Earth hard as concrete
beneath my feet and the wind
I’ve long loved poetry, but – despite the usual embarrassing teenage attempts – I’ve never much written it. I guess that unfortunate teenage poetry stayed with me; I didn’t want to revisit what I’d written then, and it didn’t really occur to me that (of course) what I would write now would be different.
This changed in 2015. I can’t remember where the idea came from, but in mid-March I embarked on a plan to write a poem a day for thirty days. It was funny timing: my poem-a-day month included the first part of April, National Poetry Month, which I didn’t know when I began; and I discovered, too, that there were others doing poem-a-day.
I learned a few things in doing poem-a-day. First, the only way (for me) to do this was to give up any attachment to the poems being any good. A lot of the poems I wrote in this period were as bad as those I wrote as a teenager.
But I also discovered that – like drawing – writing poetry made me really look at the world around me; it drew me to actively observe rather than passively receive.
And I found, too, that words and rhythm came more easily with practice. I started by writing haiku, because it is short and I knew how. The more I wrote, the more my language naturally came out in 5/7/5. When I decided to try other formats, towards the end of my month, the consciousness of rhythm transferred easily to those as well.
I didn’t stick with poem-a-day after my 30 days were up, but I did keep writing poetry. Mostly it’s still not very good. But the practice of writing it has given me so many gifts, I cannot give it up.
Holidays are when I catch up on my pleasure reading. I have a big stack of things to read over the next two weeks (and can’t wait to do so). But here are a few of the books I read and enjoyed earlier this year, in no particular order.
Warning: this list is almost certainly incomplete. I should probably start doing periodic lists of stuff I’ve recently enjoyed, if only to keep track of what I’ve been reading for myself….
- Tales from Rugosa Coven, by Sarah Avery – This book consists of three connected novellas about a group of early 21st century Wiccans in New Jersey, and it is awesome.
- Last Song Before Night, by Ilana C. Meyer – This is the kind of fantasy that normally would be a little “high” for me, but the world and music sucked me right in.
- Uprooted, by Naomi Novik – I read this in Warsaw, appropriately enough; it’s got a gorgeous Polish-inspired setting.
- Serpentine, by Cindy Pon – a beautiful Chinese-inspired tale with female friendship at its core.
- The Snow Globe, by Jenna Nelson – a young woman from an alternate Victorian London finds herself in a snow globe. Fun fantasy (and dare I say, perfect for the holidays?)
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (see also the Q&A with Scott, here) – I wrote about this when I first read it back in July, so here I’ll just say I’m a sucker for evil librarian stories.
- Our Lady of the Ice, by Cassandra Rose Clarke – recently finished this one too. A PI takes on a gangster in an alternate-history Antarctic enclosed world.
- Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly – Veronica Mars-style caper in the oh-so-aptly named town of River Heights, NY. The whole book is full of nods to those of us who grew up on teenage sleuths – and it is super-fun to boot!
- Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose – Novel in verse about the Lost Colony. Rose was prescient, it turns out, given recent archaeological news about the Lost Colony…
- A Daughter of No Nation, by A.M. Dellamonica – I loved Child of a Hidden Sea; this is a sequel, and though normally I am not a big fan of sequels I loved this book as much as the first.
“Well, I believe there’s no failure, there’s just feedback. . And if you’re a growth mindset person then you take the feedback, and you learn from it and you get better. It doesn’t mean you tell everybody about what you’re learning and tell everybody that you failed at your game. I don’t think you have to do that, but privately and internally in this locker room we have a group that looks at ourselves in the mirror and if it’s not working, they’re honest, I’m honest – we change it and correct and we’re not naïve.”
Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, after winning the MLS Cup (http://www.timbers.com/post/2015/12/06/quotes-notes-columbus-crew-sc-1-portland-timbers-2-2015-mls-cup)
“And I see this paper of yours as a kind of reaching out,” Gram said. “….I’m not saying that’s what you thought you were doing or what you even wanted to do. But it’s how it turned out. And I’m sorry, the way it turned out. Because somebody’s slapped your hand back good and hard. But I don’t want you to stop reaching, just because it didn’t come out the way it should have.”
From Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voigt
My writing has slowed in weeks past. I knew it would come: the school year has begun again, and finding time has thus become more of a challenge. But I have been writing – I’m in the final third now, and for the first time I (think) I know what actually happens at the climax.
I’m not a true pantser – I outline, I have some sense of the story before I start writing – but I never know the story in full before the end of the first draft. In the case of this particular work, I always knew how things ended (or will end, since I’m not there yet), but I wasn’t sure of the events that made that ending possible. Now I think I do know all the major events – at least, the major events in the action plot. This feels good, and like significant progress.
But I still don’t know the events of what Cheryl Klein would call the emotional plot. Today, for instance, one of my characters threw a total emotional wrench in my MC’s plans (and mine too).
It was unexpected. It will require revisiting a lot of what happened earlier in the book when I revise. There are many downsides to this having happened.
But – honestly? – it’s also kinda awesome. I love this feeling of being surprised, when I write as much as when I read.
Last week I posted about reading (and enjoying) The Library at Mount Char. Author Scott Hawkins was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, providing (among other things) some thoughts on fantasy libraries, a recipe I can’t wait to try, and advice for librarians engaged in power struggles at work. Thanks for the great answers, Scott!
I think of it as fantasy, but ‘speculative fiction’ works too. I was a little surprised to see that some people think of it as ‘horror.’ I mean, that’s fine, think of it however you want, I just wasn’t expecting it. I knew that there were horror elements, of course, but I miscalculated the degree to which some people found them disturbing. I thought I had the horror dial turned up to maybe 5 or 6 out of 10, but based on the reactions it seems like it was more a 7 or 8.
A couple of years ago I stumbled upon this blog post. For those of you who don’t want to click through, the gist of it is that many novel-writers get stuck around the 30k word mark.
When I first read it, I was in the midst of writing my first novel. Or maybe I should say, figuring out how to write my first novel (I wound up rewriting it four times; I read the blog post partway through my second rewrite). 30k didn’t seem any worse (or any better) than the rest of it; and because I was doing so much rewriting I would have been hard-pressed to figure out when I was at this point anyway. I wondered if this was my “process” (ha ha) or if, once I was a little more experienced, I too would hit the 30k wall.
I’m currently writing my third book and second novel. I didn’t have any problems at 30k with my second book (which was non-fiction) but I have just, after several grueling weeks of little progress, made it past 30k with the third. I know a lot more about writing longer works now than I did with that first book. Is that why 30k gave me trouble this time? Or is this book simply different, and my relationship with it particular to its needs?
I recently finished debut author Scott Hawkins‘ book The Library at Mount Char, and I really enjoyed it. This wasn’t a surprise to me – everything I’d read about the book made me think I’d like it! – but I wasn’t expecting it to be funny.
My saying it’s funny probably reveals something about me, since a more obvious characteristic is that it’s terrifying (some have called it horror; see Cory Doctorow’s review, for instance). But I found a lot of dark humor in this book. I spent much of it laughing out loud while simultaneously gripping the binding, unable to put it down – a combination really hard to pull off, at least in my experience.
Whether you think it’s funny or not, The Library at Mount Char is definitely a page-turner. It’s perfect summer reading.
Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece for the New Mexico SCBWI’s 2nd annual “Enchantment” show – a collaborative project between writers and illustrators. I love the Enchantment concept – illustrators create an image inspired by the show theme, which is then assigned to a writer, who writes a (no more than 1-page) piece in response (this article describes last year’s show).
The 2015 theme was “Play.” I received my assigned illustration in May; after much wrestling, what came to the surface for me was a poem. I haven’t written poetry as anything other than a writing exercise for twenty years, so this was a little frightening. But the challenge of writing it, of polishing and revising to make it the best it could be, was exactly what I needed. It allowed me to get back into writing.
Here is my finished piece (gulp):
Along the Red Clay Road
Along the red clay road we go.
We gallop forward, we do not slow –
Our arms enlaced, with matching stride –
Our song, it will not be denied!
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no….
The sun is our companion, though
it is not constant; night does always follow
day. But through the dark we do abide
Along the red clay road.
Hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no!
We’re crossing to the other side –
We’ll leave behind the tears we’ve cried –
They were so long ago
Before the red clay road.
The Enchantment show hangs from July 1 – 31 at the Los Griegos branch of the Albuquerque Public Library. If you are in the Albuquerque area, I highly recommend stopping by before it closes!