What a strange month of writing and reading.
I’m working, writing in short, isolated scenes. One of the things I’ve realized in the last months is that there’s stuff missing. Holes. Important scenes. Scenes (no matter how small) that I want in there, scenes I can’t leave out, but just wasn’t sure where they would all go. When I was at my conference back in June, I made a list of possible missing scenes and came up with 37 possibilities to explore. 37! So I’m exploring them, writing them, mining them. It’s a reminder of how much “story” you can tell with a few short exchanges of dialogue, with one perfect paragraph, with a couple of key sentences. I think I’m only on 13 or 14 right now, and I’m sure I won’t end up using all of them, but it’s been interesting (and fun) (and enlightening) to dig back in at writing wholly new scenes instead of just trying to massage what’s already there. My book feels fresh again.
And speaking of writing, I found this article with the following timely quote for me and my new, sometimes mediocre / sometimes wow, scene crafting: “You have to surrender to your mediocrity, and just write. Because it’s hard, really hard, to write even a crappy book. But it’s better to write a book that kind of sucks rather than no book at all, as you wait around to magically become Faulkner.” Sadly, mere desire is never good enough when it comes to achieving anything – in writing, and in life. “No one is going to write your book for you,” she reminded us, “and you can’t write anybody’s book but your own.”
On the reading front, I’ve finished two books that I thought were completely different books when I started them —- as in, wait, I thought this was a memoir, and as in, what?? I’ve thought for a decade that this was chick-lit, and it is soooo not chick-lit.
I don’t know why I thought Lily King’s FATHER OF THE RAIN was a memoir. And even though it’s written in first person and you feel like you’re right there, the first (huge!) clue should have been that the narrator’s name is not Lily. Jaysus … I wonder about myself.
Anyway, FATHER OF THE RAIN chronicles a daughter’s intensely loving, volatile, complex relationship with her alcoholic father. If that sounds like a downer, the story is not. Give it a try. It’s a lovely lovely story. I’m looking forward to reading more by Lily King.
The best surprise of my summer has been Julia Glass’s THREE JUNES. I remember when this novel came out, and that it won the National Book Award, but I wasn’t swayed. The jacket-copy didn’t help —- it tells you basically nothing about the book, and I figured this was some cleverly crafted ruse. Left to my own obviously faulty devices, I figured THREE JUNES was about three women named June and thought “no” …. “just no.” And even when I heard Julia speak last year (and loved her), I still wasn’t buying this book. What a numbskull I am.
THREE JUNES is one of the best books I’ve read this year. By a mile. It’s about family complexity and perceived obligations, it’s about loss and expectation, it’s about the many many kinds of love. It’s about big subjects and small, elegant wonders. Not only is it not chick-lit, THREE JUNES is some of the best literary fiction, the kind of beautifully written story that’s smart as hell but still accessible to humans, male and female alike.
What have you read — or written — lately that’s surprised you?
I always find something new to read at your place, Teri. Three Junes is going on my list.
I’ve fallen for Jennifer McMahon, and I’m working my way through her list. (All these creepy little girls!) Also found a terrific Australian writer named Michael Robotham, who writes delicious psychological suspense. I love finding writers who’ve already got a ton of stuff out there. It’s Christmas in July!
Hot damn, I love a good psych thriller, especially if there’s a series. Which one (or ones) do you recommend I start with for Michael Robotham? I’m going to download them on my ….. ahem ….. Nook. Why did I wait so long to get this tool of instant gratification??
I loved Say You’re Sorry, but I just started Bleed For Me and it’s also fabulous. (I’m not sure whether these are supposed to go in any particular order, but there’s a clinical psychologist named Joe O’Loughlin who appears in several of Robotham’s books. You might try to track down the first one if the order matters to you.)
first, i read the same article you did with that sparkling quote about letting yourself write crap.
i’m almost done with blue plate special and was slipped an advanced copy of a new anna quinlen novel today. of course, i also have “this town” (a book on DC behind the scenes politics) andre agassi’s memoir that you talked me into, and a biography of 70s baseball player doc ellis written by US poet laureate & pulitzer prize winner donald hall. (blame NPR)
i finally got a few more words down today, if only on my blog. i’ve been pushing a big rock up a hill, but am having the slight sensation that i’m near the top.
So many times I sit, totally frozen, not writing because I feel stuck with nothing decent to say. I love these reminders to write the bad or mediocre stuff, in addition to the brain-popping epiphanies.
That Agassi book was like good sticky candy.
And I have Blue Plate Special on my Nook, and I’m saving it for my next airplane ride. 🙂 I know I’m going to love it….
A.M. Home’s May We Be Forgiven is the best thing I’ve read all year. And yes to writing what you can when you can. While my second novel is out on submission I am heavily revising the first. Dumping into that old bag all that it can carry.
I’m sending good joojoo your way for the submission. And it’s funny, I’ve loved AM Homes forever and never bought this book. Thanks for the reminder. I’m downloading it this minute.
Strayed’s comments remind me of something I jotted down a year ago from Timothy Hallinan’s webiste: “The enemy is not a badly written page. It’s an empty page.” Thanks for the reminder.
On my kindle I’m reading Cod: A Biography of Fish That Changed the World – who knew that I, a non scientific person, would find fish interesting?
And I just borrowed Animal Dreams by B Kingsolver from the library. Oh my!
“Summer storms in the desert are violent things, and clean, they leave you feeling like you have cried.”
I’ve read most of Kingsolver’s fiction – how did I miss this one until now? Thanks to Indy for the recommendation.
Cod is like that. As is Salt. Who knew a person could write an entire book about salt!
The enemy is the blank page. Truer words, and all that …. ouch.
Three Junes has been by my bedside for a couple years. I will go ahead and read it now that you’ve given it the nod.
Did you also think it was some light chick lit? (not that there’s anything wrong with that …) I miss you, Jennifer Sanford.
Thank you for the link to the fabulous article crushing on George Saunders and Cheryl Strayed. I heard GS read recently – a hilarious,unassuming, brilliant writer. And am just now reading Wild. Three Junes is everything you say it is! I will add Father of the Rain to my (very long) list!
Well hello there, blocked, from the blogosphere! I read you at Averil’s all the time….
George Saunders. *swoon* I heard him recently on NPR, then promptly watched him on Morning Joe, and fell madly in love.
I always think this when I am far from my writing and letting life get in the way: I’m the only one who can do it for me AND what I don’t write today will never be written. It’s a hard slog, eh? Thirty-seven scenes?? I’m about to go back to my old abandoned manuscript and I fear evaluations like these..
I recently read ‘Dusk and Other Stories’ by James Salter and think that ‘Twenty Minutes’ is sublime. I’ll be reading more!