Thursday, November 30, 2006

Joy Williams

"The surface of a good story is severely simple. Clean and treacherous as new ice. Below the surface is accident, chaos, uncertainty - beautiful, shifting things. I believe in the mystery of things, their spiritual rhythm...Transformation is what I'm interested in the most. What it is that is beyond and beneath things. Moments, the levels in moments."

from her essay "Shifting Things" in The Writer on Her Work, Volume II, edited by Janet Sternburg, 1991.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Alexander Pope 1688-1744

Why did I write? what sin to me unknown
Dipt me in Ink, my parents, or my own?

(from "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot")

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Kay Ryan

Agreement

The satisfactions
of agreement are
immediate as sugar-
a melting of the
granular, a syrup
that lingers, shared
not singular.
Many prefer it.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ogden Nash for Thanksgiving

Yorkshire Pudding

Let us call Yorkshire pudding
A fortunate blunder;
It's a sort of a popover
That tripped and popped under.

from You Can't Get There From Here, Little, Brown 1957

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Joy Williams

"I like the short story as a form. The intensity of it, the swiftness. Assemble the ambulances. Something is going to happen."

from "Shifting Things" by Joy Williams in The Writer on Her Work, Vol II.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Alice Thomas Ellis 1932-2005

"On the last day of summer Mrs. Bohannon fell in love. The poplars, fallaciously pathetic, looked horrified, thier branches rising on the wind like startled hair, and a pilgrim cloud wept a few chill tears.

It began in a garden, as these things will, and she fell in love with her husband's son.

Bloody hell!

It happened like this..."


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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pattiann Rogers on place

"I realized for the first time that I loved a landscape, loved it like my own body, that it was my own body, my body and my pattern of perception, that it had informed and constructed me, that I had defined myself by it, that I had a union with it, a union I only recognized now because it had been broken."

from Pattiann Rogers The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nabokov on Flaubert

"We now start to enjoy yet another masterpiece, yet another fairy tale. Of all the fairy tales in this series, Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary is the most romantic. Stylistically it is prose doing what poetry is supposed to do."

My bookclub for writers meets on Monday, and we will be discussing Madame B. I recommended the Francis Steegmuller translation.



The essays are, of course, written by Nabokov, with an introduction by Updike. Don't get me started on Amazon's inability to self-edit.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

it's time for Ogden Nash

The Panda

I love the Baby Giant Panda;
I'd welcome one to my veranda.
I never worry, wondering maybe
Whether it isn't Giant Baby;
I leave such matters to the scientists:
The Giant Baby - and Baby Giantists.
I simply wish a julep and a
Giant Baby Giant Panda.

from Good Intentions, Little, Brown & Co, 1942

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

sometimes good things do happen

One of my friends from the Queens MFA program has been signed by an agent!

My pal Sandy Novack has been signed by Denise Shannon.

This is so exciting! Okay, enough with the exclamation points, I know I know. But it's such a big step, such validation, and so very richly deserved.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Frau Ava (circa 1160)

I am yours,
you are mine.
Of this we are certain.
You are lodged
in my heart,
the small key
is lost.
You must stay there
forever.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Kathryn Davis receives Lannan award

Kathryn Davis has been awarded a Lannan Foundation award. Her writing is evocative, compelling, and subtle as a snake. I recommend The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf.

“I like to think of Kathryn Davis as the love child of Virginia Woolf and Lewis Carroll, with a splash of Nabokov, Emily Bronte, and Angela Carter in the gene pool.” — Joy Press, Village Voice


"I’m interested in the plight of a character embarked on a journey through an utterly unfamiliar (and frequently fantastic) landscape…. The quest itself has never interested me as much as the chance to describe that other world." -Kathryn Davis

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Patricia Hampl

from her essay "The Need to Say It" in The Writer on Her Work, Vol 2., Janet Sternburg, ed.

Write about what you know. This instruction from grade school was the first bit of writing advice I was ever given. Terrific - that was just what I wanted to do. But privately, in a recess of my personality I could not gain access to by wish or by will, I was afraid this advice was a lie, concocted and disseminated nationwide by English teachers. The real, the secret commandment was Write about what matters...

Maybe I wouldn't have fretted over the standard composition advice if I had valued my life in a simple way. Or rather, if I had valued the life around me. But literary types are born snobs, yearning for the social register of significance....I felt, I believed, my own life (and anything that touched it) was just so much still water...

Maybe being oneself is always an acquired taste. For a writer it's a big deal to bow - or kneel or get knocked down - to the fact that you are going to write your own books and not somebody else's. Not even those books of the somebody else you thought it was your express business to spruce yourself up to be.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Moral Disorder and other stories, by Margaret Atwood. The newest Atwood. Of course I gulped it down, barely pausing to chew the plot, dissect the changing POVs, eager to grab onto more of her work. And this is chewy, in the best sense of the word. This has the heady, dense, satisfying taste of autobiography disguised as fiction. Let's see, there is the biologist father, the distant mother, the wilderness setting. Yup, all check out. But most of all, this is prime Atwood, at her best, on her worst behaviour. I mean, what's not to love about a writer who leads the reader gently into the forest of trouble.



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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Home again

I've been at the Queens MFA Alumni program, where I reconnected with writer friends, and met with Denise Shannon, a literary agent. No, I'm not signed; I'm not through revising the novel. But it was a chance to show a chapter to an agent who represents Francine Prose, Gary Shteyngart, Lydia Davis, Kevin Canty, & Karen Russell. Was I scared? Yowser!

Denise is intelligent, direct, well-read, and yet kindly. I liked her. She liked me. She liked my writing, she liked my chapter. She did not love my chapter. She loved the work of my friend Sandy Novack, which makes me happy happy happy.

I had brought the chapter where I am most vulnerable, and it went over well. Big relief! In our private conference, after the workshop, I asked Denise the scary question: based on what you have seen, and our discussion of the rest of the novel, is this novel commercially viable? There was no pause before her reply. "Yes. It will appeal to people who like novels of place and strong emotion." Then she went on to help me with my query letter, what to mention, what not to mention. She was kindness itself. And when the novel is done and perfected, I will send it to her. But I want an agent who loves my work, loves it as she loved Sandy's.

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