Posted in Reading & Writing

I Should Be NaNoWriMo-ing…

It’s November third, which means it’s day three of NaNoWriMo: what you might call a literary event, held every year, in which hundreds (thousands?) of writers sit down for a couple hours a day all November long and try to crank out a novel (or, at least, 50,000 words). It’s a task I’ve tried twice and completed once, both a long, long time ago. The time I “won” (they love their supportive and potentially over-the-top language on the NaNoWriMo site), I never ended up finishing the novel (even if 50,000 words were a full novel draft, which it ain’t, a first draft is not a finished product, I don’t care who you are), though I worked on it for a couple years after that. The novel I eventually did end up completing, which is in my agent’s (and several potential publishers’–eek! wish me luck!) hands at the moment, was the product of maybe five years all together, writing connected stories, figuring out my character, cobbling things together–about as opposite as you can get from the NaNoWriMo model. Because as much as people will tell you to spit out the first draft quickly and then fix it up later, that’s not how I work. New ideas come to me. I reroute and redirect. I comb through the old before I try to untangle the new.

So that’s why I’m NaNoWriMo-ing. Because it’s not me. Because I never work from an outline or spit things out quickly or write without looking back. And I will not cave to all those who would say that’s a bad thing, but I do believe that writers need to keep trying new things. I don’t want to write the same story over and over again, so why should I always write the same way? So this time, I have an outline (at least, through two-thirds of the book–plus a pretty good idea of the ending), and I’m plugging away during my baby’s naps and after the kids are sleeping and whatever stolen moments I need. And I’m already feeling the old urge to polish up the sentences before moving on but I won’t do it. Instead, I’m taking to the internet to publicly remind myself of why I’m doing this and how it is to be done.

That wast three hundred and seventy-nine words. Do they count toward my total?

Posted in Reading & Writing

Among the Dead and Dreaming by Samuel Ligon

dreaming

I recently finished reading an exciting, sharply written novel that made me remember, even in my five-month postpartum, sleep-deprived and mommy-brained state, just how much I love reading. It’s called Among the Dead and Dreaming, it’s by Samuel Ligon, and you should go buy a copy immediately.

(Before I continue with my recommendation, I should tell you: Sam Ligon was my professor in grad school. My thesis adviser, actually. One of my favorite teachers of all time and a super-cool human being who would hate the fact that I just hyphenated “super-cool.” You might think that this–except, perhaps, for his hatred of hyphens–would mean that my reading of his book is completely biased and that you shouldn’t listen to anything I say about his work. You would be wrong. Because I respect him too much to lie about his work. If I didn’t like this novel, I would simply refrain from writing about it.)

So. Among the Dead and Dreaming.

I think what impressed me most about this book is the incredible balance between prose and plot. The story is told by a large number of first-person narrators, each of whom maintains a distinctive voice whether he or she is a central character or only chimes in once. It begins with the deaths of Kyle and Cynthia, and follows the aftermath of their passing alongside the story of Nikki (Kyle’s girlfriend at the time of his demise) and Burke, the psychotic brother of her long-dead ex. At times the narrative style, broken into so many monologues, is downright poetic, with input from characters such as Nikki’s dead mother and Cynthia’s unborn fetus. Then again, as the tension heightens, it’s almost pulp fiction–really really really well-written pulp fiction. I don’t want to give away any of the plot, so I’ll just tell you that it will pull you through it, and you might be impressed by some of Sam’s syntactical footwork along the way.

If you’re looking to read something intense and darkly romantic, read this book. If you enjoy smart prose, read this book. If you don’t mind reading a book by someone who eschews hyphenation whenever possible, even though certain phrases obviously benefit from a hyphen, read this book.

You should probably buy it, too. Give my professor his royalties, you know?

Posted in Reading & Writing

My MFA in Fiction (in 1600 words)

I had one real goal when I decided to get my MFA in fiction: to meet other writers. I knew that, in time (and with a lot of practice), I could most likely polish my work to publishable on my own. There are lots of books on crafts, lots of beautiful work from which to take inspiration, and I was in the position to spend a lot of time at my computer. The problem was, my main feedback was from my mother. My husband read my work but he never criticized, only praised. I needed some more expert, or at least informed, opinions. I also needed to talk about writing. I needed to talk about books, and get recommendations from something other than Goodreads. This was worth enough to me that, to complete my degree, I split my time between two towns, an hour and a half apart, living in two different apartments, driving on country roads in all kinds of weather.

The problem is, I’m not very good with people. I don’t always understand social norms and large groups sap my energy. Also, my imagination sometimes betrays me. When I imagined the group of writers I’d be at school with, I thought of hunched and surly introverts, people who’d seen the glow of their computer screens far more than they’d seen the sun, people who lived more inside their minds than in the real world. Not that I exactly fit that description, myself. But I didn’t expect a group of fun-loving extroverts. At the very least, I didn’t expect them to throw a Welcome-to-Grad-School barbecue at a lake.

I went, but I was terrified. Continue reading “My MFA in Fiction (in 1600 words)”

Posted in Reading & Writing

During the Evacuation

I went to AWP for the first time this year (being that it was in Seattle and I live just 20 minutes north of the convention center, I thought it would be stupid not to) and there I met some very nice gentlemen representing a very cool online lit journal called The Stoneslide Corrective. I submitted a story and have the great honor of telling you that they accepted it, and it is now live on their website! Check it out:

During the Evacuation

A little background on the idea for the story:

In 1994, I lived in a little town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains called Big Creek. One summer’s day, when some nearby powerhouse workers had neglected to clear the brush around the transformers, a squirrel got into the works, got electrocuted, and caught fire. The little fellow ran off into the brush and set the forest on fire. Hundreds of acres burned, with the fire coming right up to my family’s (and many of our neighbors’) property lines. We were evacuated. I thought I might write about that.