Sunday, July 28, 2013

Birthdays and Writing

Today is my birthday and I tend to liken birthdays to new year's eve- I always like to look back over the past year, reflect, and then think about what I want the coming year to be for me. What are my goals, my dreams, my intentions? How do I want to carry myself and perceive the world around me? Most likely, these ideas don't change much from year to year, but I like to think about it anyway. I believe that staying true to yourself also involves sifting through layers of yourself and not being afraid of being open to change.

Of course, this also applies to my identity as a writer. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the story, in the words, in the process, and not reflect on the direction. Today is also a day to think about how I write, why I write and where do I want my writing to take me. I'm not sure I have all the answers yet, but in seeking I find comfort and a measure of peace. Perhaps those are the very things that keep me going when the writer's block hits, when the doubt creeps in and when success, or even sanity, seem a very small light in the darkness.

So here's to a year that is like water- always moving, always changing and always constant.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: "Death in Venice"

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is not so much a story, as it a feeling. The plot- an aging writer travels to Venice and becomes obsessed with a teenage boy because of his youth and beauty- is more  a mere delicate framework for the layers and layers of atmosphere, inner turmoil and self-reckoning that swaddle, and almost suffocate, this novel. In many ways, it perfectly encapsulates one of the greatest emotions of the modernist era: anxiety. Like Camu's The Stranger and Tennessee William's Suddenly, Last Summer, the heat, the air and the assaulting world on the edge of the self seem to take on a life as volatile as the main character's and create a deep sense of desperation and paranoia. This is not a feel-good book and it will probably leave you unsatisfied, perhaps feeling a little anxious, perhaps now haunted with an unexplainable echo of dread.

But it will also give you tremendous insight into the life of a writer, an artist or maybe even yourself. Mann's genius is in being able to write about the human mind in such detail, and with such nuance, that, for a moment, you can actually step into the soul of a character and truly understand him. You may not be able to relate to Gustav von Aschenbach, but you will understand him, and that pure, raw moment where the author and the reader connect and become in sync within a character is worth the read on its own.

      "And his soul savored the debauchery and delirium of doom." (129)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: "The Ice Master"

So I'm still on a non-fiction kick and one of the best narrative non-fiction books I've read this year is Jennifer Niven's The Ice Master. Even if you don't usually read non-fiction, or don't care about artic exploration or ships or explorers with a desire to do the impossible, this book will capture your attention. Because this is not a book about discovering a new continent, or breaking records or even succeeding (there's a reason the subtitle of the book is "The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk"). This is a story about survival. It is the story of the endurance of the human spirit- what it means to be alive, and what it means to Want to be alive. It is harrowing, it is heartbreaking, and it will have you holding your breath until the last page.

Monday, July 15, 2013

First Person and Writing

So, I've been having a problem with voice lately. (no, not "voices"- I may be going a little crazy with all this summer vacation time on my hands, but I'm not to that point.. yet...) I had to put down the last three books I've attempted to read, even though they were all critically acclaimed, award winners, etc. I usually read non-fiction when I'm working on a novel- but I thought I'd spice it up a bit.

After I set down the third book, deterred and dismayed (I almost never give up on a book), I tried to figure out what was turning me off to all of these, seemingly radically different, stories. Then I figured it out: they were all written in first person point of view.

When I think of first person point of view working well, I think of Catcher in the Rye or The Book Thief. I think of books with main characters that I fell in love with or wanted to die a brutal, agonizing death. Characters that I wanted to be, or have a glass of wine with, or hunt down to the ends of the earth. Characters whose breath I could feel on the edge of my cheek, their imagined presence creating a shadow over my shoulder as I read. Those types of characters. And if a book is written in first person and I'm not desperate to interact with the narrator, then, well... you have a week among books as I have: turning the pages, shaking your head, finding something better to do.

So my question to you, intrepid writers and readers: what are your experiences with first person point of view and narration? What novels written in first person have blown your socks off and made you beg for more? What has worked, what hasn't, and does voice even matter? I'd love to hear your thoughts....

(If my dog Vegas wrote a book with first person narration it would go something along the lines of this: "I... am.... a dog. I am.... confused. I am trying to look... regal? I.... think. Snausages....")

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Blue Diamond

A run-down hotel in the middle of the desert, a man with a secret he is desperate to keep, and, oh yes, horse heads.

You know you want to read it.....

Go Read Your Lunch: The Blue Diamond  |  Steph Post

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Review: "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout"

I find science alluring and romantic, probably because I don't understand much of it. Sure, I managed to eek my way through biology and astronomy in college, but that's about as far as it goes. I couldn't tell you how electricity works or what's the difference between a proton and an electron and if any math enters the picture then you might as well be talking to a concrete cinder block. But I love the Idea of science. I love reading the stories behind discoveries and the biographies of those who devoted their entire lives to a concept that we now take completely for granted.

I love the intersection, that blazing spark, where science and art and literature and the humanities all come together.

Lauren Redniss' gorgeous book Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout throws gasoline on that spark and then waits for you to be consumed in the blaze. Not only does it address myriad aspects of science- love, passion, fights to the death, obsession, bitter sorrow, and, oh yeah, discovering elements crucial to the fate of the human race- it takes myriad forms itself as Redniss spins her biographical tale. Radioactive is a work of art, with mythical illustrations comprised of watercolors, chalk drawings, found object collages, photograph compilations and other techniques that seamlessly and beautifully blend together to give the reader the full experience of the story. Just the act of flipping through the startling, brilliantly colored pages can be stirring and awe-inspiring.

If you are a fan of science, or art, or love, or the intricacies of the human spirit, this book should be in your hands....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Laundry and Writing

I love doing laundry. Not because I'm a clean freak (I'm not- come on, I live in the same house as a Pack of dogs) or because I'm into fashion or have some weird, obsessive issues with folding clothes a certain way (I have obsessive issues with other things..... :), but because doing laundry is one of the best breaks from writing. Whenever I'm stuck, or overwhelmed or just can't sit at the computer any longer, I can walk out to the garage, switch a load of towels from the washer to the dryer and feel like I'm accomplishing something. Maybe it's really just procrastination or maybe it's self-defeating in some way, but it makes it so I can take a deep breath and go back to the words without wanting to scream that I can't take it anymore. I've said before that writing is an absolute love/hate battle with me. But a writer has to write in the same way that a runner has to run or a painter has to paint: it's a driving force that can't be escaped, even when it hurts or creates frustration or seems to take over the rest of your life.....

And the upside: at least I always have clean clothes!

Anyone else have any small, strange ways to cope with the writing process? Feel free to comment and share!