Posts Tagged With: fiction

restoration ecology

A year of big changes, many of them good, has meant stretching in unexpected ways. Experiencing an emptier, quieter household after sending a kid off to college. Becoming busier as an educational consultant. Listening to a body that seemed drawn to injury for the better part of three seasons. Learning about what it means to be a good bee “mama” over winter when we lost both hives (and were left with 60+ pounds of surprising, delicious honey).

There’s more that’s not worth reporting here, and there was enough of it that my fiction life is one I threw under the bus. Often, I write in spite of frustration and anger, but not this year.

Still, I’m always writing in my head, and I’m hoping now that I’ve sat down again to make words, those stories I’ve been percolating about will present themselves. I’m hoping they’ll turn up, ready to show me what they’ve been up to after being kept from the page. Not unlike all those jars of honey we’ve processed which was meant to feed bees through the winter and instead feeds us.

While I dive in to crafting new stories, I’m grateful and delighted about an old story new to world at Sundog Lit.

You can read it here.

Sundog’s editors helped shape this piece and encourage me to see what I couldn’t, and I’m honored, thrilled, and tickled they said yes.

Advertisements
Categories: fiction, publishing, short story, writing | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

on being tender

Most days, these days, I count to 5 before I read the news. While I’m counting, I ask myself if my time would be better spent reaching out to someone or engaging in joyful pursuit. Or both. Not that I’ve put my head in the sand. Far from it. But I’m interested these days in boundaries that also allow for light. There’s a long, troubling haul ahead culturally, and sustenance for the fight, for me, is going to come from remembering both my impermanence and the importance of celebrating tiny, fierce, joyful things.

I’ve been thinking all week, since my book group meeting, about Brian Doyle.

I first met writer Brian Doyle through the pages of Orion magazine, where his pieces made me giggle and want to read them aloud or memorize them or lean into my husband and whisper them. Delicious series of words that tongue-twist and whirl and leap. “21 Laws of Nature as Interpreted by My Children” reminds we humans not to get too big for our britches: “If you can’t make a new ant, don’t kill an old one,” reads #20. “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever” pokes fun at the preachy earnestness of environmental writing, which so often bludgeons readers with stridency and dire prognostication.

Here’s his last paragraph from that essay:

“And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor, and a hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of espresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but rivetingly there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat.”

Doyle’s writing’s often silly, unwieldy as Faulkner, and this side-door play with language works like a water mark you can see when you hold the artifact up to the light, or a flavor you can taste hours later. That kind of fun with words piques curiosity, keeps you reading.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of his novel Mink River, a book I read faster than I wanted to and stayed up late to do it a few nights running, aware that such fast tour through the pages was a disrespect to the writer’s deft ability to make prose read like poetry. Mostly, when I consider Doyle’s work, I think of the word wonder. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to infuse his characters and their perspectives with an awe about living most of us seem to miss, busy as we are with the big problems, the minutiae, the plans and goals and hiccups.

Time with Doyle always makes me realize that in this short stint of living, I’d be better served to use wonder as my lens. There’s a choice about perspective, after all, and sometimes choice takes both purpose and a bit of work.

I recommended Martin Marten as my book group’s February read. The same friend who sent me Mink River gifted me Martin Marten in early summer as my son was about to leave home for college. It was the perfect gift, and I read it in the hammock in the week before we delivered Owen to his new chapter. Doyle’s story was a reminder that sending a kid out into the world is a new chapter for parents, too; when anyone you love peels off on his own path, he’s both inextricably bound to the place from where he’s come and forever separate in a new way. Both joy and sadness can set up shop next to each other in one’s heart, and that’s the vital rub of living.

Martin Marten, about a boy called Dave, his family, and the colorful collection of characters in their small Mt. Hood town of Zig Zag, Oregon (a town below where I’ve spent some time skulking about in the woods, a magical place), is another testament to Doyle’s wondrous outlook, to his fine ear and artful craft, to his bedrock sense that the world is a brief, glorious journey, and that the people along for the ride with us are full of wonder, too, even if they are also simultaneously curmudgeonly, or afraid, or confused. The novel unspools the twin coming-of-age of Dave, the boy, and Martin, the pine marten, and their stories weave and flirt together and apart as they’re both tossed and turned in life and love.

Dave’s younger sister is as precocious as any child you’ll meet in fiction. But I didn’t mind her ability to so candidly talk about feelings or her spatially gifted genius. Her words to her brother – the same words that ring long after the story is over – are to “be tender.”

Could there be any better words to adopt as your theme song? Especially now, when most days it feels like tenderness is a fleeting impulse, with so much hateful rage and fear on the wind.

A few years ago Brian and I both had stories published in the same journal, and I ginned up the courage to email him and tell him what a fan I was. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he emailed me back within a few hours with genuine enthusiasm and his signature silly swirl of language. Neither too important nor too busy to respond, despite his much more impressive publications. His swift, embracing tone of collegiality is something I’ll remember always and work to pay forward, too.

Our book group meetings always involve a writer review, and a friend came this week prepared to share Doyle’s accomplishments in fiction and essays, his background and family story, and his working life as editor of Portland Magazine. This story isn’t all about joy: I didn’t know until this week that Doyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November. He had surgery a few weeks ago and is recovering in the hospital after a complicated procedure that’s made post-surgery complicated, too, not to mention survival.

In Martin Marten, Dave spends a good bit of time exploring the “Daveness” of being Dave. In a note to his readers in the days before surgery, The “Doyleness” of Doyle sounds an awful lot like the character he built for us, so full of light:

“stories are holy and nutritious and crucial. Stories change lives; stories save lives. … They crack open hearts, they open minds…It’s more important than ever before to hold hands and catch and share stories of substance and grace and defiant courage and irrepressible humor…The alternative is to ‘allow nothing in our lives but sales pitches and lies.’”

“We could change the world if we told the right story,” Doyle said. 

Indeed.

I hope, Brian, that you can feel me hugging you from here with defiant tenderness. That you can hear my stories rising up with the stories of so many others.

Doyle Family Support Fund.

 

Categories: book review, books, community, family, fiction, nature, publishing, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

stories in the world

Much gratitude to JuxtaProse for including “Shelter in Place” in a recent issue. They were amazing to work with, and I’m thrilled to be invited to the party of authors they assembled. You can read that piece here.

Volume-4-Cover-Stretch

If you’re not sick of me after that, you can check the most recent book review of Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Water Knife here.

TheWaterKnife-PaoloBacigalupi-201x300

Thanks, always, for checking in to this space. I aim to end the year writing, the same as I began it, and to make a dent in the pile of books I can’t wait to get lost in. Here’s to stories of all kinds and the way they shore us up in hard times, plant the seeds of change, and inspire us to be better humans.

 

 

Categories: book review, books, fiction, short story | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

theft

From time to time I’ll be reviewing books at the Kudzu Vine, the blog associated with Kudzu House Quarterly, where I’m also a reader. This month I had the pleasure of reading and writing about BK Loren’s debut novel Theft.

bkloren.com

bkloren.com

Loren’s a skillful craftsman, a thoughtful environmentalist, a damn good storyteller. She’s also published Animal, Mineral, Radical: A Flock of Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food, and she’s a frequent contributor in the pages of Orion Magazine. You can read her “Dreaming in Dirt” in those pages here.

I’m delighted to occupy the planet with a writer paying attention to the tussle between people and place in all the right ways. The publishing editor of her first book told Loren she wrote like she was “raised by wolves.” Which seems about right.

 

Categories: book review, publishing, writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

saltfront

 

saltfront cover - Issue 3

saltfront cover – Issue 3

Deepest gratitude to the editors at saltfront for including me in Issue 3. It’s hot off the presses and gorgeous.

Out of Salt Lake, ecological storytelling is this journal’s jam. I’m thrilled they said yes to my story “The Leaving Half.” About a Japanese-American girl working at a gas station mini-mart across the street from a pulp mill, the story’s also about loss and love, destruction and preservation.

Sorry online readers, to read Issue 3 means buying these pages and treating yourself to some really lovely poetry, art, and fiction. I promise supporting this small band of literary soldiers will be worth it.

Here’s a teaser:

More than this, there was his art sprung from the skins of what he purchased at the Timber Mart.  The plastic triangular casings from pre-made refrigerated sandwiches. Little Debbies or gum or hamburger wrappers.  Unsettling at first, the found objects that boomeranged back to her, origamied as fish or birds, others cut and collaged into tiny landscapes.  Most she carried to her apartment and staged on the bookshelf opposite her futon couch, where she could sit and examine his puzzling presence.  On tender days when she felt most alone, she’d rearrange the tableau of his art.  Tug gently on the folded wings of the birds, willing them to fledge and soar above her, their flight a glorious transformation, weightless.

 

 

 

Categories: fiction, publishing, short story, writing | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

fog

This winter, a relentless inverted fog has shrouded our valley. We are weeks into this trend; I’ve stopped paying much attention to the forecast which, according to our weather folk, is simply: “Gray.”

From the table where I write, the black relief of deciduous trees against a white surround looks like the smoky aftermath of war.

To find sun I could drive up out of the inversion to four or five thousand feet.  Many people do this. Above the white sea of our valley cars line the shoulder, their drivers standing next to the road with faces turned to the light.  Up there I’ve seen picnickers on the hoods of cars, games of hacky sack, lawn chairs with umbrellas. On weekends, a driver bound for the very top of the mountain must aim, not unlike Tour de France riders in the mountain stages, through this carnival gauntlet of parked sun-seekers.

But I don’t much seek the sun. Truthfully, I’m delighted about the inversion. With little temptation to go outside, it’s easier to keep my butt in the chair and work. Soon, it’ll be gardening season, a hard set of months on fiction.

It’s not for wimps, this writing life.  Solitary. Time-consuming. Hard emotional work.  Craziness. Spending so much time with magical people sometimes makes me feel less adept at communicating with the real ones. Recently I left the house (late, always late) wearing two different shoes and only noticed once I stood waiting in line at the post office. There is never enough time. I struggle to reconcile the insistent knocking to create against the inherent selfishness of world-making.

Today, my house is filthy. The refrigerator is beginning to look like an artifact from a college dorm.  Plenty of condiments, some moldy cheese, and something in a Tupperware container no one can identify. There’s a pile of laundry – neglected, growing. My daughter has no pants that fit and can’t drive herself to the store to get ones that do, she reminds me. We discussed her clothing quandary long enough to make her late to school this morning. Also, there was nothing to put in her lunch, she told me as she got out of the car.  Can’t you please go to the market before you work?

She’s on to me.

On the way home from school I scratched out a list of life chores.  If I raced through them first, I’d have time to write and then everyone would win, at least for today.

I started a load of laundry, hauled out the vacuum cleaner, and then got distracted by a text from a friend who’d shared a clip of Bill Moyers interviewing Louise Erdrich in April of 2010. Here ’tis:

Lovely and humble as ever, Erdrich steps around being compared to Faulkner, Hemingway, and Camus (clever woman-what possible answer to this question could there be?). Instead, she speaks about how she’s managed to write so prolifically while also being a mother, how she’s given herself permission to let the small things fall away.  To answer Moyers, Erdrich reads her poem “Advice to Myself”  (from Original Fire, 2003. Thumbs up to Garrison Keillor for making it Monday, November 19th, 2012’s The Writer’s Almanac piece). Here ’tis:

Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic—decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

One hand on the vacuum handle, I considered the way of the universe’s mysterious gifts. Into my confusion descended the fierce creative mind of Louis Erdrich via my tiny, fierce community of writer friends.

Fierceness, the order of the day.

Outside, rain fell through the white ceiling of fog. After school, after solitude, there’d be time enough to find pants the right size, to visit the market. Vacuuming could wait.

I settled into my writing chair.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: community, fiction, writing | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

warrior

Every year, standing at the threshold between years feels bittersweet.  The year in rear view a tangle of experiences powerful and ordinary, some regrettable. The year ahead brimming with possibility.

The new year will deliver another birthday, hopefully, and an age I’ll be surprised about. I don’t feel nearly as old as the data indicates. I’m beginning to understand how my ninety-three-year-old grandmother, even at the end when she insisted she was only sixty-four, couldn’t reconcile how fast her life had gone by.

In 2014 some dear friends spent the better part of the year ill, others navigated divorce, joblessness, financial ruin. Deaths of loved ones meant wrangling fresh grief. I hope wherever those souls are they are at peace.  Raising kids continues to be hard work, so often a befuddling puzzle difficult to decode with any sort of clarity. Looking back, I spent too much of the year wishing I had better tools for living, wishing I was braver.

In 2014 one of my favorite writers, Kent Haruf, passed away.  I considered him a friend, though I never met him. More, I considered him a mentor.  Reading Haruf’s novels helped me understand the fierce tenderness a person ought to strive for and inspired me to take my writing seriously.  His Plainsong – that spare, gentle tale of regular folk who learn to rely on and love each other like family – is the kind of story I hope to write someday. Until his death at the end of November, he wrote, talked about writing and also about getting ready to pass over to another place.  Six days before he died, he even gave one final interview.

I miss his presence in the world.  Though he left his readers with one last book, Our Souls at Night, due out in May, I miss already whatever future stories he might’ve created that won’t be told.  Wherever he is, I wish peace for him, too.

I’m hopeful a new year means my loved ones and I will be healthy and wise, kind and forgiving, productive and successful.  But I know a new year will have its share of struggles, ones I’ll hope to meet with grace and dignity.

In line for bagels this morning I listened to folks chatting over coffee, reflecting, planning how they would celebrate the end of this year.  On the magnetic board above the deli counter, some words by Pema Chodron reminded me to rejoice in the ordinary:

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.”

I didn’t know who she was, so back at home I asked Uncle Google about her – the first American woman to become a fully ordained Buddhist nun, an author, a teacher, a spiritual leader, a mother.  She has her own foundation.  She’s a bit of a rockstar. These words are from her work titled The Places That Scare You:  A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, a title that made me chuckle for its timeliness. A little barb to prod me in the direction of courage.

Waiting for my turn in the bagel line, I read her words again and again, comforted by the notion of being a warrior fierce and insistent in celebrating the fact of existence and the daily-ness of it.  It occurs to me that Kent Haruf would’ve agreed with Chodron, that his stories are about opening oneself to the grace of fully, purposefully inhabiting life with all its imperfections.  He seemed to do that himself until the end.

Onward to 2015, then, a year during which I’ll take experiences as they come, and work to be a warrior for gratitude.

 

 

Categories: books, family, fiction, writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

humdinger

ShenandoahWashington and Lee University’s literary magazine whose contributing authors often appear among winners of prizes like the Pushcart and O. Henry, has done two things right this year:  publishing Heather E. Goodman’s story “Humdinger” in the spring, and then selecting her as the co-winner of their annual Shenandoah Fiction Prize.

A story of two friends, Beth and “Henry,” the sort of women I want to be when I’m much older – gritty, outdoorsy, fierce – “Humdinger” is also about love and loss, the complicated tangle of the human heart’s desires, human restraint and recklessness.  And ice fishing, which is fantastic.

Here’s hoping this story will go on to reach a wider audience and win other prizes.

Meanwhile, read Goodman’s story here.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: fiction, publishing, short story, writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

loft

www.loft.org

 

Many thanks to the Loft Literary Center for the invitation to write about creativity and how I try to keep that motor running.

You can check out my post here at the Loft’s Writers’ Block site, where lots of folks smarter than me are noodling about all sorts of topics related to writing.

Also check out Heather’s post from a few weeks ago.  I’m tickled we’re in the same virtual space together.

 

Categories: fiction, publishing, writing | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

light

Early this summer I packed up my bookshelves, preparing to move again, though only a few miles away this time.  Each move, I designate a special box of books I unpack first where I’m going.  My old friends.  Rick Bass and Kent Haruf, Barbara Kingsolver and Jane Austen, Zola and Hurston, Steinbeck, Ron Carlson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Annie Proulx.

This move, before I closed the box lid and taped it shut, I added one more friend:  Anthony Doerr’s newest novel, All The Light We Cannot See.

bw-books0506

It’s important to note before I say anything else that I’ve been a Doerr fan for years.  His short stories are the sort, like Faulkner’s, that stun and sting, surprising and sharp.  Visceral.  You cannot shake the watermark of them.  This latest Doerr work is a complicated arc of character and time, swooping between years before and during WWII and among characters on both sides of that conflict.

At the heart of the novel is the pulse of radio, a tool that comes to mean emotional and intellectual desire, and how and whether one pursues and uses it.  Radio in Doerr’s pages means yearning for innocence and family.  Radio is a tool used for savage murder.  Each sentence crafted, a surprise, the language exquisite and rich, Doerr’s prose reads like poetry.

The story is complicated, full of characters working to survive.  Marie-Laure’s father, the principal locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, teaches her how to survive blindness.  She learns to navigate in their flat with the aid of twine and bells.  She learns to navigate the streets by first memorizing a scale model her father builds out of wood.  She learns Braille, and thereby learns to navigate the world of fiction and the human thrum of yearning, adventuring with Nemo Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  Despite these skills, and though she is raised up intellectually by her father and Dr. G. at the museum, Marie-Laure is sheltered and must ultimately navigate a war-ravaged terrain alone.

Werner, an orphan in a coal mining town, has early survival built into his existence. A proclivity for math and electronics leads him to be chosen to attend an elite Nazi school just before the war begins, a boon and a curse, although he does not yet know it.  He will not have to work in the mines like all men before him, like his father who died far below the ground; he will do something much worse.  Early on, we see that Frau Elena and Werner’s sister Jutta guide his heart, act as his moral compass, present in Jutta’s refrain, later echoed by Werner’s friend Frederick:  Is it right to do something because everyone else is doing it? 

The way we use and harness light and energy, and the miracle of what we can do for and against each other, is present on every page of the novel.  Blind Marie-Laure cannot see light, and yet she can:  people, events, and sound have color for her—the world is sensorially rich, fully tactile, layered with meanings.  From within her emanates an energy vibrant enough that Werner, when he sees her on the street, cannot help but mark her gait and her aura, and also remember it.  And Werner, too, possesses a special vitality– his shock of white hair, tiny stature and early ability to solve complicated triangulated problems are an engine within him.

Marie-Laure and Werner are not the only ones compelled by fierce energy.  There’s an insistence of self-preservation in every character Doerr unspools, the desires of each glinting like so many facets of the Sea of Flames diamond Marie-Laure’s father tries to protect and the Nazi Von Rumpel risks everything to obtain.  Von Rumpel is Nero here, racing against the clock of war and the sentence of his own terminal illness, and yet his maniacal pursuit is one a reader recognizes.  For who hasn’t been terrified of death and wished to live forever?  To find the Holy Grail? To shout over the rooftops of the world, even if it is crumbling?

By the time these three lives collide in Saint-Malo, for of course they must, the race to save what each cherishes most puts a reader at the top of the narrative scaffolding Doerr has so intricately assembled.  It’s a delicious tableau:  A gem seeker who’s abandoned all sense of humanity, a girl with nothing left but her hope that humanity still exists, a boy who understands, finally, that he’s forsaken his heart for his mind.

I couldn’t help but think about the artist behind the crafting of such work.  My own stories are often dark, full of doomed folk, the creative effort behind them infected with a baseline Eeyoreness I work hard to inject with any kind of hope.  Yet hope is an undercurrent I look for in the work of others, because who wants to read a story about all the useless desires that elude us?

Anthony Doerr understands how to tell a story we want to read.  More than that, I think his secret might be a fundamental hopefulness in human nature.  How else could he have tackled the dark torment of the Holocaust and nonetheless, what rises to the surface is a world emanating with the light of kindnesses, of bravery, of love?

Doerr talks about the inspiration for his story here in a Powell’s interview.

And also here:

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: book review, books, fiction, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.