Saturday, May 30, 2015


When I'm close to finishing a draft of a book, it's so tempting to go ahead and call it done. Not to rewrite that one scene that's nagging at me (and which, if rewritten, will have a cascading effect on twenty other scenes). Not to question the plot element that works on the surface but somehow sets off my doubt alarm each time. Not to go back for another pass.

But if I'm not even fooling myself, it's highly doubtful that I'll fool anyone else. Patience, I tell myself. You can make it so much better. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spring cleaning-out

It's my day to post at YA Outside the Lines, where I blogged about spring cleaning. Well, in my case, the spring cleaning-out that I've been working on for months: The Great Decluttering. I talk about how it's going and what it has meant to me. A sample:

"I feel as if I'm making room for newness, because I can't fit anything new in my life if all the space is still stuffed full of the past."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday afternoon

One thing I have sought in simplifying my life is more room for stillness--stillness meaning "quiet" and also "rest," the rest from being in constant motion. Sitting and listening. Reading, but also taking breaks from reading just to look around, to listen.

Right now the trees are shading our lawn, but the sun makes the upper layers of the leaves and pine needles glow. The birds are conversing with their own twitters and cheeps. A few insects fly about. There is no wind. The sun hits the prism in my window and paints rainbows on the walls. The scent of pine needles wafts in through the open windows. In the background, a commuter train goes by, and a child across the street fusses.

Now a breeze ruffles the leaves on a tree branch outside the window. Car doors slam; the child has stopped crying. Rectangles of sunlight lie on the floor.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Thankful today for:

--good books and good bookstore events
--fresh salad greens
--my nutty cat
--whoever first thought of putting chocolate and mint together
--the radio playing some songs I haven't heard in a while
--a long weekend coming up
--my husband
--a hot shower on a cold rainy day like this
--the Cornell hawk cam
--people who speak truth to power
--this rain that we've needed for weeks
--you who are reading this

Saturday, May 16, 2015


In reading a back issue of Tin House, I came across this sentence in a review by Luis Jaramillo:

"It's amazing how persistent the feeling of not-enoughness can be."

Amazing indeed: we see the fruits of it everywhere. In the people who puff up and become too aggressive, who overcompensate. In the people whose talent we admire like crazy, but who shrink from putting themselves out there. In the people who keep grasping without asking what they really need. In the various little voices that war inside us about whether we can do what we are trying to do.

Not-enoughness keeps us seeking, keeps us striving, gives us goals. It can keep us humble. It can give us a reason to get up in the morning. But every now and then, I like to take a pause to say, Right now, in this moment, I have enough. I am enough.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Last weekend I spent more hours than usual reading, especially reading outside in the warm air, enjoying the shade and birdsong and breezes.
It did wonders for me.
It slowed the world down, allowed me more space to think. It improved my concentration, made me happy, made me hungry to write more.
Writing has its ups and downs, but reading is still, always, a pleasure.

Friday, May 8, 2015

All's well that ends

The ending. The resolution (or not) of the story. The last taste in the mouth, the take-home message, the good-bye that lingers in the ears. This has always been the toughest part of a book for me to write. The endings of all of my novels were rewritten many times--far more than the beginnings.

I'm at it again, trying to figure out how to end a story. I am on at least the fourth version of the ending, and will try others.

These are the things I'm balancing: what I want to happen, what should happen, what I think the readers want to happen; what feels complete but not too pat; what readers need to know; what changes should be driven by whom; whether Character A forgives Character B after all; the desire for justice vs. the knowledge that some mistakes can't be repaired; my need for symmetry; the need for this scene to be interesting but not set up a whole new range of problems.

Yeah. Fun times.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Walking in everyone's shoes

One thing I like about writing is that it stretches my perspective. I'm always trying to see every scene from every character's point of view. Even when I'm writing in first person, I'm thinking about how every other character is experiencing events. I try to do this in life as well. With writing it's easier, because I can know the whole story of my own characters, while in the real world I can never fully know another person's story. But just acknowledging that, and trying, may be worth something.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Crazy Iris

The Crazy Iris, edited by Kenzaburo Oe, is subtitled and other stories of the atomic aftermath, and at first I thought it was entirely fiction. After reading it, however, I believe that at least some of the pieces are nonfiction (those where the narrator and author have the same name, and the details of the characters' experiences match the details in the author bios). In any case, most of the authors in this collection were eyewitnesses to the bombings of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

It is a challenge for any writer to address a catastrophe on such a huge scale: not only the death and destruction of August 6 and 9, 1945, but the effects that were still playing out decades later. How does one grasp this enormity?

A writer's way in is through the small, specific details. The first inkling of trouble we readers have comes in the first story, set in a town about a hundred miles from Hiroshima: the trains to Hiroshima are being stopped. "'Even the railway people don't know what's holding the trains up,' I heard the landlord tell one of his customers" (Masuji Ibuse, "The Crazy Iris"). We, the readers, know. This is our first shudder, and it comes through a commonplace experience: delayed trains.

"My life was saved because I was in the bathroom" writes Tamiki Hara in "Summer Flower," another line in which the ordinary (the bathroom) carries us into the extraordinary. The writers include commonplace details (trees, a water jar, a box of onions) along with the details unique to that day (blast injuries and burns, black rain, glass still embedded in skin years later). "Nearby I could see a triangular window. The window had originally been square but it had been completely blown out, leaving only the twisted frame," writes Katsuzo Oda in "Human Ashes." Broken windows figure in many of the stories. "From the time the A-bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945, until I graduated two years later, there wasn't a single pane of glass in the school," writes Kyoko Hayashi in "The Empty Can."

Most of the stories deal not with the days of the bombings, but of the years afterward, of living with the damage. In "Fireflies," Yoko Ota describes the makeshift shacks made for the survivors, "temporary" housing which they ended up occupying for years: "The slugs slithered around in droves at the base of the sliding paper doors, which did not have the customary rain shutters to protect them." Kyoko Hayashi describes a schoolgirl carrying the remains of her parents around in a can. Mitsuharu Inoue's "The House of Hands" and Hiroko Takenishi's "The Rite" discuss the trouble with miscarriages that many women had, and the stigma associated with marrying women who had been exposed to radiation.

The human need to recover, to want to return to normal, to believe that everything will be all right, crops up most sharply in Ineko Sata's "The Colorless Paintings:"
"It seems I took it for granted that [my friends] had somehow been outside of the radiation area when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. I never realized, until it came out in a casual letter, that all this time Y had been living with this kind of anxiety."

and in Hiroko Takenishi's "The Rite:"
"That time when, in the bright sunshine, I gazed on the vast multitude of the dead in all the chaos of that ruined ground, laid waste and desolate ..., with my knees knocking together out of control, the thing I kept telling myself was this: it is only a temporary phenomenon! I kept on pursuing the original appearance of that place as it had been before, and as I was sure it would be again. Maybe tomorrow I will see Junko! Maybe tomorrow I'll come across someone who knows how Kiyoko is!"

One unexpected detail common to many of the stories is that the people had no idea what had happened. They all describe a flash out of nowhere, and then the world was transformed. They did not know, at first, that it was a bomb. "The air raid warning had been lifted, and shortly after that there had been a big flash of light and a soft hissing sound like magnesium burning. The next they knew everything was turned upside down. It was all like some kind of magical trick ... " (Tamiki Hara, "Summer Flower").

The power of writing is to record, remember, explore, digest, question. Many writers will identify with these lines from "Summer Flower:"
"Sitting on the narrow road by the riverbank, I felt I was all right now. What had been threatening me, what had been destined to happen, had taken place at last. I could consider myself as one who survived. I have to keep a record of this, I said to myself."

source of recommended read: library