Sunday, April 30, 2006


I’m bored with the Rose Lake chapter. I feel as if I’m getting no nearer the end, even though I now have 474 pages. The end keeps receding. I remember a bit of this with my last novel, but it seems much worse now.
But also I keep thinking about what’s the point of this book, etc.--which is fatal. Or rather, I’m thinking it now, meaning that I feel stuck and blocked, and out of sorts. I wasted the morning in doing email and blog stuff, which is annoying. I sent off a story to the Mid American Review, which I pretended was productive, but it really wasn't.
Why are Carl and Jason going to Rose Lake? Is it for a good (novelistic) reason, or is it just because I liked Rose Lake and thought it was pretty, and because it’s in my notes, and therefore I ought to use it? I was interested in it because it's deep--70 feet. It was once an immense ravine that was dammed--not sure when. The deepness is interesting--Lake Erie is only 50 feet deep on average. Also, when I was there once, I heard someone shouting across the water, something about war and death. I suppose Rose Lake has an apocalyptic but scenic ambience for me. But is that a good reason to put it in the book?
The good part of writing this is that it inspired a blog post (yay—a new place to put my crabby thoughts about writing), and also, that I figured out why things that I write in Word come out funny on the blog. Blog—2 ; Novel—0.
It’s the end, stupid. Why can’t I get at the writing of it? Do I need some kind of intervention?
My writing friends gather round me in a comfortable, well-lit room with only one entrance. One of them takes my hand, possibly my science fiction writer friend. “We understand. We've all been through this. But it can’t go on.”
Another, the saintly T, says, “Yes, we’ve been worried about you. But you have to know that we all love and support you, no matter what.”
My sister (who is famous for her frankness and hatred of wasting time) says, “You have to end this novel, or else.”
Then we all have doughnuts while a single tear makes its way down my weathered cheek. I go home and practice writing "The End" over and over. I do epiphany exercises. I dream of closure.

Friday, April 28, 2006

further consideration of the summer reading list

On my list:
1. the new book by Julia Child and her nephew (I've forgotten the name)
2. all the books of Robertson Davies, now that I've become a Davies fan
3. Lady Oracle: re-read (this is Atwood's funniest book, as far as I'm concerned; there's an artist that works with roadkill--need I say more?)
4. another novel by Balzac; I've only read one (Cousin Bette), and I feel I ought to read at least one more
5. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan; actually I'll probably read this next week, which is technically before summer, even before the academic summer, which begins as soon as the grades are turned in
6. a new book of short stories by Richard Ford that I bought on deep reduction at the campus bookstore (can't remember name)
7. Dreamweaver for Dummies (I'll probably just browse this though)

More later.

Friday, April 14, 2006

my summer reading list

I've never actually had a list of books I was assigned to read in the summer for school, and maybe this is why I so love to make up one for myself. I always think of summer as a time of infinite leisure, when I will have time to read for hours, even though this has been proved false over and over again. But it's good to have goals.
I don't have a list assembled yet, although I have some ideas. Proust is lurking in the back of my mind: read me! And I was thinking I might like to reread some things, like Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and Atwood's Lady Oracle. Possibly some Henry James? I haven't read enough outside the English language--I'd like to get into some more French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, etc., etc.
My plan is to start assembling books in a special pile, the summer pile. And maybe if I want to read Proust I should buy it instead of getting it out of the library and then renewing it for several months. I need to find a new reading position, since lying on my stomach now makes my back hurt if I do it for too long. Also, I'd sort of like an Adirondack chair with its wide chair arm for drinks, for outdoor reading in my garden.
Reading has always been like heaven for me. Or like meditation--a way to turn off the annoying ching-chang of my brain. I've read so much that I have a recurring crick in my left thumb, which I use to hold books open. I've read my way through at least 15 pairs of glasses (estimating a new one every three years). One of the best sounds I know is the flick of the page, laid on the silence of an empty house, counterpointed by the cycling rush of the refrigerator or the heater--a space that fills up over and over with words.
About the list: I'm looking for recommendations--what have you read that's worth recommending?

Monday, April 10, 2006

on site research

I visited the place where my novel is set--Logan, Ohio--over the weekend. My real reason was for my grandson's first birthday, and I didn't do any actual research. But I did spend some time dreaming, gazing out the back window, which looks out on a hill.
There's a hill that rises away from the back of the house, and some immense pine trees that look ancient (but probably aren't because pines grow quite quickly), and some woods at the back of the field, and a fence that comes across diagonally. It's not an exotic view, probably pretty typical in Logan. But whenever I look out of the window (which I do fairly often, because it's the window of the room I sleep in there), I start to think of the farm that once occupied the place where the ranch house is now, and how the farm stretched from one hill and over across another, all the way maybe to the family cemetery that's around the corner of the road.
The farm was broken up probably in the '70s, part of it given to a daughter when she got married. The long years of the farm, growing crops and raising cows on somewhat unforgiving land--it's hilly in Logan, and the topsoil isn't terribly deep--sometimes I feel as if all that labor is still in the soil, and that when you stand on the hill back of the house, as I did with my grandson yesterday, you can feel the chaos and turmoil and sweat of that work rising out of the ground.

We stood on the hill and I told him things like "There are the pine trees. This is the barn." I was holding him because he learned to walk in the winter and all his walking has been done inside. He didn't like the grass--it probably seemed treacherously uneven and soft to him. We stood on the hill and I told him, "Here is the sky. That is a fence," and he listened, either to me or to the wind.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Conrad: the heart of whining

This is for writers everywhere and anyone who's ever moaned about a deadline:

"The other day in a moment of mental aberration I allowed myself to be pinned down to a date by a wild (but amiable) American publisher. He’s gone back, whooping, to his native wilderness of skyscrapers with the signed contract at his belt — and I wish it had been my scalp rather."

A quote from a letter by Joseph Conrad, which I found in Maud Newton (a great literary blog)--she was referencing an article by Curtis Sittenfeld on the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia (a sort of literary museum).

But isn't it true that writers also love deadlines? Don't we get used to them in school (have that paper in by Friday!) and then, ruined creatures, long for them ever after? (Unless we're journalists, who have found a writing life that incorporates deadlines.)

I have a writer friend who always used to say that she wished she had an agent because then the agent would make her write (i.e., give her deadlines). She has an agent now, and a recent deadline, and she moaned all the way to the finish (with her friends cheering her on). And she did finish, so maybe she was right in her longing.

One of the various hard things a writer has to do is to learn how to work in a life without deadlines. For many of us, no one is waiting with anticipation for us to finish our poem, short story, novel, no equivalent of Sister Pancratia, my sixth grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament School: have that poem in by Friday or you'll lose points! (It's also not necessary any more to put JMJ at the top of all my written work.)

It's a wide and deadly space, a no-woman's land, that I imagine right now as something like the moors in the Bronte sisters' books: gray, featureless, with sleet sweeping across it, no shelter, no stone or tree to fasten yourself to.