Archive for December, 2007

New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2007

Fiction Daily takes a break today for a New Year’s Eve hike at Goose Creek State Park in Washington, N.C. Farewell 2007!

In the days ahead, don’t expect a nostalgic look back. Here at Fiction Daily we will boldly write about Gertrude Stein all week. Also, a wrap-up of a visit with friends in Durham discussing plot v. character, Hugo v. Dickens and other riveting topics the Writers Guild of America wishes it could write about these days.

Gertrude Stein: Part 1

December 28, 2007

I begin with this observation: I know very little about Gertrude Stein, except “a rose is a rose is a rose.”

That little phrase spoken today will resonate with anyone, whether they know who penned it — or not.

That’s the power of that phrase, and possibly, the lasting power of Gertrude Stein.

So I will use it as a jumping-off point to write about this author. Living in Paris in the early 20th century, she was friend of Picasso, Matisse and many artists and poets including one of my favorite writers, Guillaume Apollinaire.

She lived and conducted a salon at rue des Fleurus in Paris with her brother, Leo, and later with her companion, Alice B. Toklas.

She upset the social order and the literary order. The first with her lifestyle as a masculine woman in a committed relationship with another woman and the second, by tearing apart recognized literary forms.

Her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was her own story (I have not read it, I regret to admit).

One thing I have read by her is this phrase, which she once used to describe Oakland, Calif., sister to San Francisco, There’s no there, there.

AHEAD: Why the buzz about Rose

Clear home, mind

December 27, 2007

What I’ve found as I’ve gone through the boxes, files and closets — and an entire attic — is that I’ve faced a lot of bundled, trapped energy.

Now that probably sounds a little spacey, but here’s how it works. It’s as if I’ve had little pieces of my mind wrapped up with taking care of this stuff. In my mind, I’ve put off dealing with this stuff and all the issues it embodies.

Files of so many interview notes … represents my fear that I’ll be unprepared … represents my investment in these stories that, in fact, printed and were completed years ago.

Boxes of sheets, towels and sweaters … represents my fear that I’ll be in need. By passing along those items, I now feel that I am not under a threat of imminent poverty. In a strange way, to let go of those things has allowed me to feel more secure and provided for.

Boxes full of books … those I’ve read, those I haven’t … represents all the learning I long to accomplish and my real desire to hold on to what I feel I’ve accomplished. By sorting through those books, I free my mind to find and read new books and stoke the stove of my brain with fresh fuel.

I’ve also found that hashing out these issues, I’ve uncovered buried ones that I can now address. I feel stronger, less weighed down, and better able to make decisions about them, too.

In the end, writing is nothing more — or less — than the ability to think clearly, for long periods of time and about very large, complex matters.

So, I’m finding the old adage is true: The landscape of the home is the landscape of the mind.

AHEAD: As promised, William H. Gass on Gertrude Stein. Really.

Boxing Day

December 26, 2007

Today it’s raining heavily. It’s very peaceful and calm, perfect for the day after Christmas.

I took all the wrapping paper, boxes and bows to the attic, and wondered if it wasn’t a little hasty.

Some years I relish the holiday experience, but not this year. My mentality is single focused: clarity, clarity, clarity.

Greg has to work, again, but reports that no one is moving.

Having gone through the house fully to clean everything out, I’m now finding that a second and third pass are probably needed. Yet I also have to be careful not to use it as a diversion from the real work at hand.

I’ve found that dealing with all my stuff — the forgotten files, the unread books, the family heirlooms that feel such a burden as they wither away in closets — has been unexpectedly liberating.

Making multiple decisions and thinning out stuff, I’m finding, has been remarkably empowering.

TOMORROW: More on the remarkable empowerment. Photo of Garbo is gratuitous

Christmas Day

December 25, 2007

Up at 5 a.m. today … Santa brought me three hours to write!

Once Greg woke at 8 a.m. we took the dogs for a long Christmas walk and at home, gave them their bones and stuffed toys and  watched them pull the stuffing out of them.

Greg got me a ginormous thesaurus … I read aloud the entry for “end” and it was poetry! He also gave me a digital camera, so I am taking photos of the animals to post in this blog, and thinking of the trips I may make in the New Year, and how to document them.

It’s now noon and I will soon go for my Christmas Day run. Tonight, we will pile the dogs in the car, ride around and look at lights in the yards.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2007

Fiction Daily takes a break today so I can wrap presents. My husband has a birthday and tomorrow is, well, you know.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Gene Downs’ post, “In Search of Long Novels,” I hope you will do so.

When I return, I hope to spend some time with William Gass (b. 1924), reviewer, critic and thinker, whose work often appears in the New York Review of Books and New York Times Book Review.

It was an essay by Gass that opened a door for me onto the world of Gertrude Stein.

AHEAD: Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

Proust’s ‘Search’

December 22, 2007

Why we long for long novels.

Today’s guest blogger is my well-read and thoughtful friend, Gene Downs.

Bill Cosby once appeared in a magazine advertisement for a self-taught speed-reading course. The ad included a photo of the comedian sitting in a wingback chair and weeping elaborately into a handkerchief as he read War and Peace.

For many people, Tolstoy’s tome is the ultimate literary challenge. Dense, deeply philosophical, Russian and — most of all — really long (nearly 1,300 pages in the highly praised new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which is on my wish list for Santa), War and Peace looms large and disappears into the clouds of our imagination, as beguiling and unattainable as the peak of Everest.

But there’s something about big, fat books that can be very appealing, especially during winter. That is what drew me to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in 2003. It was, admittedly, a challenge. Adapting the 100-pages-a-week plan that once served me well in tackling Tolstoy, I resolved to read eight pages of the C.K. Scott-Moncrieff translation of the Proust each day, starting on January 1 and finishing on October 11.

It is not the type of plan that lends itself to attentive reading. There were late nights when I literally propped my eyes open with my fingers and slogged blindly through the requisite eight pages. There were days when I would reach the end of the eighth page and find that the sentence carried over to the next page and the next and the next, with no end in sight.

All in all, however, it got me through, conquered my fear and paved the way for another, more thoughtful reading tentatively scheduled for 2010.

Struggle, write, repeat Pt. 3

December 21, 2007

Yesterday walking one of our dogs I had some clear thoughts about structure.

There will be three parts: first section will be experimental in structure, past and present. Second section, taking place in the book’s “now”, again may try to experiment with tense, though I dislike reading present-tense narratives. Third section I won’t say anything about, except that’s the section I’m looking forward most to writing.

I considered an epilogue. I’m not sure I like them, because they bring a sense of finality. I wonder, Is this the best you could do to close your great work? I don’t think Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky used them.

Yet, they are useful to bring an end which does not directly involve the characters or narrator and can provide understanding.

Is is a device? Not sure. I feel that if I have to rely on an epilogue … if it is a way out of a closed box … then I need to work a little harder on a solution.


December 20, 2007

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Struggle, write, repeat Pt. 2

December 20, 2007

When I looked over the few objects in that paper bag — a poem by Lucien Zell, an African prayer, a passage by Tennessee Williams, a photo of Vaclav Havel and my green card — I was taken to a mental place I haven’t known in years, a place of clarity and dedication.

It was a mental image maybe I’ve never known before, a clarity brought by the combination of the freedom and experiences I knew before I was married joined with the knowledge I now have of stability and old-fashioned hard work.

Whatever happened, as I sat on the floor reading Tennessee Williams, I found solace in his words.

… I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed…. This was security at last. I sat down and looked about me and was suddenly very depressed.

He is describing what takes place after the success of The Glass Menagerie, and goes on to call the satin sofa in his hotel room revolting … that he has already grown too fat for his fashionable suit.

As I lay in bed Tuesday night, I put together this reading from Tennessee Williams with some thoughts from another favorite writer, Truman Capote.

For years before his death, Capote was working on a work titled, “Answered Prayers.” That comes from a proverb by St. Teresa of Avila, More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

For some time I have pined over writing, almost as if it were lost to me somehow. I grieved over writing.

Why? Because it wasn’t perfect. Because every time I sit to write I fall short and never more than with the novel. For some time now I have done little work because it seems what I write is so, well, ugly somehow.

Going back to that night … after reading Tennessee and remembering Capote’s title, I realized that my “unanswered prayer” of writing is the thing of value itself … that to have everything completed and perfect would be a living death for me, like other “answered prayers” often become.

I felt overjoyed, and could hardly sleep. I wanted to get out of bed and start writing immediately, but forced myself to sleep until 5 a.m., when I awoke.

All day yesterday I worked on the novel.

I am reading through all the chapters and pages … probably about 200 by now. My goal is to see where I am in terms of character and plot and move forward, however slowly.

But, maybe I can do it without the sense of dread and failure that haunt me otherwise when I sit down to work on it. The struggle is the meaning … that’s always been a personal motto of sorts. It’s just never given me any solace. Maybe now it will.