Friday, May 19, 2017

Developing change

Sometimes change happens suddenly, but often we see that a supposedly sudden change has actually been building for a while. The dominos fall at once, but they've been set up over a long period of time.

Such changes build beneath the surface, and when they pop up, it is not a complete surprise. We recognize the source of the restless stirrings we couldn't name before. And then we know what we've been suspecting: we want to leave that job, or sell that house, or have that baby, or write that book.

As writers, we create something similar in our books, building the changes in characters so that they evolve naturally but satisfy dramatically. Readers want to see the dominos fall, the bonfire lit, the race run. We want to see everything in the book serve its purpose, fall into place or zoom into the air. This is what it all meant. This is where it was leading, we think, and for a moment, everything makes sense.
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Daydream day

Today's to-do list is shorter than it's been in a good long while. Part of me thinks this would be a good day to grab a bunch of long-term goals, things that have been hanging around on the back burner, and pile them onto today's list.

Part of me thinks, The heck with that. Daydream, goof off. Daydreaming is an essential part of life; we don't give it enough respect or make time for it often enough. 

I'll plunge back into the world of schedules and commitments tomorrow. Today is for rest and contemplation.

Friday, May 12, 2017

38 good books (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

A few days ago, Nathan Bransford issued a challenge to name the 100 best novels. His own list is at the link, and others who have participated are linked there, too.

I'm always intrigued by such lists, but hesitant to make my own. I have opinions, yes, but I get bogged down in questions such as: What does "best" even mean? And who am I to pick the best when there are major classics I've never even read? And won't my personal tastes and nostalgia skew the list? And wow, 100 books is a lot to come up with, and there is no way I could rank them within such a list.

So I have come up with a list that I call "38 good books." These are books I like, that I would recommend, that I think have merit. This list is affected by all the issues I raised in the preceding paragraph. All that said, here are some good novels, in alphabetical order because I can't rank them:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Lewis Carroll) 
The Associates (John Jay Osborn, Jr.) 
The Bears' House (Marilyn Sachs) 
The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) 
Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) 
The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger) 
The Centaur (John Updike) 
Charlotte's Web (EB White) 
A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) 
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) 
The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac) 
East of Eden (John Steinbeck) 
The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet (Rosemary Wells) 
Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh) 
Heartburn (Nora Ephron) 
How to Eat Fried Worms (Thomas Rockwell) 
Invitation to a Beheading (Vladimir Nabokov) 
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) 
Lord of the Flies (William Golding) 
The Lover's Dictionary (David Levithan) 
Main Street (Sinclair Lewis) 
The Member of the Wedding (Carson McCullers) 
National Velvet (Enid Bagnold) 
The Outsiders (SE Hinton) 
A Pocket Full of Seeds (Marilyn Sachs) 
Persuasion (Jane Austen) 
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) 
See You at Harry's (Jo Knowles) 
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (Peter Cameron) 
Some Girls Are (Courtney Summers) 
Sophie's Choice (William Styron) 
Sweethearts (Sara Zarr) 
This Song Will Save Your Life (Leila Sales) 
The Truth About Mary Rose (Marilyn Sachs) 
The Unchosen (Nan Gilbert) 
Unwind (Neal Shusterman) 
Up the Down Staircase (Bel Kaufman) 
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson) 

I'd actually be shocked if anyone else has read all 38, but I suppose it's a glimpse into my reading tastes. I also allow for the possibility of change; some of these books have been on every list of favorites I've ever made and I expect they always will; others might fall out of favor over time, and new books can always join the list. It's a snapshot.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Writers aren't always solitary

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing something I'd written interpreted and performed live by professional actors at the Rhythm and Verse Salon. It reminded me of the occasions on which something I've published has been accompanied by an illustration--getting to see the visual artist's play on my ideas, including the new and unexpected elements that another artist brings, always excited me. And so it was at the salon, where I got to see my words interpreted and presented in a new context, as one piece among many on the same theme ("Inclusion/Exclusion"). The evening also featured music and conversation.

While there, I met the founder of The Unexpected Poetry Project, who handed me a poem--one of the more than 12,000 she hands out each year, at random. Imagine bringing art so simply and directly to so many!

Yesterday I went to a reading by Martha Cooley at the Open Book bookstore, and heard a chapter of her new memoir, Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss.

If art feeds our souls, then I am well fed. A nice respite, as I turn to another week of keeping up with the news and speaking out where I can.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Writing weekend

I just had the good fortune of spending a weekend devoted totally to writing--and to walks on the beach during writing breaks. With such a sustained period of time, I was able to knock out a couple of short projects and wrestle with a longer project that has been bothering me for a while. I had hoped to open the draft of that latter project, which had been sitting untouched for a while, and find it ready for line editing. Instead, my first reaction was dismay. It still needs deep revision, fundamental construction, if it is going to work at all. I put it aside for an hour, in frustration. But then I turned back to it, and began marking the parts that I like, the sparks of life glowing here and there. I hope to use them to build a new version of--whatever this is. It's one of those story ideas that nags at me, that I try one way and another, that I pick up and put down in between other projects, that I hope to get right someday. It's the idea that won't go away but won't fully reveal itself either--so far.

I also had some good talks with the friend with whom I shared the weekend. It was wonderful to immerse myself completely in a writerly world. Now I'm back to the daily routine, with computer files and notebooks full of new words.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ordinary life

Sometimes there is way too much to do, the day crowded with all the little chores like renewing prescriptions and buying a new railpass and packing a lunch and weeding the junk mail. It's amazing how much time we spend doing such things, and generally we don't consider them worth writing about. There are exceptions--Sinclair Lewis, Marilyn French, and Laura Ingalls Wilder all managed to weave ordinary daily chores into compelling narratives--but mostly we think of "living" as the stuff we do in between all the tedious humble tasks. 

Yet mindfulness is about living in every moment, and I keep pausing to savor even the ordinary, the humdrum. To find what's precious here and now, whether it's worth writing about or not.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The daily walk

I may or may not have mentioned my daily walk, and how vital it is to my writing and my life in general.

On days when I go to my day job, I walk to and from the train station. On other days, I can manage a few miles.

I go rain or shine, wind or snow. (About the only weather that keeps me indoors is ice. I won't walk during a thunderstorm either, but those usually pass quickly.) I long ago learned that waiting for the perfect weather means rarely walking, so I take the weather as it comes. 

It's a break in the day. It ensures I get out into the world and get some exercise and remind myself what season it is. It's meditative (if I'm alone) or social (if I'm walking with others). 

Sometimes I consciously work on a story problem, or try to think up a title, or otherwise focus on writing. Sometimes I don't intentionally think about a story, but ideas will pop into my mind as I walk. Often I come home with a new scene or a new understanding of an existing scene.

Writers often sleep on story problems; many times I've heard that they wake up with great ideas. This doesn't really work for me, but walking does. Yet even without the bonus of the occasional story idea, I would still walk daily. It is, simply, nourishing.