Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

The kids are back in school. The dog has gone back to her full time occupation - sleeping on the couch. And I have the freedom to obsess about writing once again.


I've hunkered down with John Gardner the last couple of days. Writer/professor/Breadloaf speaker, most known for his nonfiction works on writing skills - The Art of Fiction and On Moral Fiction. I am in an MFA program. There will be challenging (read, it makes my brain hurt to try and understand) craft reading. John has tried his best to teach me what it means to be a true writer. To delve deeply for Truth, Beauty and the Good. Between you and me, I think I tend more toward that nebulous line he draws between the mad and the artist. I mean who isn't when -

You might be a writer if you revise everything, including your clothing.

It's true!

Just yesterday, I found myself in a day long outfit revision. It's not entirely my fault. I've been presented with unusual dressing conditions. It is normally in the 90s this time of year in Oklahoma. Not this year. We saw the low 50s this morning. The low 50s! This has forced us sunshine worshippers into the murky realm of "layering." You know, a t-shirt, sweater, maybe a jacket, all to be peeled away as the day warms up. Northerners are pro. True artists. Not so much those of us in down below the frost border.

Shivering but still fully in John-Gardner-delve-deeper-to-find-Truth,-Good-and-Beauty mode, I did not grab the first thing I saw (a wool sweater) but delved deeply to find my Truth about the art of cool weather dressing. I ended up with a dark memory of northern German dressing practices. I lived in northern Germany for 5 years. Number one rule when living right on the Baltic Sea where it is constantly windy and cool - wear a scarf. It's an absolute must.

I pulled out a scarf.

The problem was, because I was still sort of in summer mode, I pulled out a very thin (as in narrow) scarf. I threw it casually around my neck, grabbed my leather jacket (another northern German must provided it's not raining. That calls for fleece-lined oilskin jackets) and went out to walk the dog.

Because the scarf was so narrow, it wasn't exactly keeping my neck warm. So, I tried wrapping it snugly and knotting it on one side. Much better. My neck was warm. And it looked good.

But now the necklace I was wearing suddenly seemed superfluous. An adverb made redundant by a good verb. Off came the necklace.

Which, of course, meant I needed to change the earrings.

That made the background all wrong. I changed shirts.

The jeans stayed, though. I didn't edit out everything...exactly.

But the shoes definitely had to go (No, I was not trying to get away from revisions on actual writing yesterday...much). The tied scarf's, how shall I say...French sophistication called for much snazzier shoes than the sneakers I'd thrown on. So I changed shoes.

Finally, it was perfect. Ready for the world to see.

Which makes it sort of ironic that I was at home alone. I had created an Emily Dickinson outfit. Flawless but never to be seen until posthumously.

Hold on.

Does that mean I need to revise my will now too?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Out on Good Behavior

The ivory tower is granting me a one day pass to go out and see the real world. The things good behavior will get you!


I'm being let out to speak at Oklahoma's school librarian conference, EncycloMedia. I'm excited. Thrilled. And a little nervous. Okay... a lot nervous. I'll be out with real people. I have to talk. I have to talk intelligently, in complete sentences, with no editing, about my middle grade novel, Dragon Wishes. I have to sound like I do this regularly. But all I've done for weeks now is sit in the ivory tower with my imaginary friends - and a few dead writers - and write. My social skills have sort of fallen by the wayside. Ask my kids. My husband. My dog, even.

Fortunately, should my skills waver, I'll be in amazing company and so hopefully no one will notice. I'm speaking with Eileen Cook, What Would Emma Do, Cynthea Liu, Paris Pan Takes the Dare, Jenny Meyerhoff, Third Grade Baby, and Suzanne Morgan Williams, Bull Rider.

We're followed the next day by P.J. Hoover, The Navel of the World, Jessica Anderson, Border Crossing, Barrie Summy, I So Don't Do Spooky, Donna St. Cyr, The Cheese Syndicate, and Zu Vincent, The Lucky Place.

Beforehand, we're being interviewed for a televised program that the Metropolitan Library of Oklahoma broadcasts throughout the state. Please, please, please let my hair cooperate so that I look like someone who actually styles her hair every once in a while, rather than pulling it back in a haphazard ponytail because dead writers and fictitious characters don't care what your hair looks like. And after that, there is a luncheon with librarians. Gulp. Can I carry on a coherent conversation for a whole hour? Or will I get that far off, I-have-an-idea look and start scribbling on my napkin? Librarians will understand if I do, right?

Maybe after all of that real world experience, I'll be ready to lock myself away in the ivory tower again, but I have a feeling, it'll be the other way around. I used to be a pretty social person, some time in the distant past...I think. Either way, I think that seeing, talking and interacting in a spontaneous way with real live people who don't need me to edit their dialogue could be, what's the word?

Oh wait, I know...FUN!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sleeping with the...Scorpions?

I couldn't help but break with my regular, frenetic, MFA writing/studying routine to post about this. I was lying in bed the other night (reading frenetically, of course). Where the Red Fern Grows. A classic I've avoided because it suffers from the painful dead dog syndrome, actually two dead dogs. But, in the name of higher education, I'd decided to tackle it.

I was just getting to the good part where Billy catches his first coon. He races back to the farm to tell his family. He's screaming and jumping and hooting and hollering. He's so worked up, his mother thinks he's been bitten by a snake. She drops everything and runs to help him.

When she discovers it's not a snake bite at all but a captured raccoon, she threatens to give Billy a sound thrashing.

Pretty exciting stuff, right?

Now add to that that this story takes place in the back country of the Ozark mountains in northeastern Oklahoma, about an hour and a half from where I live. As close to home as it gets, really. Plus, it's nighttime. The kids are in bed. I'm alone. With the dog. And I'm reading about snakes. Yeessh.

Something tickles my arm. I reach over to brush it off, thinking my imagination is really getting the better of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something scurry off across my bed. I bolt upright. I look.

It's a scorpion.

"Holy Sh**!"

At least, I think that's what I said. I was busy rocketing out of my bed as far away from the scorpion as possible. Practically hyperventilating, I dash to the phone and call my dad. Yes, I'm five again, tops, and hoping my father can fix it all. His advice: Kill it.

Gulp. I have to kill a scorpion. In. My. Bed.

Sorry, Wilson Rawls, but now Where the Red Fern Grows not only suffers from the dead dog syndrome but also the dead scorpion one too. After I'd beaten the scorpion very very flat, I called my husband and told him he had to come home right now.

When he finally got home and found me, a shell-shocked bundle of jumpy nerves huddled up under a blanket upstairs on the sofa as far away from my bed and any other scorpions that might be lurking, he had a hard time taking me seriously. In his defense, I must have been a comical sight, only I didn't feel a comical sight. I wanted sympathy. Indignation. Deadly, bug-killing chemicals.

But my husband is from Germany. They don't have scorpions. He doesn't get the whole, "They can hurt you" factor. To make matters worse, he is a Scorpio. He joked that I shouldn't have smashed one of his family members. Ugh.

Seeing as I was not going to get the needed overdose of understanding and sympathy from him, I called my girlfriend down the street, who hates bugs, ALL bugs. Okay, so maybe that was a little selfish, but I needed a lifeline! My friend really rose to the occasion. She listened. She was sympathetic. Indignant. Offered bug-killing chemicals. But in the end, there were two of us not sleeping that night.

Many many dollars later (I called the bug guy out to douse the house; so did my poor friend), it is safe to say, the only scorpio(n) I've slept with for many nights now is my husband...I hope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Book Review Club - Weedflower

by Cynthia Kadohata
ISBN: 978-1-4169-7566-3

It has been a whole month since my last post. I blame it all on my MFA program. I can't quite seem to eek enough time out of the 24 hours allotted to us mortals per day. Just two more hours! Just two. I could get it all done...I think.

Nevertheless, I've taken a break in frantic learning for Barrie Summy's amazing Book Review Club. I wouldn't miss this for anything, not even sleep. So here goes, Weedflower.

One of the most stirring Supreme Court cases I read while teaching constitutional limitations was the 1941, U.S. vs. Korematsu, which posed that the U.S. government had violated the civil rights of Japanese-Americans who were forced by the government into internment camps during World War II. The Supreme Court ruled that while the U.S. government had violated its citizens’ rights, the state of war the country found itself in outweighed those rights and made the internment legal.

This background knowledge and prior, personal conflict with the legal aspects of internment made Kadohata’s novel all the more moving for me. It was rewarding, albeit hard, to step into the emotions of what internment must have felt like. Through the eyes of eleven year old Sumiko, Kadohata does an amazing job of showing what it was like for Japanese Americans during this excruciating time. Fear, exhaustion, broken families, paranoia, unusual friendships, the slow rebuilding of a productive, hard-working immigrant population, the uncertainty of starting all over again, bravery, loyalty, love of family and land. It's all in here, deftly woven together in a luminous tale.

The craft aspect of this book I enjoyed the most was that I was not sure where or how the story would end. Would Sumiko and her family ever get out of the camp? Would the war last ten years? By staying very close to Sumiko and her feelings in a Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich kind-of-way, Kadohata powerfully conveys the endlessness of internment and uncertainty of the Japanese plight during WW II.I was on the edge of my seat to the very end. And when the novel was over, I was left thinking long and hard about why it ended the way it did. The ending begs for discussion.

This is a book to learn from. To enjoy stylistically. To get lost in. I really loved it.

For other great reads, hop over to our fearless leader's website and meander through the rich panoply of choices. That pile next to my night stand grows exponentially each month. I hope yours does too!