Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Aimee Bender at Tin House

I studied with the amazing Aimee Bender at Tin House. It feels like yesterday, but was actually two weeks ago. I'm still happy about the workshop. Oh, you probably want more than that. Well, she's the author of the acclaimed short story collections Willful Creatures and The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, and the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own. She's won two Pushcarts, and her books have been nominated for impressive awards. Her writing is exhilarating. I particularly like a story called "Job's Jobs" in Willful Creatures. Here's the opening line: God put a gun to the writer's head.

And Aimee is a fine workshop leader. She is interested in organic structure, in opening up our perceptions of what makes a story work. So she had us draw different groups on the blackboard. One day it was flowers, another day bugs, another trees, another sea animals. This helped some of those new to writing understand that if a story works, we don't question its structure, or as we like to say

It's a different kind of bug.

Also, this visual helped us all remember not to be limited by our own idea of what makes a story. A big help for me, as I had written a modular story, with a distinctly odd structure. Hey, I didn't ask to do this, I didn't set myself down and deliberately create this monster; that's just the way the story came to me, and it would not budge into a more "normal" form. Because it is a different kind of bug.

Of course, each bug has to follow the rules/guidelines of its own form. This is why Kafka's Metamorphosis works so well. The premise is unbelievable, but the story is realistic within its premise.

The blackboard got erased every night by the cleaners, so each morning we drew different pictures. The bar was so low that even I volunteered, and did a sting ray (for sea animals.) Most instructive for me was that I also drew a sea anemone, which everyone said was a very realistic coral branch. So I accepted this coral branch, and did not try to convince myself and everyone else that it was a sea anemone. The drawing wanted to be a coral branch. I wanted it to be a sea anemone. The drawing won.

Our workshop had a couple of newish writers who learned (and we got to watch them learn) that theirs was not the only way to read or write or understand a story. Ah, such a relief to have the visual to remind us that

It's a different kind of bug.

(Can you tell that I am weary of hearing "I don't understand who the narrators are speaking to? Why is the story in this form?" etc. Aimee's blackboard jungle helped us all see, yet again, that a successful story can inhabit a strange and wondrous form. Not that my story is successful, or wondrous. But it is strange. And now I understand that keeping to its form will help me revise it.)


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jincy Willett's The Writing Class

I just finished reading Jincy Willett's newest novel, The Writing Class.

Delicious, funny, accurate, and irreverent about writing and writing classes, and dead on. I liked Willett's other works, the collection of short stories and the previous novel, but in this book she really hits her stride. How very amusing to set up the writing class as a murder mystery. I'm sure it has been done before, but not in my recent memory. Ah, the locked room! The missing items! The half-remembered clues! All these and more are used and used well. But finally, this is not really a mystery. It is a novel about writers, and the lengths to which they will go, and what happens when ambition turns sour.

I was sorry when the book ended.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Bonnie ZoBell at SmokeLong Quarterly

My pal Bonnie ZoBell has a flash, "Real Estate," up at SmokeLong Quarterly. A fine story, and don't miss the interview, which ends with the following inspirational statement from Bonnie:

"The longer I write, the more I understand I'm writing for myself, not the market. I worked at Cosmopolitan where Helen Gurley Brown called me a mouseburger (as she described herself) when I had my heart broken. I've moved from the West Coast to the East Coast and back again, poor enough to label all my personal belongings as "Books" so I could have them with me. A fork finally fell out of the last box I shipped, and the postman told me he'd be watching. I had a husband die of AIDS after fifteen years of marriage.

I've been rejected so many times that anybody in her right mind would have quit and become a dentist. I've stopped writing for periods of time for all of these reasons, but then I always start writing again because I seem to have to. I grow by trying to push myself to experiment with writing and then deciding what I do and don't like. Sure, I like being published as much as the next writer, mainly because I want people to read what I've written. A story is meant to be told to a reader."


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kay Ryan new Poet Laureate

On Thursday, Kay Ryan will officially be our new Poet Laureate. Here's the NY Times article. Hmm. You probably need to sign in for this. Okay, here are a few useful paragraphs.

"Known for her sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes, Ms. Ryan has won a carriage full of poetry prizes for her funny and philosophical work, including awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2004, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, worth $100,000.

Still, she has remained something of an outsider.

One of her first duties as poet laureate is an appearance at the National Book Festival on Sept. 27 on the National Mall in Washington. More formally she will kick off the Library of Congress’s annual literary series on Oct. 16 by reading her own work. The library doesn’t require much of its laureates, although in recent years many have undertaken projects to broaden poetry’s reach to children and adults. Ms. Ryan has no definite plans, but said she might like to “celebrate the Library of Congress,” adding “maybe I’ll issue library cards to everyone.”"


Monday, July 21, 2008

Annie Dillard on narrative shattering

"The use of narrative collage is particularly adapted to various twentieth-century treatments of time and space. Time no longer courses in a great and widening stream, a stream upon which the narrative consciousness floats, passing fixed landmarks in orderly progression, and growing in wisdom. Instead, time is a flattened landscape, a land of unlinked lakes seen from the air. There is no requirement that the intervals between bits represent equal intervals of elapsed time."

Living By Fiction
, 1982


Monday, July 07, 2008

Orcas Island Writers Festival Sept 4-7

I'm sorry I won't be able to attend the Orcas Island Writers Festival, because the faculty lineup looks great. Not to mention that Orcas is one of my favorite San Juans. Actually, all the San Juans are my favorite. I spent my childhood summers sailing in the San Juans.

See details on the faculty here. Karen Fisher, Matthew Goodman, Sam Green, Diane Leferr, Ellen Lesser, Paul Owen Lewis, and Peggy Shumaker.

Paul Owen Lewis wrote Storm Boy, a fine picture book about NW Coast Indians, with swell drawings.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

"Clapping Girl" by Scott Doyle in Night Train

Check out this short story "Clapping Girl" by my pal Scott Doyle in Night Train.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Frog Leap

I did this correctly, then couldn't get it right, failed, failed again, and then got it again. Warning, for certain personality types, this is highly addictive. Hint: keep the male and female frogs facing each other.
Frog Leap Test.