Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Writing Update

The first draft of the fairy tale is done. I have doubts about it, but I did manage to get direct references to Antonin Dvorak's opera Rusalka and Halldor Laxness's novel Independent People into the story. I'm happy about that. I figure the fairy tale is set maybe in the 18th century, in an uncertain European country, so Dvorak and Laxness are way out of period.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fall Notes

I sucessfully crashed yesterday, getting nothing done except a load of wash. Autumn begins today. One of my three favorite seasons.

We did go grocery shopping, obtaining marmalade, among other things. And just in time. I washed out the old marmalade jar this morning. So I did two things yesterday.

And watched Sense and Sensibility again in the evening. Patrick said he liked it better this time than previously. I found I was paying more attention to the expressions of the four leads. Before, I was entranced by the many fine supporting actors. I am crazy about Sir John and Mrs. Jennings and the Palmers and the perfidous Lucy Steele...Not to mention the truly horrible Fanny Dashwood... So I guess I did three things yesterday.

Today is bright and clear. The overture of An Italian Girl in Algiers is on the radio. My poetry workshop is later. I am planning out next week. It's going to be a lot of drudgery -- housecleaning, bill paying, packing up papers to go to Northern Illinois University. It will be good to get all this done.
In the meantime, before the workshop, I went to the Farmer's Market and got two baguettes; Honeycrisp apples, because the Harelsons haven't come in yet; spinach, because it looked so good; and flowers, because -- flowers!

I wish I could save days like this -- when very simple, but very pleasant things happen. Blue sky. Cool air. The Farmers Market full of red, yellow, orange, white, green vegetables and some fruit.

Life -- my life -- is made of lots of small things. An editor complained once that my characters drank too many cups of coffee. There are lives -- I am sure -- made of big things. But Zen masters tell us to pay attention to breathing, which is the simplest -- and most important -- small and ordinary thing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A St. Paul Sunset

This photo is by Patrick Arden Wood. If reposted, please credit him.

The sunset last night was spectacular.

On Blogging

In the interests of economy, I sometimes copy my facebook posts onto my blog -- if they seem as if they might be of general interest. I did this today and read through my recent blog posts. They were not bad. I usually think I'm an awful blogger. I do it to maintain a certain level of visibility. If people google my name, they get to my blog, and there is an email address there, in case they want to contact me. But this time -- reading through the recent posts -- I thought they were okay: a pleasant mix of weather, what I've been doing, politics and economics. There should be more bird watching, but I haven't been out bird watching. I need to bug Patrick to go to Crex Meadows or down the river to look at migrating birds.

There are a couple of keys to good blogging. One is to know your topic and write clearly. Examples are Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy and Erik Klemetti's Eruptions. These are go-to blogs if you are interested in astronomy or volcanic eruptions. The other key is good chat: a writer who comes across as fun and interesting. John Scalzi is a master of this kind of conversational blogging.

I have felt my blogging was stiff and not very interesting. I've been trying to become more relaxed -- since I am doing a conversational blog, not an expert blog. Maybe I'm getting better at this. It's not where my heart lies. I like facebook better, because it actually is a conversation. Most personal blogging is a speech going out into silence. But many years ago, I lost the chance to have something reprinted in Harper's Magazine, because the person in question could not find me. I will never be unfindable again.

Notes on Writing a Story

Written over several days...

I am reading Catherynne Valente’s The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden. It has moved me to begin a fairy tale. Fairy tales are so keen. So far I have one page.
The fairy tale I started yesterday is terminally silly, but I may continue it anyway. It's kind of relaxing, after all the struggling with revision. Writing is too hard for me. I need to spend more time not giving a damn.
The fairy tale is chugging along. I'm not sure it's any good, but I'm not a good judge. When writing is going well, I think I am utterly fabulous, but then there are these brief drops into despair, followed by more fabulousity, followed by... I remind myself that I threw out "The Garden" part way through, then had to go back and rewrite from memory. The story ended in a couple of "Best of the Year" anthologies. I am not a good judge.
The thing the fairy tale has going for it is the images and lines which are digging at me, demanding to be written... Ima discovering the werewolves, Orna playing in a field of autumn flowers with dryads... And the third daughter with the witch...
I think the key thing for me is when a story keeps chewing at me. I get these images, but don't know how to fit them in the story yet. But they stay with me. Usually this means I should persist, though some stories with neat images never get finished... What is odd is how some stories flow right out, are so easy to write, and others fight me every line.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I haven't posted for getting on two weeks. Nothing much has happened. Patrick and I drove up to Duluth last week to see the lake boat Arthur Anderson come in through the Duluth Shipping Canal. Unfortunately the Anderson was running ahead of schedule, so we missed her. But the drive up and back was pleasant, and I always enjoy visiting the galleries in Canal Park. I bought a pair of gray quartz earrings with black tourmaline inclusions. Very nice, though I do not need more jewelry.

Aside from that, I am struggling with revising a story. I want it done and out of my life, so I can move on to other projects. It is part of the Lydia Duluth series of stories; and two more, which follow this one, are done. I don't feel I can abandon it. It's going to be hard to sell, since it's an overtly political story. I find those are likely to be turned down, though the reason given is never the politics.

Americans are very uncomfortable with didactic fiction and with political fiction.

The weather has finally turned cool, which is wonderful.

Monday, September 02, 2013


This is from a conversation on facebook. I decided to move it here. The discussion was about the necessity of plot in a novel... It took off from an essay which argued that plots were not especially important -- I think that's what the guy was saying...

I said:

The easiest way to write a novel is to have a story line. It's traditional. People understand it. The story line is the plot. It doesn't have to be a pulp action plot. Does a book like Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities have a story line? I'm not sure, though the schtick is that Marlo Polo is telling Kubla Khan about the cities he has seen on his travels. Is it really a novel? Who cares? It's wonderful. I think of the plot as the skeleton. A small animal does not need a spine. Actually, there are some really large marine animals that don't need spines. Big jellyfish, for example... But, if you are a land animal or an ordinary work of fiction, at a certain length you need some kind of internal framework. This is the plot. I vary as to how interested I am in the plot. Sometimes not much. Sometimes quite a bit.

In my experience, if I don't have a plot in mind, the story becomes picaresque. It's one damn thing after another: Monkey's Journey to the West, which Arthur Waley cut really severely in his translation, because he thought the Chinese novel was too long and repetitious. If I have a plot in mind, then I am able to tell a story that is more complicated and less linear.

I've written novelettes and novels that began with an opening scene, even an opening line, and that's all I had. I had no idea where I was going. Either I discover a story line as I write, or the story fails. A lot of these stories are journeys. The hero or heroine travels and has experiences and by the end, something has changed -- the heroine or her world is different. The journey is the spine of the story.