Tuesday, May 30, 2006

7 more chapters

I've just determined, perhaps erroneously, that I have 7 more chapters/sections to write, which has made me very happy. They even have titles:
Zener Cards
The Logan Fair
Lily in the Fire
The Prison, Revisited
Ghost Walking
The titles are sort of like reminders to myself of what they're supposed to be about--another way to focus.
In other news, I've planted 13 of my 23 tomato plants, most of them heirloom varieties: German Johnson, Cherokee Purple (pictured), Yellow Brandywine, Yellow Pear, a red grape type, and some other ones I can't remember. My (very small) yard is a forest of tomato stakes.

Monday, May 22, 2006

the long road leads to chocolate and millay

This morning it took 3 squares of Lindt's 70% Dark Cocoa chocolate to jumpstart my writing: where will it end? To counteract the dark lovely bitterness of the chocolate, I read a few poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I bought a paperback of her collected poems when I was in high school--one of the first books I bought for myself, at Schroeder's Bookstore on Public Square, now and for a long time defunct. I keep reading them trying to imagine what my fifteen or sixteen-year-old self thought of them. I'd already decided I wanted to be a writer, but I don't remember ever thinking, I want to write a poem just like "The Suicide," which is pages long and very gloomy:
"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body
And so on, for hundreds of lines. She liked exclamation points a lot, at least in her early poems. They are arranged chronologically in the book, so I'm now in the midst of her third book, published when she was around 29. There are more fun ones than "The Suicide"--a jaunty poem called "The Beanstalk," for instance, which familiarly addresses the giant, and which I take to be about being a poet and a woman in the early part of the 20th century.
My favorite so far is "Passer Mortuus Est," a witty and delightfully snide comment on love that's over, with a soupcon of feeling coming out at the end. Check it out, here. The title is from a poem by Catullus on the death of his mistress's sparrow (prose translation here), and Dorothy Parker was similarly inspired--see her not quite as delightful poem, here.
"Passer Mortuus Est" is also mercifully brief, after all those long, long, long poems on death and betrayal and grief. I believe that she had a pretty good time as a young woman in the free-loving post-WWI American years--but you wouldn't know it from the early poems.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

ny times best of list

The NY Times has a list of the best works of American fiction in the last 25 years--see here. Not to be a feminist or anything (but wait: I am a feminist)--has anyone noticed that there are only two women on this list? And isn't it excessive to have 5 books by Philip Roth? (I know--these are the choices of eminent literary sages; but still.)
What about Jane Smiley? What about Grace Paley? What about Rosellen Brown?
As homework for this course, please read A Thousand Acres, Paley's Collected Stories, and Brown's Civil Wars.
For extra credit, propose your own list.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

coming back to the novel as to a lover

I took several days off the novel to do end-of-semester reading and grading (some very good stories), and then today came back to the page (481 to be exact), and to Carl and Jason with a sigh of relief and affection.
They'd been suspended at the moment of pushing off into Rose Lake with a party of disaffected canoers and a high-spirited dog, many questions hanging in the air. Will someone fall in? will the little girl in the party want to play with the doggie, even though he's in another canoe? will they look down into Rose Lake and see the ghosts of settlers who might have lived there before the river was dammed up and the gorge became a lake?
So far, Jason and Carl are just having an argument, and they stop to hear someone shouting over the water about the war and the murder of the American people, with more to come.
In other news, now that the semester is over, I can devote myself to the finalization of my summer reading list (still taking nominations). I've started on The Time Traveler's Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger), lent to me by one friend who recommended it with reservations (another friend recommended it w/o reservations). I like it so far. It switches time a lot, but I'm dealing with this by not paying too much attention to it. The only thing maybe is the relationship between the 2 main characters--am I creeped out because he meets her when she's six? I'm not sure yet.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

back on the track of the elusive plot animal

One of the nice things about writing is how it lets you revisit things you've liked or loved--as with the aforementioned Rose Lake, a teacup of a lake (compared to Lake Erie, as all lakes must be to a Clevelander), with a hidden, secret feeling, ringed by trees, beautiful but with a hint of danger (because it's so deep).
The revisiting applies to other things--Wolfe Cemetery, which came in earlier, and the Moonville Tunnel--the same kind of pleasure you might get from a photograph, or a souvenir of a trip perhaps.
Of course, this revisiting may also be less pleasant, for unless we're writing a relentlessly cheerful and upbeat book with no conflict or unhappiness (and how good a book can this be?) we have to go back to the things and places and events that have brought us sorrow, shame, regret, despair, to give those things to the characters walking through the landscapes we've created, or recreated.
But now I'm in the thick of the Rose Lake scene. Carl and Jason are about to embark on a canoe trip with a dog passenger--could anything be better?