Thursday, January 26, 2006

things I love in books for no good reason

I love amnesia in a book (or a movie). The idea of forgetting is very attractive, also having a totally new life, where perhaps you live in a trailer and have a pet lizard and eat grits for breakfast every morning, even though in your old life you didn't know what a grit was.
I love books that take place in Italy, because I love Italy.
I love books that are set on an island, because I similarly love islands. A book that takes place on Sicily ought to be ideal (an island and in Italy), but curiously, no.
I love books that have an artist as the protagonist, but you know that the artist is just a stand-in for the writer him or herself because he or she thinks they've been very clever. ( I know the grammar lapsed here, but I just couldn't stand another "he or she.") An example is Violet Clay, by Gail Godwin, which isn't the greatest book in the world (although it's not bad either), but which I've read at least 10 times.
I love archaeology or anthopology in a book, because I once thought I'd be an anthropologist and it makes me nostalgic. I like reading about digs--I never went on one, a great disappointment to me at the time, but I don't think I would have liked it. Meticulously brushing dirt from something that might be a bone doesn't sound like much fun, although all the partying I heard that happened on digs might have been.
I love books by Russian authors--a little gloom, characters that talk a lot and are humorously philosophical, the magic of the steppes--all good.
I love anything by Muriel Spark, because she is so smart and does such wonderful dialogue and is so supremely confident a writer that she doesn't bother to explain much of anything, but you accept it because she's so good at what she does. (Read The Comforters or Memento Mori, if you don't believe me.)
I love books with a great ending. I love the ending of The Great Gatsby, even though I don't like the rest of the book as well as I used to. I am pretty tired of Daisy, and why doesn't Nick get a life?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

classics I haven't read, part 1

I got this idea from my niece's blog--couldn't resist. Here they are:
1. Don Quixote (Cervantes)--don't know why, just never felt moved to open it. Also, someone I know used to play the album of the musical so often that I think it put me off, even there is no singing in the book.
2. Clarissa (Richardson)--I should want to read this because it's epistolary, and I love epistolary, but somehow it's always sounded very dour. There's a lot of very dull criticism written about it, too, although I guess that's not Richardson's fault.
3. Bleak House (Dickens)--I started this and it was very bleak indeed, besides which it has a lot of legal stuff in it.
4. Anything by Trollope--I tried Trollope and found him pretty boring, although I know this puts me in a benighted minority.
5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)--I don't know why I haven't read this, because it's just the kind of thing I like--horror, dismay, gloomy scenes, a tormented anti-hero,etc.
6. The Call of the Wild (London)--I'm put off by this because it's about a dog, and I am not excited by nonhuman protagonists.
7. Proust--this is the big one. I've started it 3 or 4 times and I usually make it past Swann's Way and then start to lose momentum.
8. Confederacy of Dunces (Toole)--I never even started this. I remember that I didn't like the title, which I admit is weak.
The title of this post says "part 1" because I'm sure I'll think of more.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wolfe Cemetery

I was writing about the Wolfe Cemetery in Hocking County today, a beautiful old family cemetery my daughter took me to a few years ago. Carl has visited it, of course, and he's thinking of including it in his talk on Ghosts of Hocking County.
Friends nor physician could not save,
Her mortal body from the grave,
Nor can the grave confine her here,
When Christ doth call she must apere.
This is the verse on Rhoda Dorr Wolfe's grave, the first one buried there, in 1845, May 9. I love the verse, don't you? Practical, resigned, religious, all in one.
The picture is from

Friday, January 20, 2006

this post is a monument to doubt and insecurity

Just stopping

to agonize

on a snowy

evening. Ac

tually after

noon, and

no snow.


worried about

how much

longer my

novel is going to be, and

if I’m anywhere near the end, and how to make it loop together if I’m

anywhere near it.

I have abt 100,000 words, and certainly it’s farther than halfway. But

how much farther? how much latitude do I have in bringing in new

characters and bits of plot?


Currently 100,000ish words

Projected? 135,000? (my old idea, based on not much);

A source of dubious merit I found on the internet says that 450 ms. pages =

300 book pages; so by this measure, I now have

100,000 words 385 ms pp. 256 book pp.

the projected total:

135,000 words 509 ms pp. 339 book pp 29 more writing days (at 1200/day)

or 35 more writing days (at 982/day)

if it’s more, say 50,000 words longer

150,000 words 566 ms pp 377 book pp. 41 more writing days

or 51 more writing days

If it’s 50,000 more, then I have only 2/3 of the book done; if it’s 35,000 more,

then I have abt ¾ of it done.

And, I should point out to myself that it’s taken me 86 writing days to write

83,500 words, which is an average of only 982 words per day. So at that

(more realistic?) rate, it would take me longer (see amended figures above).

In the worst case scenario (meaning if it was 50,000 words, and if it took me

even a little longer than the 51 wtg days, etc.) I should be done in April.

But that presupposes that I figure out what I’m doing .

Thursday, January 19, 2006

blogging from work

I'm blogging from school today, which feels slightly and agreeably shady. Canadian Lit this morning, where I found myself referring to it as the other North American literature: both objectionable and a cliche.
To rest my mind from teaching, I ate 3 sesame crackers, a piece of cheese, an orange, and 2 squares of a Unique Region Varietal Chocolate from Venezuela; and I read the opening pages of Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy Sayers.
Books are important to me in a lot of ways: entertainment, escape, information; they can be provocative of thought, sublime, amazing; they can make me want to beat my head against the wall over their sheer goodness and wonder. They can also soothe. I often use a book as a kind of tranquilizer, but it has to be a particular sort of book: one I've read before; not too tragic; not too serious; but with good prose that bears rereading.
Dorothy Sayers is perfect for this. She has a competent serviceable style that sometimes rises to brilliance, she loves language and uses it well, she's well educated, she's funny. And she's writing mysteries, so it's not too serious, no matter how many bodies pile up. And finally, she's the creator of one of literature's Perfect Men: Lord Peter Wimsey. He looks good in evening wear, is secretly athletic, quotes widely from the classic authors, and can estimate time of death within an hour or two--what more could you ask? Five Red Herrings isn't my favorite of her books (that would be Gaudy Night), but it's quite nice: murder in a Scottish village where the main occupations are fishing and painting. The first scene is in a pub, where Lord Peter witnesses a fight between two of the painters (who also fish, of course). Later, one of them is found dead! And so it goes on, with lots of local color and a judiciously applied smattering of Scots dialogue.
I'm counting on this to make me calm enough to go to this afternoon's meeting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

alternate worlds

Near Ash Cave, in Logan, Ohio. Summer 2005, on an exceptionally nice day.

I started a new chapter/section/thingie today. Jason has taken up lucid dreaming, but so far it isn't working. I like the idea of lucid dreaming myself, at least partly because I like the word "lucid"--a lovely word that sounds like water sliding over a rock (this image courtesy of Crazy Diamond, a blog I read; if I knew how to make it clickable, I'd do it, but just search for it on Google).
It occurred to me today that in my novel it's summer--I believe it's late June or early July there right now. But the author (me) is mired in winter. This seems unfair, although Jason et al might say it was payback for all the plot difficulties I've made for them. Did I let him successfully and lucidly dream? I did not.
It's summer there, the trees are green, the fields are rippling. Every time I sit down to write I step into that world, the world of the novel, small town Logan in the summer time. Like a vacation, except, of course, that I'm working, piling up words so that the whole thing doesn't come apart. I think it's only fair though that someone should be going swimming soon, going to a beach on Lake Logan maybe, or to a deep, still part of the Hocking River.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

off day

Today is a designated off day from writing. I like to plan these in an obsessive way, as see below, last footnote, from a piece of my self-made January calendar:
You'll notice that I used different typefaces and colors--I find this soothing in an obsessive way. (I also feel that I have to account for why yesterday I only wrote 298 words, see footnote 1.) All the little imperatives--"Write!"--each is a goad and reminder, in (if you're interested) 10 pt. Papyrus.
My plans for this day off are amorphous. A bit of reading maybe. You'll notice in the photo that 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel is still around, and if had a stronger ense of duty I'd read some of that, since it's overdue again. But I believe that instead I'll be dipping into some of my Christmas books, probably one by Allan Sillitoe, Birthday, which is supposed to be a sequel to one of his big books, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The latter was one of those influential books for me (along with, among others, Lessing's The Golden Notebook and Woolf's To the Lighthouse).
Alan Sillitoe was a working class British writer, himself influenced by Hemingway, one of the "angry young men of the '50s," according to Wikipedia. Saturday Night was published in 1958, but it anticipated a lot of things about the '60s--sexual freedom, cutting loose from society, and so on, along with a good dose of anomie. I loved it. I found it when I was in my twenties, a young mother and not-so-happy wife, trying to think of a way to get out of what I'd done with my life. When Arthur Seaton walked away from his factory job and took to the road, I cheered.
Now, looking back, I can see another reason this was influential: Arthur was working class, and I think I responded to this, too. I hadn't read many (or maybe not any) novels about people who worked in a factory or a mill, people like, for instance, my father, who worked in Cleveland's steel mills for around 45 years. Alan Sillitoe must have seemed like a possible model to me, another working class child who had become a writer, as I wished to do.
I'm not expecting to be as transported and swept away by this newer book as I was by Saturday Night when I was in my twenties. For one thing, this is 30 years later, and I'm not the same person. For another, there is something to be distrusted in the long-time-coming sequel, something attenuated, suggesting fatigue, the equivalent of bringing out another Friday the 13th movie. And finally, I think I might find Sillitoe's treatment of women less engaging now. Arthur Seaton was the only one who got to have any fun; his wife got left with their squalid flat and the baby; his girlfriend got saddled with another baby, while Arthur sails off at the end to do some political act (gun running?).
But I'm interested to see what Sillitoe has come up with, so I'll give it a shot.

footnote: I only wrote 298 words yesterday because it was the end of a section and I didn't know what came next. I'm hoping it will come to me while my brian lies fallow. I know that Jason is going to take up lucid dreaming, but I fear I have to get back to Carl and his suicidal friend first.
footnote 2: Note in the picture that I take seriously the duty of a writer to be well-hydrated.
footnote 3: calendar:

January 2006 23 writing days

Jan1 Jan 2 Jan 3 Jan 4 Jan 5 Jan 6 Jan 7

Write! Write Write Off Write Write Write

866 w 1058 w 298 w

Sunday, January 01, 2006

writers' resolutions

Every year for years I've resolved (among my other resolutions) to write more, often as the first item on the list, sometimes with an exclamation mark following. This year though, I've written as much as in any year of my life, so for a wonder, I don't need to resolve this. To play it safe, I should probably resolve to write as much as I did in 2005, but maybe I'll be devil-may-care.

--T0 read more. Tackle something big. Proust, I hear you saying. Proust, I groan. I've tried before and never got past the 3rd volume. But maybe Proust. And other non-British or -American writers in general. I'm much less well read out of the English language.
--To read less of the trivial. You know what I'm talking about--whatever your escapist route is. Nothing wrong with escapism, but I want to avoid the book as drug.
--To write out of my genre. I'm probably pretty much married to prose, but that doesn't mean I can't do a poem now and then, no matter how not-as-good-as-my-sister-the-poet's they are.
--To buy some new notebooks. New notebooks have been an inspiration and a pleasure to me since I was in grade school. They have to have lines (otherwise my handwriting straggles down the page); they must be bound at the side (no steno notebooks, please); I'm partial to blue covers.
--To get a new chair for my office. Any recommendations for something ergonomically sound? The one I have is '40s vintage, and it's killing my bad knee. (I also resolve not to have a bad knee.)
--To go someplace new with writing, someplace I haven't been. To stop avoiding what I might have been avoiding writing about. To see things in a new way.
--Maybe to write a little bit more. (Can't hurt.)