Congratulations to the winner of the
"Name a Character" contest:
SHADOW ROAD (Book Two of After the Pretty Pox) now features a character named KORY--
and he's a character I think you're going to love.
Lori's favorite Pretty Pox character so far is Arie
(Arie was the clear fan favorite, although honorable mention goes to Talus--and who doesn't love
Talus, the Great and Good?)
Lori also wins a personal mention in the acknowledgements and will receive a signed copy of SHADOW ROAD.
Big thanks to everyone who entered.
Stay tuned for future contests!
The vast majority of writers, if you ask, will tell you that they knew they were storytellers from their earliest years. Me, too. I have a bunch of anecdotes about writing stories, acting out plays, telling the entire plots of films to friends, editing the sixth grade newspaper, and making my first stab at a novel when I was fifteen: a riveting tale about a fifteen-year-old girl who hung out with friends and…did stuff. Hey, it made all my friends weep with ecstasy and made our mothers (who forbore to read) look at me worriedly.
There was encouragement from teachers along the way, too.
Mr. Cullen taught an English class focused on writing short stories, and It was serious fun; his sense of humor was balanced with just enough authority to keep a bunch of squirrely high school juniors on task.
That he had published some short mystery stories in magazines like Ellery Queen magazine made him extremely legit. For me, Mr. Cullen was bona fide.
One afternoon he walked among our desks, passing back the most recent homework. The assignment: choose a newspaper article of any kind, and write a short story using the real-life facts. As he strolled from student to student, he praised the class on how well we’d done.
“I was happy to see how creative you got with this one,” he said. “Everyone did a great job. And I don’t mean to create any embarrassment by saying so, but there’s one student in this class whose writing is head and shoulders above the rest. I’m impressed.”
(Of course, by this time the class was utterly silent, almost holding our collective breath, wondering who he meant.)
“That student is…”
He said my name, and laid my assignment on the desk in front of me. Was I embarrassed? Maybe a little. But mostly I experienced a surge of possibility like nothing I’d ever felt before. He’d written those words on my paper: “Head and shoulders above the rest of the class.”
I never forgot it. I never will—it was the first serious validation I got as a writer.
A few weeks ago, I thought about that moment, and I thought about Mr. Cullen. It occurred to me that I wanted to track him down and write him a letter, to tell him exactly how wonderful and formative that small moment was in my life.
It only took a few seconds of online searching to discover that Mr. Cullen died almost thirteen years ago. It’s not exactly surprising news. After all, I’m almost sixty now, and he was well into adulthood back then. Still, it brought tears to my eyes to read of his passing.
I have no doubt he planted a lot of encouragement in a lot of aspiring young writers during that time. I wish I’d thought to tell him, a long time ago that I was one of them.
Thanks, Mr. Cullen.
For quite a while now, I’ve been honestly dumbfounded by the state of politics here in the U.S. And as if we aren’t screwing things up enough, now Britain up and face-plants in front of the whole world.
People, seriously: WTF?
I get how frustrated and angry people are right now—I’m right there, too. But in the past 72-ish hours, I’ve heard more than one fed-up person blaming older voters for most of the current fuckery. It’s had me thinking—a lot. And as a mid-generation Baby Boomer, I’m going to have to represent. I learned how when I was 11; it was 1968, and things were pretty messed up then, too.
Because of the social upheaval and politically turbulent activism of the 1960s, boomers get characterized as an overwhelmingly liberal group, but even during the most radical upheaval of the era, there were a vast number of conservatives among that generation, too. Based on trends that appear to hold true for all age groups, it’s probable that boomers who started out conservative stayed conservative, and those who identified as staunchly liberal have largely remained so.
While some polls indicate that all generations tend to identify as slightly more conservative with age, other stats point to a pretty fluid mix of liberal and conservative identification within every age group.
To primarily blame any older generation for the divisive #Brexit referendum—not to mention the radically conservative and exclusionary political stances reflected in the Tea Party movement and the current surge of Donald Trump supporters—is to fall into the very fallacy that creates this kind of mess in the first place: Let’s find someone to blame! It’s the fault of immigrants! It’s the fault of welfare mothers! It’s those damned hungry kids on the free lunch program! It’s the AARP assholes!
Laying the outcome of shit politics off on our elders (whoever they might be) is a wobbly argument anyway. Gallup stats indicate that “millennials are evenly divided between liberals and conservatives,” and a great many polls find that Gen X-ers may be one of the most conservative generations voting. In the couple of days since Britain voted to exit the EU, I’ve seen a whole lot of videos and photo ops of cheering #Brexit supporters who are clearly well under the age of 40.
In fact, the current chasm in politics has only a little to do with voter age and a whole lot to do with world view, education, and perception of disempowerment and disenfranchisement—a genuine wound that is endlessly salted by those for whom the status quo is crucial. As long as a potentially powerful voting bloc can be kept busy finding a scapegoat to hate and a witch to burn, the 21st century robber baron segment can rest easy.
Fellow author Hugh Howey, rightfully pissed off about #Brexit, made a couple of broad-brush statements that got me revved up enough to put fingers to keyboard in response. I admire Hugh’s intelligence and audacity—and I’m still going to call him out for writing that “progress happens one funeral at a time” Even though the idea was invoked (I think) somewhat tongue-in-cheek*, it’s a sentiment that’s not only vague and inaccurate—it’s divisive at a time when further fragmentation of society is the last thing we need.
In order for progressive politics and forward-thinking mindset to thrive, progressive thinkers of every generation need to work together. One reason the Bernie Sanders campaign gained such a fierce and loyal momentum was that a legion of young voters rose up in unity with an older but nevertheless likeminded cohort.
With the broad energy and passion of youth harnessed to the deep experience and perspective of age, there can be a solidarity of like minds. Such cohesion not only opens a space for progress and positive change, but it allows for a vibrant, inclusive, and diverse society--one that can embrace and nurture rather than fear, reject, and exclude.
*None of us is getting any younger. If we’re lucky and manage to stay above ground, we all achieve senior status. And it always feels like a long way off--until the morning you wake up and it’s YOU with the wrinkles and gray hair.
Implying, even in jest, that the simplest solution for any societal problem is for one’s perceived roadblock to DIE is an idea best left buried under Auschwitz and the World Trade Center, thanks. With all due respect, some ideas just don’t play well, even as humor. Or maybe I’m just old and cranky…
I have a lot of books.
Not enough to be featured on a television show about hoarders; I’ve sold, traded, gifted and donated a couple hundred books over the years, so I’m not a hoarder.
Not a hoarder.
But is it wrong that this picture gives me a small pang of longing?
I’ll never have enough books, or enough house, to end up with a room like this one. But in my ~1100 square feet of living space, my books make a fairly hefty dent.
The count is somewhere around 1500, and that’s just books made of paper and glue and gilt and ink.
Little-by-little, over the past twenty years, my fiction fix has shifted from reading scads of physical books to listening to a passel of audiobooks. It’s sort of magical, being able to have my head in a novel no matter what else I’m doing. (Almost…I mean, there are also movies to watch and friends to chat with and a husband to snuggle). Gardening, housecleaning, cooking, driving, grocery shopping, sewing, walking, showering—all while a novel pours into my psyche.
You know, life in the 21st century has its perks.
But I’ve noticed in the past couple of months that my head has started begging for a different experience. Not because listening to a novel doesn’t light up my story-loving brain—it absolutely, positively does—but because the act of reading a book, especially a physical book, requires a mind-body slowing down that is immersive in a different way.
A physical book has mass. It’s acted on by gravity while it’s in my hands. The paper and the cover and the dust jacket have texture under my fingertips. There is a sound when I turn the page. Sometimes large, old, or hardcover books have creaky spines. New books often have a glorious, smell of fresh ink; old books have that peculiar, particular smell that’s some grand distillation of dusty, aged paper and time.
While reading a physical book, I don’t usually do much else (perhaps a bit of eating, bathing, or—while I was at Stanford—walking). Mostly I stop everything else, sit or recline, and just read.
So when it dawned on me yesterday what it was I was really craving, I went out to the big bookshelf my dear husband made me, with the intention of picking out a novel. It has bugged me for years that I own and allow shelf space for a number of novels I’ve never read, and yesterday I thought, that’s it: I’m going to read the books I own!
If you'd asked me how many unread novels I possessed, I would have guessed it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30.
Uh, no: 155 unread books on my largest bookshelf.
There are other bookshelves, too. Where to begin?
The most logical answer was to choose alphabetically. But when I stood in front of the ‘A’ shelf, my monkey mind threw a fit. I felt all kinds of resistance.
Why? *shrugs. I don’t know—it’s monkey mind. Monkey mind is like honey badger: it don’t care.
So I came up with a system to pick a novel that tricked monkey mind into thinking that someone had made up a reading game with presents—and the presents were never-before-read books. YAY!
Then I got totally absorbed in my new system, and I created a list that will have me reading heretofore unread books for an ENTIRE YEAR, one after the other.
I’m not a fast reader and some of these books are very large (Pillars of the Earth, anyone? 964 pages), so by my estimation I’ll end the year having read 46 physical books in 52 weeks—every one of them a book that’s been sitting on my own shelf for any number of years. Three of them are nonfiction, five are short story collections, and thirty-nine are novels.
That just leaves another 109 for next year. And the year after that.
And I have several other bookshelves throughout the house. Whew. I potentially have SEVERAL YEARS worth of fresh reading available, without buying a single book, new or used.
Like THAT'S going to happen.
Book 1: Ancestors by William Maxwell.
The New York Times carried an article in last Sunday's "Critics Corner" by Loren Stein, a piece that challenges the interpenetration of technology into the world of writers and readers. The takeaway is clearly that our ability to produce and to absorb excellent writing is under siege.
In "Words Unwired," Stein oddly conflates the means by which we create with the media we use to consume it. The article begins as a meditation on the continuing value of literary journals (especially that darling of the literati, the Paris Review), but in execution becomes a rather disjointed whine about technology.
Newsflash, dear NYT, et al, tilters-at-windmills: literature, poetry, and electronic reading devices are not mutually exclusive. If I want to curl up with a volume of Stanley Kunitz or Denise Levertov, I can do so just as readily with a paper book off my shelf or an e-version on my Kindle. Whatever my particular psyche requires to deeply engage with the poems will be the same, regardless of the means by which the words passed through my eyes and lodged in my soul.
"We spend more time than ever on our devices, but it seems fair to say we like them less, especially when it comes to reading."
Who is this "we" of which you speak, and how is it you presume to speak for "us"? In a technologically rich environment that offers ever-greater means of communicating and consuming whatever content makes us happy, each of us has to sort through our options and get comfortable with what works for us. My sweet spot may look different than yours.
“[Instead of writing short stories,] the savviest M.F.A. students were pouring their energies into fat historical novels — and their Facebook pages."
This is just silly. I have a fairly recent MFA (2012), and most of the people I graduated with are writing LOTS of short stories. Same is it ever was, they’re submitting work to journals, winning contests and prizes, and even landing publishing deals for collections. BTW, most of them probably have or will at some time submit to the Paris Review. Maybe if prestigious quarterlies and lit-mags were a tad more open to new and un-agented work, they'd discover that a great many serious short fiction writers are still very much out there, seeking publication in the hallowed pages. Gatekeeping may be a necessary process, but you can't narrow your input to a pinprick trickle of contributors and then kvetch that no one is writing short stories. Hogwash.
Oh, and that part about "pouring energy into their Facebook pages" is truly insulting. ALL authors today—even the darlings and hot properties of legacy publishing houses—are expected to be out there flogging themselves around on social media. Having an established platform is now a common part of the conversation around the acquisitions table. Pretending otherwise pushes one deeply into the territory of pretentious and disingenuous.
"For all these reasons, writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed."
Is this supposed to be a mic drop? Is there actually a writer out there who believes they are the same thing?
"To write a story also requires public solitude. You can’t be worrying how you sound. You can’t wonder whether you or your characters are likable or smart or interesting. You have to be inside the scene — the tactile world of tables and chairs and sunlight — attending to your characters, people who exist for you in nonvirtual reality."
Yes, immersion in the fictive world I'm creating requires my full engagement. That works best for me if I disengage from the Internet and work in an environment with fewer distractions. How other writers work is highly individual to them. Funny thing, though: the virtual world hasn't yet figured out how to disrupt my writing without my specific permission. Until my phone or tablet learn to walk into my office and kick me on the shin to get my attention, I’m good.
“By writing offline, literally and metaphorically, this new generation of writers gives us the intimacy, the assurance of their solitude. They let us read the word “I” and feel that it’s not attached to a product. They let us read an essay, or a stanza, and feel the silence around it — the actual, physical stillness of a body when it’s deep in thought.”
First, what does metaphorical "writing offline" even mean? Is internet research allowed, or must one haunt the carrels of an old and esteemed reference library to be writing properly? How on earth do authors "[assure] us of their solitude"? I'll admit that Stein's description is terribly evocative: the solitary writer locked in a Thoreauvian mountaintop redoubt, producing writing with only the sound of the wind in the pines for company. I could do with a little of that idyll. But in reality, her picture is little more than a nod to the mystique of the lone wordsmith perpetrated for centuries on unsuspecting wannabe writers and starry-eyed readers.
I won't argue for a moment that time unplugged doesn't have a refreshing and quieting effect. In fact, I would argue that most of us would benefit from a moderation of our virtual habits. But to fault current technology with an imagined degradation of the literary milieu is simplistic.
Every writer is a unique artist who brings word to page in her or his own way. Please--let’s not pretend we can literally see through the page to the means by which the author brought the work into being. Even the most arresting literary fiction or poetry may well have been written in a coffee shop, on a train, or in a back bedroom with a noisy family or raucous neighborhood bustling around on the other side of the door. Even if first penned in a cabin deep in the bosky dell, the deathless prose or poesy likely came rough and awkward to the page, squalling to be hacked and slashed, revised and muscled into shape. Reader-ready writing that looks effortless and ineffable never is. The art of the written word comes AFTER the sweat equity involved in craft. Why perpetuate such a dewy notion of creation? Unless, of course, one has a mystique to defend.
What a fantastic time to be a reader and a writer! I have a massive library of paper books and a love affair with my local bookstores and library; I also have several portable devices filled with books, audiobooks, podcasts, and videos. It's an embarrassment of riches. I'm OLD. I grew up in a world without the information highway, limited to whatever was deemed worthy of shelf space by the curating powers-that-were. Now, my options as a voracious reader are nearly limitless, and as a writer the possibilities for publication are wide open--it's a damned miracle.
“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” ~Mary Oliver
David Bowie died today, and I’m feeling sad.
I’m also thinking a lot about how he lived his life, and that’s not sad—his life was a a juggernaut, a magnificent blazing star that anyone can reach for.
We’re all made of that same stuff—stardust (no, really). But in every generation a few people somehow transcend the greater constellation of ability and vision, and they burn so brightly that their lives leave an afterglow across our field of vision: artists, holy seers, musicians, storytellers.
David Bowie made his entire life an effort of art, of expanded consciousness. He was never content with status quo and he consistently pushed boundaries of expression. That is an effort everyone can make.
No matter where we start or what tools we have at our disposal, we are co-creators of the greater consciousness of life. We are all creatives. We are all gifted. We all have a way to express the generative nature of being in our wake-up-and-do-it lives.
You are made of the same stardust as David Bowie. I am, too. The same stuff that made David Bowie and Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou and Abraham Lincoln, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Flannery O’Connor makes you. Makes me.
The temporal loss of David Bowie has slowed me down enough to ask this of myself:
Will you throw yourself into the grand abyss and terrifying thrill of your creative work today? Are you willing? Let's dance.
Every year around this time, I read or hear someone declare: “I never make New Year’s resolutions.” I have no idea what that would be like. Even as a kid, I relished the chance to reflect and ruminate on ways to make the coming year a little better.
In these last few days of 2015, I want to take a moment to say an entirely heartfelt thank you to my readers and supporters.
Writing is a notoriously solitary occupation, and there are times when sitting in a room alone with my laptop and making up stories starts to feel just a little crazy. It’s the realization that a human heart and mind is on the other side of the page that keeps me going.
Even after publishing, there is no guarantee that anyone will read a book. It’s a little like putting a note in a bottle and tossing it into the deep blue sea, hoping someone will connect.
And you did! It’s in the light of your mind and imagination that a book becomes more than words on a page. Ya Zhen, Rose Allen, Bai Lum, and all the other characters in Chasing Down the Moon truly came to life when you decided to read.
Your personal notes of encouragement, your reader reviews, and the word-of-mouth recommendations you’ve made have been amazing. That support means more than you can possibly know.
So thank you from the bottom of my heart for making 2015 such a good year!
I have a couple of projects simmering for 2016, and I'll post more about them as they get closer to completion:
Wishing each and every one of you a new year of happiness and discovery.
I love Stephen King. LOVE.
I've been a fan of scary stuff as long as I can remember. Vampires? Check. Haunted houses? I'm in. Zombies? "They're coming to get you, Barbara..." (If you don't get the reference, you may not be a zombie fan.)
SK and I are an excellent fit.
So when I saw a contest to win opening night tickets to MISERY on Broadway with Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf, I happily entered--not because I thought I would win, but because the contest was to re-write the end of the "book" Misery's Child so that Annie Wilkes would like it. Three sentences.
So I did, giggling madly.
Then I won the grand prize. What??
Yep. Two tickets to the opening night of Misery on Broadway, dinner for two at a New York steakhouse, and my picture up on the electronic billboard at the Broadhurst Theater on opening day.
I'd never been to New York City, and I live darned near as far from there as you can and still be in the continental United States. Suddenly I had an offer to up and fly to New York for the weekend. What??
So we did. It was great. :) The city is pretty wonderful. We stayed with our youngest son, who's a musical theater student at the Manhattan School of Music. He shepherded us onto the subway for the first time, let us crash at his apartment in Harlem, and squired us around Times Square and the theater district so we'd know how to get to the play.
Our dinner was delicious, New York was having glorious late fall weather, and the play was amazing. (If you can go--GO! Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf nailed it!)
(Thanks to Broadway World for the wonderful treat!)
One of the biggest challenges for me as a fiction writer is creating characters I truly love, then heaping trouble on their shoulders.
The very first scene I wrote for Chasing Down the Moon had a single person in it--young Ya Zhen in a quiet moment, navigating the deep difficulties of her life. I couldn't manage to leap directly into the dark part at first meeting.
Troubles, though, are what make a story ring true. And the afflictions in a fictional life are just reflections of the struggles that real people face in everyday life
In his book Gunfighters, Highwaymen & Vigilantes: Violence of the Frontier, former UCLA history professor Roger D. McGrath writes: “During the 1870s and 1880s… prostitutes were slaves in all but name. They did not enter the trade willingly. In China young women were sold into indentured servitude by impoverished parents, kidnapped, captured by pirates or raiding bands, or won as the spoils of a feudal war. When they reached the United States these women were usually sold or contracted to Chinese brothel-keepers or merchants. Some women were sold and resold again and again. Few escaped” (131).
Few escaped. But someone, somewhere, did.
We read to know we're not alone in the turmoils of life. But we also read to rest assured that there are real moments of respite, actual lights at the end of truly dark tunnels.
Chasing Down the Moon is a perfect reading escape for you or someone you love during the chilly days of the holiday season, and is on sale for just $0.99 from 12/8 through 12/14.
It's national poetry month. Actually, it's almost the end of national poetry month. Before the month is over, I want to share a special little video of the poet Robert Bly.
In 2008, while I was a student at Stanford, I had the incredible good fortune of participating in a small seminar class taught by Robert Bly, along with a handful of other students. It was life-changing. He's old enough to be my father, but because I was so much older than the other students (who were young enough to be his great-grand-children!), we made a heart-connection.
This little video is Robert in a nutshell: enjoy five minutes of DELIGHTFUL. (Writers, tell me you don't long for his writing hut...).