March 29, 2011

Gathering writing, and what I'm reading

A new story I started isn't going along so well—seems lifeless—so I'll leave it for a bit. Certainly I'm lagging on the new writing front, though I am revising and reworking the existing pieces I am gathering together.
Last year I took part in StoryADayMay, which produced some of those short pieces, but I don't think I'll do that again this year. I have signed up, at the same website ( for their warmup. Plenty of resources regarding keeping track of ideas and websites, most of which I won't use, though I'll check out some (more!) websites. The thing I am finding with websites is that it takes a fair amount of trawling to come up with a few that really offer something I want. Stands to reason, of course, how many books are exactly the book you want? The first actual exercise was to write a twitter story (a story in 140 characters or less, including punctuation and spaces). Here's mine:
When I met my husband he was married to my sister. Family gatherings at Christmas are so twentieth century. (108 characters)
On a recent visit one of the Spinifex publishers, ( Susan Hawthorne, left us a pile of books including My Sister Chaos by Lara Fergus, which I have just read. It's a strangely compelling tale, about twin sisters from a nameless country that they left as it was breaking up in turmoil. Only minor characters have names. One sister is a cartographer and is obsessively mapping the house she rents. The arrival of her sister disrupts this process. An original and disturbing novel about obsession and trauma. I recommend it.
I'm still collecting phrases from Dostoevsky's The Idiot with the idea of trying to write a story "in the style of". Phrases like, "said impatiently and wrathfully," and, "with a strange ardor." Hmmm. One of D's preoccupations is that we appreciate life only when we know we are close to losing it—only when we have some kind of death sentence do we appreciate that we have life. I don't agree with this myself. It goes along with another concern of his that if one doesn't believe in an afterlife, a crime such as murder, especially when one is close to death, has no consequences. I can’t wear this; it may have little consequence for the perpetrator but does for others, and our humanity demands a regards for others, even when we are about to die. (If we have no regard for others we cannot expect them to have regard for us and our well-being, which would make for a very sorry world.) For an online  group reading Dostoevsky see
I often have a non-fiction book going at the same time as I am reading novels and at the moment it is Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Belos, with the subtitle, "Dispatches from the wonderful world of mathematics." The jolly tone of the title is largely absent from the text, thank heavens. At about halfway through I am enjoying his explorations of areas like tesselations, equilateral triangles, the history of number systems, pi and so on. I'm enjoying it. I imagine it is too basic for anyone who has a real mathematics background, which I do not.
Re-reading The Price of Salt by Claire Morgan (aka as Carol by Patricia HIghsmith) after about thirty years is proving more of a treat than I expected. I'll say more about this in a later post. 

March 7, 2011

Truth, writing, reading, rejection

"The paradox of the arts is that they are all made up and yet they allow us to get a truth about who and what we are or might be." Seamus Heaney in Finders Keepers, Selected Prose 1971—2001
A conversation with my son has me thinking about truth-telling and how a poem, a song, a story, can carry truth that has not much to do with relating a string of events. I think maybe it's more than a paradox, it's a glory of the arts that they "allow us to get a truth." Like a truth of the tragedy of my sister. The week in which this conversation took place had been a medically dramatic one, culminating in my having a pacemaker inserted; hence, in part, the gap between this blog entry and the previous one. All, as they say, is now well.
Writing, however, has flown out the window and left behind a dearth of ideas and inclination. Fortunately, I believe both will return, and to help them along I have gone back into my journals of the last couple of years to see what I have recorded from what I have read and what notes and observations I have made. That's where I found the Seamus Heaney quote. I've pulled out Heaney's book of prose writings to re-read.
As I read Dostoevsky— currently near the end of Part One ofThe Idiot—along with an internet-based reading group led by Dennis Abrahms ( I wonder about Dostoevsky's overblown prose and characters who seem to stand for ideas or aspects of Russian society and life. He is such a contrast to my own pared-down writing about characters in their everyday lives that, in my mind, stand only for themselves; examples of the human condition, if you like, rather than exemplars. I'll have a go at writing a few Dostoevskyian paragraphs, paragraphs that are unlikely to ever see the light of day, but I might learn something from at least trying to write in such a different way.
Here's how my reading goes sometimes, in a process I really really like. I'm reading Dostoevsky, along with DA and co, and in a London Review of Books see a review of a book called The Possessed: Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them By Elif Batuman, of whom I have not previously heard. So now I am reading that and enjoying it a lot and wondering about having a go at reading one of her subjects, Isaac Babel, who I have never read before. I'll try a library copy first.
I've had three rejections from publishers I have submitted my novel to. The last one was a clearly non-standard letter. It stated clearly they wouldn't publish my book, said they don't give feedback and suggested three other publishers (I've already been rejected by one of those.) It was a good letter; straight-forward, with a tone that was neither patronising nor dismissive. I appreciate that.