions, and even committing them to blog post (and, as such, according to the court of blog, making them treaties never to be broken!), I’ve been distracted. While others have been new-decade-to-do-ing and vision-boarding, I’ve been distracted.
Two weeks of 2020 in the crapper already, and I’ve made a word cloud. (See above.) Well, not me, but a website. OK, I plopped in the words–from my novel-in-progress–and out came a word cloud. I did pick the shape and the color scheme: blue.
Here’s another thing: I found a website, literature-map, that will show me (in an attractive visual-thesaurus web sort of way) which authors are most like my faves. A new-to-me fave:
Which reminds me of The Princess Bride. What a movie. Inconceivable! Who was that actor? He’s still alive, right?
You see what I mean? This exercise in rabbit-holing isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with distractions, or daydreams, but that I might be better served by being a little more intentional. You know: dreaming with intention, design, volition, even, dare I say, a goal.
So, I’m goal-setting-lite, meaning with enough wiggle room for constructive rabbit holes and even breaks. (Like, “intention” comes from the Latin intentus, meaning “a stretching out,” also “a leaning toward, a strain.” I mean, that sounds like exercise, which is never supposed to be easy, right?)
I’m reading with intention–right now Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan quartet of novels by the highly-acclaimed Italian author–to inform my historical novel about an Italian family in WWII America. And I’m back over at Goodreads, where I’m going to try to keep better track of what I’ve read–outside of Rust Belt authors.
I’ve also been taking some lovely reading detours–having read over the last month a children’s book, a literary thriller, and a sci-fi screenplay–for friends and fellow bloggers who are highly-acclaimed in my eyes. And reading thinker-blogposts, like this one “On Breaks and Connections.” And next up on the ol’ TBR is a book of poetry–because poetry is the best kind of distraction.
Writing? OK, I didn’t use my Christmas break to gain great headway on my novel-in-progress (outside of the groovy word cloud)–what with Christmas and Christmas carols, cookies, and more cookies. However, I did get another chapter down. And then, in response to a call from a journal I admire, I wrote a thing–a creative nonfiction piece about Ordinary Time and ordinary time and making the everyday a holiday worth singing about and feasting over; and finding the blissfully mundane in a holiday. It’s a working rabbit hole, anyway. And the novel draft will be out of my brain and on paper, come June (wish me luck).
And editing. I wore that hat a lot over at Parhelion Literary Magazine, last year. My 2019 saw me shepherd three book reviews, five essays, and an author interview into the world, plus I conducted two interviews, and penned a piece on finding “twin skin” and solace in the essays of Randon Billings Noble. I adore this PLM gig and hope you’ll check me out over there, too. More good stuff to come in 2020.
Of course, it’s publishing that’s considered to be the big win, the brass ring, the dream destination for us writer-types. The agent querying continues, but I did have a couple short stories published last year in journals I love. And, lest I forget that this writing thing is about the path, and not the destination, I read this post for a different kind of “Resolution,” today.
Goals. I’ll get on it. I will. Right now, you’re here and I’m here, which means we’re in the very same rabbit hole (#bloggoals), if for only a few minutes–and that’s a win these days. As was being nominated for the Bloggers Recognition Award by one of my favorite blogging friends, Silvia, from Italian Goodness, who, when I told her I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hop on the nomination train, said these wise words: “Life is busy. Family comes first. Never stop dreaming, but prioritizing is the secret of happiness.” Truer words, folks… Thank you, Silvia! (And go make one her Italian recipes and make yourself so happy.)
Here’s to more connecting and dream-making in 2020–by a little luck and a pinch of intention.
Have you recovered from the Christmas cookie coma? New Year’s resolution-failure guilt getting to you, or is that just me?
Care to social media rabbit-hole together? You can find me at FB, on Twitter and IG @MoonRuark, and at Goodreads, where it appears as if I’m just getting the hang of this whole literary thing.
When I was on bed-rest, hugely pregnant with my twin boys, I did what I do in any anxiety-producing situation, especially one that would have me lying on my side for three months: I read. In addition to the care-and-feeding-of-babies books, I read about the raising of boys into men, the emotional aspects and the pitfalls to avoid.
In my reading, I found prevalent boy-myths to steer clear of (in life, not in writing–myths are fun there, but more on that in a bit). Two common ones: boy as animal (he simply can’t be good); and boy as prince (he can do no wrong, no matter how he tries).
Once I delivered my boys into the world, I became uber-focused not on their boyhood but on their infant hood–a precarious time made more precarious by sleep deprivation (mine, not theirs). “Your job is to keep them alive,” the pediatrician said. (If that sounds dire or needlessly heartless, I’ve since learned this is something pediatricians regularly say to moms of twins.) For me, nursing day and night, there was no time or energy for thinking ahead to boyhood–or mythologizing or otherwise romanticizing it in any way.
Amid the mental and physical haze of exhaustion, I did fall prey to infant-mom advertising: you know, the stuff of soft lighting illuminating mother placidly cradling baby in her arms–that’s one baby, not two. And so much gazing–lovingly–into each other’s bright eyes. Kenny G might have been playing his muzak as soundtrack to the ad–trying its best to sell me bottles, bjorns, fancy diapers, or other stuff I wasn’t buying.
What I was buying, however, (and internalizing like the marketing writer I am by day) was that romantic image presented. I was buying that hook, line, and sinker. Yet, I remember a turn of phrase that left me feeling heartless and creeped out all at once: fall in love with your baby boy.
Of course, myths abound in culture and literature through the ages that feature a mother falling in love with her son: not Pampers-love, but romantic–even erotic–love.
When I first met Larry Smith in Ohio, he was sporting a Cleveland Browns cap–not an unusual fashion choice for a sports venue or bar, but we were at a literary conference. From this first impression, I could sense two things: the cap wasn’t ironical and Larry was my kind of literary people.
As it turns out, the Ohio-based author, poet, and director of Bottom Dog Press/Bird Dog Publishing and I have much more in common than rooting for the home team. There’s an abiding sense of creative responsibility, a promise to tell our own stories, that comes with hailing from a place like ours. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Larry and I try to make good on that promise. Larry has definitely made good on his.
This National Poetry Month of April, Larry was also gracious enough to take the time to answer over email my questions–about the writing life and what it means to publish poems and stories rooted in place. “There is always some blurring of identity here,” says Larry, “between Larry Smith and Bottom Dog Press.”
Though much of my life is Bottom Dog Press, my life extends beyond that, and Bottom Dog Press is more than I am, too, it’s over 210 books and about 500 authors.
Let’s learn more…
Larry, how did growing up in the Rust Belt, specifically an Ohio mill town, affect your writing sensibilities and choices?
Well, this goes to the heart of it and of myself. You can’t take out of me the Ohio Valley and the working-class world I grew up in. I was nurtured on that life and those values of hard work and character, of family and neighborhood, of just accepting and caring for each other. I write from who I am, and though I worked as a college professor and live in a middle class neighborhood now, I am still that kid getting up to deliver morning papers and watch my father pack his lunch for work on the railroad. Read more
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?)
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.
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.
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!
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:
Once, this city forebode,
by charcoal snow,
bitter as if poisonous
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,
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!
By that, I mean you will find no images and taglines here that you could use to make into a poster for your conference room. No cute kittens of mine will ever tell you to “hang in there”–or anywhere. (That’s my kid, above; my arms hurt just looking at him.) If I were to make such a poster, it might say, “Bitch a lot, and hope for sympathy–or at least free coffee.”
Still, I am not totally, cynically immune to pep-talks, or at least subtle reminders that bitching gets us nowhere, usually not even heard. But perseverance can get us writers, bloggers, and do-ers of all kinds off the starting block (or whatever tired motivational metaphor you prefer).
Call it perseverance. Call it stick-to-itivness. Call it sisu, if you’re in with the Finns. Please just don’t call it grit. (Am I the only one sick of that word? People: meet thesaurus; thesaurus meet people.)
All that’s to say, sometimes one (me) has to stop bitching and start working, which for this story writer looks like: composing, revising, editing, more editing; and lastly, the dreaded submitting.
The tale of my most recent story submission goes like this. (Here’s hoping it’s mildly inspirational.)
It was a story that I had to tell. While I generally enjoy a football field-sized writerly distance from the characters I explore in my fiction, this one hit much closer to home. Call it cheap therapy, but my mom was battling breast cancer and I was a 12-hour Greyhound bus ride away and English major-angsty. What to do with all that anger at the plain meanness and stupidity of cancer for targeting the one person who “got” me?
I wrote about it. I framed my confusion into a story about going home to be with the fictional her at the end and about how a cancer death–the coagulating of so many errant cells–made the fictional me dream of growing another kind of ball of cells, which would turn into a kid (or kids, as it turned out) of my own.
Like much fiction, there was truth in this story (along with much artifice). And it felt good to get my truth on the page, and then into the ether, and maybe even under the nose of a literary journal editor–or 58 (yep, I just counted).
Fast-forward a dozen years or more, and a much-revised version of this story will see the light. I received the glorious email with “acceptance” in the subject line a week after logging three rejections of other stories.
Some stories come easily; some take just a couple revisions before I’ve deemed them to be editor-ready. Not this story of my mom and me and breasts and death as beautiful as birth.
My story of writerly perseverance, by the numbers: revision No. 15; story title No. 3; 1,200 additional words since first draft, written for English 666 (no joke); and 1 fewer mention of the show, Friends, and also 9-layer dip, since that first draft (phew).
You get the gist. The story grew with me, and I with it, but I didn’t let it go–just like my little guy up there on the rock wall. I could have, but I didn’t.
More to come on my story’s new home, journal information, and issue launch.
Want more writerly advice? I’ve got a category for that.
Want to follow me on FB? Twitter? Let’s persevere together in all the social fun…
On my writing desk sits a small box filled with even smaller business cards I ordered for the Literary Festival I will be attending next month. These cards are, in effect, the professional “me.” On one side is listed my freelance biz; on the other (shown below) my creative writing credentials.
My two-sided business card mirrors the divided roles I play in this writing life of mine. This is the gig economy in action, folks, and I am a 2 inch-by-3 inch fraud. OK, no, there are no untruths on my business card, but still I feel like a fake sometimes.
It’s natural, self-doubt–especially when pulled in many directions–and inherent in this introverted writer. But business cards? Networking? I mean, networking is no less than 5,000 miles away from my natural habitat. So, what to do to make the most of my time at a literary (or any other kind of) conference?
Come along for the ride…
First, strike a power pose. What does that look like for an introverted writer? Particular pose aside, power-posing is all about boosting your confidence and is key to overcoming “imposter syndrome,” says super-talented career coach and humor blogger, Becca–who encourages those of us who unjustly feel like frauds to “Fake It ‘Till You Become It.”
OK, so I’ve got my business card. And practiced body language (time to break out the full-length mirror I don’t have!).
Second, follow a three-tier plan for getting what I want out of this conference (and by extension this writing life, but…baby steps).
Let’s be clear, I’m attending this festival for the backside (ahem), the creative side of me. With so many talks, readings, and panel discussions to choose from, I need to choose wisely to return home not exhausted but ready to write.
Craft: outside of an online writing workshop or two, it’s been a good while since I took part in a proper fiction workshop, so this tops my list of must-dos.
Connect: one big reason I started Rust Belt Girl was to connect with writers writing from and about the post-industrial Midwest, and I’ll have ample opportunity at this Ohio event; I also hope to meet a few of the many literary journal editors who will be there–always helpful to hear what they’re looking for in submissions.
Soak it in: with a schedule full of creative readings–from poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers–I hope to come away inspired enough by the stories of others to return, re-energized, to my own.
And then there are the side-perks of discovering a city I’ve never visited before and of being close enough to an Ohio site I want to research for my WIP that I can make the weekend a two-fer.
But, even before that, there’s the preparation*, and I don’t just mean packing “serious writer” outfits and a wrap for cool conference rooms. And, of course, having my own stuff together for my creative reading and appearance on a panel about publishing from the writer’s perspective. I mean reading up: not just writer bios, but the book of collected stories from the keynote speaker, Leslie Nneka Arimah; and poems from the Ohio poet laureate, Dave Lucas.
Many thanks to super-knowledgeable blogger, Lorna, at Gin & Lemonade for helping me to develop this plan for slaying it (insert power pose here) at the literary festival and for passing along this post with helpful tips for making the most of a conference as an introvert: “Breathe” is a good one to remember. So is: “Grab People’s Business Cards.”
If all else fails, I’ll just summon my inner Ally McBeal–yep, showing my age here–and come to the literary festival ready with an inspirational song in my head.
With the recent death of Aretha Franklin, followed by the singer’s Detroit funeral that included a procession of 130 pink Cadillacs (more details on that here), I thought I’d take a confidence cue from the Queen of Soul. So many powerful songs: “Respect,” “A Natural Woman.”
Have any tips to share for making the most of a conference–literary or otherwise? I’d love to hear them!
*Update: One more item to prepare before a conference–literary or otherwise: the 30-second elevator pitch. Do you have one? “It’s a good idea to have one of these prepared for your art,” says poet and former marketing executive Danielle Hanson, in a wonderfully-informative article in the latest (Sept/Oct) issue of Poets & Writers magazine, which is pretty much the bible for literary writers. Your elevator pitch should answer the question: What do you do?
Here’s my working elevator pitch: I write fiction. I’m interested in exploring the idea of the American Dream in place–both during wartime and at peace. My historical novel manuscript explores lives on the WWII home-front and tells the largely unknown story of the internment of Italians in America during that time. My short stories explore the contemporary American Rust Belt, with many set in my native Ohio. I also blog at Rust Belt Girl to connect with authors, photographers, and readers in the region and beyond. There I feature discussions on “ruin porn,” author interviews, and my own craft essays, drawn from my experiences as a writer and as a former college writing instructor.