The thing is, I pantsed my first novel entirely. I survived, the novel sold, it's doing well, I'm proud of the whole endeavor. But I would never (neveThe thing is, I pantsed my first novel entirely. I survived, the novel sold, it's doing well, I'm proud of the whole endeavor. But I would never (never say never) write a novel that way again.
Yet, I can't quite get my head around stitching together an outline in which each scene is planned, the beginning, middle, end a fixed thing, predetermined by process. I know now that each book is its own creature, that the narrative itself determines the process, more than the writer. I will always be a right-brained writer, who lets the spark of creativity and the loosey-goosey nature of intuition guide her hand.
Yet, in teaching writing, I witness the flailing of my students, watch (read, rather) as their stories slip off the rails and tumble into a morass of weak conflict, forgotten goals, and confused POVs. And in helping them rein in their narratives, I recognized the weaknesses in my own.
K.M. Weiland's excellent guide to the novel outline isn't prescriptive. It offers a myriad of ways to approach the organization of thoughts into something that will make it easier for the writer to let her creative juices flow freely. She presents an excellent, really impossible-to-argue-with case for allowing process into the flow.
I used this book recently, in tandem with the outline system I most prefer (Michael Hague's Three Act, Six State Plot Structure in a workshop with my novels-in-progress group and I could just hear the gears clicking into place. Tomorrow we will reconvene and they will present their outlines-in-progress. I can't wait to see how they've grown and what I will learn from them.
Highly recommended, writers, even for-perhaps most particularly for-the die-hard pantser. ...more
Highlights are the exquisite stories by Benjamin Hale, Anne-Laure Zevi, Jensen Beach; Mary Ruefle's breathtaking poetry; and the fascinating interviewHighlights are the exquisite stories by Benjamin Hale, Anne-Laure Zevi, Jensen Beach; Mary Ruefle's breathtaking poetry; and the fascinating interviews with Luc Sante and Robert Caro. So very happy to see the end of The Throwback Special. Now I no longer have to fight the urge to throw my PR at the wall. ...more
A thoroughly engaging read. I felt I'd just had several coffee dates with Gloria, that perhaps I was a reporter or ghost writer, listening to her spilA thoroughly engaging read. I felt I'd just had several coffee dates with Gloria, that perhaps I was a reporter or ghost writer, listening to her spilling her thoughts about her life, the events and people that shaped her personal and political trajectory, and there I was with my triple Americano, scribbling furiously away, trying to capture her words and my thoughts.
Reading My Life on the Road I came away with a deeper understanding of this cultural icon, the woman who is most associated with late 20th century feminism in the United States. But catching someone in their twilight years, who has had nine decades to reflect on and make peace with their place in the world, means that things are polished and tenderly elegiac. I now want to return to her earlier memoirs, to see what grit and awkwardness were present in a younger, less peaceful social justice warrior.
Steinem cleverly frames this memoir with her travels—this allows for tight control of the narrative, a kaleidoscope that shifts into the personal in measured ways. She is beautifully open about her relationship with her parents and her early years; safe territory now that they are decades passed. In addition to the fascinating and achingly raw portrayal of her peripatetic father, the portraits Steinem draws of her close friends and fellow activists Florynce Kelly and Wilma Mankiller are the book's highlights. I loved that she gave so much space and energy to the women who shaped her philosophy and psyche, but because of her itinerant path, I wondered about her heart, her love. She mentions relationships in passing and I respect that a rehash of her romantic life may not have interested her as a writer, but I wanted at least some sense of how she approached physical and emotional solitude.
The narrative is ranging collection of anecdotes, beautifully written and fascinating, and true to the nature of the book, brief stops on the road of this singular life. Steinem has had some uncomfortable moments recently, making tone deaf remarks about the role of race in feminism, seeming not to recognize how feminism without intersectionality is incomplete and grossly unjust. She addresses some of her missteps here, just opening the door to a broader discussion of the changing nature of activism and how she sees feminism playing out in the 21 century. She is content in her second wave. And perhaps at 81, she's earned the right to be. I honor and respect how she has simply never given up, how her warmth and accessibility have drawn in women and men of all identities, toward the goals of women's right to reproductive control, violence against women, and civil rights.
A rewarding read, and I suggest a must-read for those who think feminism is no longer relevant. It is now, more than ever, a cause for all who care about human rights. It's vital to know how we got here. ...more
Mnemosyne, known as Memory, writes to an unseen, unmet Western journalist from her cell in Zimbabwe's notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. SheMnemosyne, known as Memory, writes to an unseen, unmet Western journalist from her cell in Zimbabwe's notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. She has been sentenced to death for the murder of her childhood guardian, Lloyd–a white man to whom her parents handed her off in a diner when Memory was a young girl. Memory is an albino African, a condition that, even after she is treated for its physical pain, leaves deep scars in her psyche. Memory's attempts to define her identity and reason through a family and community that abandoned her lead her beyond Africa and into a redemptive life in Europe. But when she returns to Zimbabwe, disaster in the guise of a horrifying coincidence befalls her and she lands, unwittingly, on death row.
The premise is breathtaking, the execution less so. The epistolary narrative means relying on the memory (a compelling and well-rendered theme) of an unreliable narrator. Much of the first half is devoted to describing daily life in this women's prison, which is worthy of its own novel, but it does crowd out Memory's memories of her childhood and it become difficult to know quite where to focus one's attention. The second half of the novel, where Memory brings the reader into her life after she is sold to Lloyd, is rushed and so many of the events inexplicable and tangential.
Gappah's writing is gorgeous–strong and clear with full-color descriptions and a vivid sensuality that brings every setting, every character to life. The narrative is well-paced and the foreshadowing of deeper, darker secrets—the essential mystery of Memory's relationship with Lloyd and her arrest and conviction—propel the reader forward. The plot is distracted and unsatisfying, but this is still a worthy read for its insights into current Zimbabwe and its wonderfully rendered female characters....more
...beauty in its most completeness is never found in a single body but is something shared instead between more than one body
Ali Smith upends the st
...beauty in its most completeness is never found in a single body but is something shared instead between more than one body
Ali Smith upends the standard binary worldview in this gorgeous, complex, postmodern creation. It's a rare book that leaves me weeping at the end, but this is a rare read, indeed. At once playful and melancholic, absurd and achingly real, How To Be Both transcends boundaries of past and present, life and death, perception and reality—not to mention plot and character—to become something greater than the sum of its two distinct, but intertwined, parts.
One part (I cannot say Part One because half the books were printed with one section leading off, half with, well, the other section) brings us the story of George, a teenager living in present-day Cambridge, England. George, named after the iconic 60s pop song Georgy Girl by The Seekers that reduced a young woman to little more than a pretty bauble, is searingly smart and self-aware, yet so vulnerable. She is navigating the murky waters of grief over the sudden loss of her mother, enigmatic and impulsive Carol. Seeking clues into Carol's psyche in a poignant attempt to connect with her mother, to know her and hold her in a way she could not before her mother's death—because we all take the living for granted, don't we?—George tumbles down the rabbit hole of Ali Smith's imagination.
George stumbles upon her mother's obsessions, including Carol's certainty that she was being monitored (or minotaured, in a delightful turn of phrase and twist of plot) by the government, and a work of art by a little-known Renaissance painter, Francescho del Cossa. Along the way, George develops obsessions of her own, including an internet porn video, which she forces herself to watch every day as a way to honor the young girl victimized by the pornography; and a friendship that grows into puppy love with a classmate, Helene Fisker, known as "H". She also gently leads her dumbstruck father and lonely younger brother through their own labyrinth of grief, while waiting for her house to literally fall down around her.
Although George's story is more immediately engaging, because it is told more or less conventionally, with a touching and tender perspective, it is del Cossa's madcap, meandering, stream-of-consciousness life story that anchors the book to its themes: the subversive power of art, the mutability of gender and sexuality, the way existence spills beyond the frames in which we try to contain it, all the madness and joy that is life, particularly life lived within art.
I like very much a foot,” she says, “or a hand, coming over the edge and over the frame into the world beyond the picture, cause a picture is a real thing in the world and this shift is a marker of this reality: and I like a figure to shift into that realm between the picture and the world just like I like a body really to be present under painted clothes where something, a breast, a chest, an elbow, a knee, presses up from beneath and brings life to a fabric.
I have this little notion, delicious to me, that George and H created del Cossa's narrative, or perhaps she, theirs, as she watches from a remove of 500 years. Or that somehow there was this beautiful melding of minds that melted the time and distance between these two stories, a melding that found purchase in a vibrant, revolutionary work of art.
But art and love are a matter of mouths open in cinnabar, of blackness and redness turned to velvet by assiduous grinding, of understanding the colours that benefit from being rubbed softly one into the other : beyond which there's originality itself, which is what practice is really about in the end and already I had a name for originality, undeniable, and to this name I had a responsibility beyond the answering of the needs of any friend.
Wait, what? you say. That makes no sense. Oh, dear reader. Let go of expectations, convention, allow yourself to be dazzled to the point of bafflement. The double helix of this narrative twists endlessly, spinning in possibility and wonder.
hello all the new bones hello all the old hello all the everything to be made and unmade both ...more
I've been reading Rilke's On Love and Other Difficulties and find myself gasping in recognition at his discourse on the nature of love, lust, desire,I've been reading Rilke's On Love and Other Difficulties and find myself gasping in recognition at his discourse on the nature of love, lust, desire, and how we, the primal creatures that we are, seek to weave all these together into something that resembles a relationship.
At bottom, no one in life can help anyone else in life; this one experiences over and over in every conflict and every perplexity: that one is alone.
And never is one more alone than in the throes of helpless sexual desire–so often confused with love-for someone who cannot, will not, love you in return.
An American teacher, newly arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, meets a broad-shouldered, soft-lipped hustler in the bathroom of the National Palace of Culture and after one intense encounter, spirals into a years'-long obsession that takes shape in series of bleak, psychologically dense and disturbing vignettes.
The American narrator, recounting his story in somber, rueful first person, remains unnamed, but the Bulgarian, in all his pathetic, sensual allure, is known simply as Mitko. Even as the narrator recognizes the impending disaster that he invites in by allowing Mitko access to his body, his heart, his life, desire overcomes reason. The result is hard to read and impossible to look away from.
What Belongs To You is a profound psychological expedition, rendered by a curiously-detached narrator. But stay with this short, brutally intense novel and you will understand this man's need to hold himself at arm's length. His past rises to the surface like a corpse in a swamp thick with sludge and you will understand the self-loathing that makes a man run headlong into more humiliation. Wound upon wound to forget to the pain before.
Greenwell's style is classic, unhurried, rich—a Proustian exploration of the soul. His sentences, some running on in thick blocks broken by the occasional semicolon, are the very antithesis of snappy, ironic prose that seems to be the darling of contemporary literary fiction. The lush styling allows room for the soul to expand, for eroticism to blossom, for the morass of human behavior to suck the reader in and hold her fast.
The narrator tells us, when explaining his inability to become whole:
I know they’re all I have . . . these partial selves, true and false at once, that any ideal of wholeness I long for is a sham.
It's just as Rilke said: in every conflict and every perplexity . . one is alone....more