Archive for ‘About My Novels’

April 18, 2012

As a worder, I appreciate the value in three-dimensional art. Kyushu tells a story here, along with the help of Laurie, The Perpetual Vagabond.

The Perpetual Vagabond

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April 11, 2012

Vanessa Veselka on the Adventure of First-Person Narrative

I’ve switched the points of view of my two latest novels to first person, because it works to bring out the personalities of the main characters. Vanessa Veselka has some good ideas about this and she also points out some good examples to learn from. Here is an excerpt from her interview with Rob Hart. She is the author of Zazen.

Rob Hart: What attracts you to the first-person narrative?

Vanessa Veselka: I love the speed and the edge. It reminds me of what lit did to me when I first started reading. From Dostoyevsky to Melville, Celine—to all the modern classics of identity and manhood like Happy Baby, Fight Club or things like that. It drives. You hear the voice of the narrator and inside that, you hear your own. It’s a drug. What it lacks in sweeping majesty it makes up for in intensity. I like intensity.

RH: Which authors, contemporary or classic, do you believe are exceedingly adept at writing compelling first-person narratives?

VV: I mentioned some of my favorites above, but also The Lover by Marguerite.

Link here:

March 28, 2012

“You can observe a lot by watching”—Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra

I sit in my window in springtime
writing a story about life and death
in World War II. Just past the view
of my notebook is a dogwood tree.
Half its buds are purple, half the blossoms
are pink, half the blossoms are lavender.
There is only one day in a year
the tree shows such color.
Fifteen people walk past it
talking on phones, gazing at feet,
texting friends in far states of mind.
One woman crosses the street to it
and looks around as if surprised
that no one sees a burning bush.
She aims her eyes and camera.
Another in a lavender top
stops and looks into it as if
it’s a mirror:
it is one
and she is one.

March 26, 2012

What Will YouCave Do with All My Non-Information?

Snotting black

Do you struggle with finding enough alone time? Do you secretly resent your friends for all those hours you wasted hanging out with them playing Settlers of Catan?

Have you ever fled to a beach resort, excited for uninterrupted internet usage in the lobby? Were you then dismayed to find your friends’ intrusion continued through the devilish devices of social media? Are you frustrated with how your computer has been transformed from a haven of solitude into a communal nightmare, where even your self-diagnosis for back pain at WebMD can be shared?

Your FaceFriends have the potential to know everything you’re doing online, and soon full disclosure will become mandatory, forced upon us by advertisers and facebook overlords. We will be too busy sharing our favorite brand of toothpaste to realize our white shirts have turned to yellow from body oil because we have sat in our own filth for…

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March 7, 2012

Doerr published her first novel at 74. Never give up.

SONYA CHUNG

7 March 2012

Harriet Doerr, author of the National Book Award winning novel Stones for Ibarra, published that beautiful novel – her first – at the age of 74 (she also went back to college to earn her BA at the age of 65).  She wrote, in a personal essay called “The Tiger in the Grass,” about speaking at a writers’ conference:

I explained my late start as an author after forty-two years of writing “housewife” on my income tax form.  These years without a profession, from 1930 to 1972, were also the years of my marriage.  Hands were raised after my talk, and I answered questions.  The final one was from a woman who assumed, incorrectly, these were decades of frustration.  “And were you happy for those forty-two years?” she asked, and I couldn’t believe the question.  I asked her to repeat it, and she said again…

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March 5, 2012

Is Tardy Son a Young Adult novel? This was asked my by another writer, Kimberly Elkins, after I told her about my novel. I had written most of it already and was on a final rewrite. I never did intend it that way, so I finished it with the same intention, but then took this test she gave me:

Test for “Tardy Son”:

Young adult literature has certain unique features which set it apart. Books for teens are often written in the first person and usually have:
• a teenage protagonist [ YES ]
• adult characters as marginal and barely visible characters [ NO ]
• a brief time span (the story spans a few weeks, yes, a summer, maybe, a year, no) [ YES ]
• a limited number of characters [ NO ]
• a universal and familiar setting [ NO ]
• current teenage language, expressions…

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February 22, 2012

For three minutes of a haunting and brilliant writing listen to Kimberly Elkins’ “Laura Bridgman” on The Drum, an audio literary magazine.

Her flash fiction “Laura Bridgman, the First Famous Blind Deaf-Mute, Aged 59, Upon Meeting Helen Keller, Aged 8” was recorded at The Drum’s Open Mic session at the 2011 Boston Book Festival and appears in the November 2011 issue of The Drum.

Kimberly Elkins’ “Laura Bridgman” offers a fascinating fictionalized account of an actual historical moment. It’s from her newly completed first draft of the novel (Yay, Kim!). As Laura meets the young girl (Keller) who is being groomed to take her place as a celebrity, Bridgman muses on the vagaries of fame and reputation. Elkins’ piece raises interesting questions about the rivalry among the senses (or their loss), and the strange power that can be wielded by disability.

This piece from her novel may either be part of a…

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February 15, 2012

Notes on Being an Artist

How My Writing Frees Itself

A talented young writer recently asked me for some support and I dashed off a letter to her and I tried to explain, just how I, myself, managed to keep working day after day, and year after year. That inspired me to come up with a list of ways I support myself. This is my list:

• The more I become myself as an artist, the less I ask other people how or what I should write.
• What other people think about my writing is not important.
• What I think about my own writing, is not that important.
• Each day I sit down and tell my mind to shut up. I sit quietly for twenty minutes and then write what my inner self guides me to. It asks me to consider very difficult things in my own life, my thinking, and in my memories. That’s as it’s supposed to be.
• I hope my writing is a sharing from my most honest self. If I don’t have that in me, I’ll never share much value as an artist.
• I don’t think being an artist is easy: that I’ve had a difficult life so far, is to my advantage. It’s made me quite human, and that’s all there is to write about anyway.
• An artist’s sensitivity is all he or she is. In one sense a true artist is the bravest kind of person. No one wanted to hear Jesus say “love your enemy,” that was too brave. No one wanted to hear Buddha say: “Give up all your money, the only value is spiritual.” Neither one published anything, but we have to read their words all the time because they got the voice right. It’s an inside job, I’m afraid.
• I look in the mirror and I can tell myself one great fact: “I did not give up on myself—I love that about me.”
• I don’t listen to anyone who tells me what I should do with my art. I don’t even listen to myself, because many of those voices I hear in my head are only echoes of negativity that have been doing their push-ups for many years.
• Be unique, be yourself, be weird, be fabulous. I don’t have to try to do that, I just let myself go.

February 2, 2012

How I Create History within a “Live” Story

How I Create History within a “Live” Story . . . or How I Create a More Intimate Close-Third-Person Point-of-View

I’m rewriting a novel of mine to try to create a style that brings the reader closer to the heart of my story. The story is told in both first-person and third-person point-of-views, using what James Wood calls the “free indirect style,” which is also called “close third-person.” The problem that arose with the story is that there seemed to be too much distance between the first-person narrator and the third-person narrator. In the first case the reader lives in the action and the mind of the main character. In the third-person case my first draft has the narrator standing well back from the present scene and also standing well back in time (as if he was telling stories from his youth, which he is doing as a device for the tale). This works on some level because it’s a historical novel and the “story” is written from the journals of the first-person narrator. On another level, as the story unfolds, there is a disconnect between the “alive-ness” of the story as told by the first-person voice and the dispassionate voice of the third-person narration. The effect produced in this contrast could be almost one of boredom, I’m afraid—that the third-person voice gets in the way of the story.

For me, it is a lot of work to change a mode of writing I’ve used for many years now. It does not seem to come intuitively. At least not yet. I’m removing any judgmental language and I’m removing anything that relates directly to a time-period outside of the action. Is there anything you do in a novel to relate complex action to its time period without sounding like some documentary narrating voice?

January 15, 2012

The Work of Writing and Friends

The Work of Writing and Friends

WORK IS MEMORY: I was reminded by a writer friend of mine today about the struggle to work at writing when it is going poorly or not at all. It is an easy reminder for me because mine has not been going well recently. You can tell by my increased attention to my website here. I was also reminded by an opinion piece in The Times. Susan Cain writes: “One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone—and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” What did help me today was offering my time to help her by remembering my own experience earlier in my own career.

WORK IS PRACTICE: The best thing you can do is show up for it every day, because like any art, much of it takes place between sessions at the page and much of it takes place in the subconscious. I just wrote a paragraph about my main character in my Cuban novel where he imagines that his skin has turned dark overnight. It’s actually the first night he spends together with Tesora, and the vision signifies to him how shallow his prejudice against Africans had been: his mind is blown and his skin is now brown.

WORK IS CRITICISM: Yes, it’s hard to take criticism, but writing is a form of conversation, so feedback is important. Someone once said that whenever someone tells you a piece of your writing doesn’t work, the critic is probably right—at the same time that person, when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. You must stick to that inner self who knows the truth, whatever that is. Take time to sit quietly every day to listen to your inner voice (don’t worry if it sounds exactly like silence). No one can read the vision behind the piece you write.

WORK IS LISTENING: And to show up every day, is also to be a part of that audience yourself. You change and your point of view changes a bit every day, so you can be a better critic for yourself. One of my critics, a young Japanese woman, who writes urban fantasy, is someone I picked who would be far from my own point of view, certainly. She expects a whole different thing from writing—more present-tense action. Me, I think action is best emphasized by pauses, like music uses it to produce rhythm and cadence. I still enjoy reading books who were born in the 1800s. Plus, I have a propensity to enjoy and accomplish a certain lyricism. I enjoy reading it, and I enjoy creating it, too. So way to hang in there, writers: who told you writing was easy?  It’s simple enough; you just stare at the page until blood forms on your forehead: no problem.

WORK IS COLLABORATING: Writing with a partner right there at your side can be helpful too. For a whole year, once a week, I trekked down to the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library and met a friend and we both wrote for a few hours and then had tea to congratulate each other. It was a wonderful way to learn how to show up for the work. Writing regularly helps you to feel good about yourself, even when that time is not a big number. Other things always get in the way: keep writing and feel good about that. I wrote much of one novel commuting on a bus, surrounded by black high school kids yelling and blasting music. At first I thought it would be impossible to write like that, but then it just became part of my routine like the Boston Public Library. Years later it gave me the idea for my last novel with the plot involving a Scottish boy marooned in an all-African Cuban town. Did you ever hear the phrase, “acceptance is the answer to all my problems”? That also applies to writing as well.

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