Posts Tagged ‘writers’
How do different people view an unusual event in nature? Is it a disaster? Is it a miracle? Is it a sign of life out of balance? Barbara Kingsolver explores these questions through the prisms of class, region, science, love, loyalty and family. Kingsolver’s main character, Dellarobia Turnbow, is someone who has been let down in many parts of her life. She got pregnant young, married the wrong guy, is tolerated by her in-laws, doesn’t like church and is constantly overwhelmed as a housewife and mother. The novel opens as she finds herself about to take a drastic step to escape this life when she comes face to face with an experience that will shape and redefine her in unimaginable ways. The writing is unflinching as Kingsolver skillfully takes aim at the media, the decline of public education (and the critical thinking that comes along with it), and the effects of globalization that has taken a toll on Turnbow’s isolated Tennessee community.
Climate change is at the heart of this book, but Kingsolver never loses sight of her characters, their daily struggles, biases and complexities. My only minor criticism, initially, was how dense the first chapter seemed. It was rarely broken with dialogue or Dellarobia’s inner thoughts. But, I see how Kingsolver used the richness and layering in that chapter, to great effect, as a touchstone throughout the entire novel. Dellarobia’s humor, insight and curiosity create an irresistible pull for the reader. After the first chapter, I was hooked.
What I love about this book is the way Dellarobia confronts her own biases, blindspots, and does some hard thinking to make up her own mind about the world around her.
You never know if the person sitting next to you in a writing workshop will change your life. In February 2011, I sat next to Robin Whitten. We had seen each other once before at a different writing workshop, but didn’t have the chance to interact. In the 2011 workshop, the participants were asked to identify new forms of support for our writing. I had not been in a writing group for almost a decade and didn’t think I was looking for one. [Yup, I was pretty much into suffering alone.] During the afternoon, I got to know Robin and her interest in speculative fiction (which made my heart sing!), and she casually mentioned that she had created a writing group that met monthly. A few weeks later, she invited me to attend. They checked me out and I checked them out (as I had been in my share of dysfunctional writing groups and didn’t want a repeat experience). After ten minutes, however, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this group. The group (we call ourselves ‘the writing women’) is well organized, well-run, is serious about writing, knows how to provide constructive feedback, and is incredibly supportive. I’ve found my creative ‘tribe’! What a life changer! We have become good friends as well as trusted colleagues.
I also came to discover (and marvel at) Robin’s incredible and prolific talent. She is dedicated to the craft of writing and her creativity seems endless. I’ve had the good fortune to take several writing classes with Robin and continue to be amazed at her ability to take a writing prompt given to us one week and then return with a fully formed short story the next week. As I hoped she would, she decided to try her hand at poetry for my ongoing celebration. And, she wrote not one but two poems! Fearless and unstoppable, she’s a model for all of us.
Something startles in the night
Clouds cover the moon
A veil of darkness fills the empty place
Where I can see, there is nothing
Hope is lost, no one will see
Blackness fades to gray
Stillness covers all
Bending over him, I smell the familiar scent of death.
I inhale deeply as it penetrates my being.
I search his face, hoping to capture the soul that I knew.
He was alive then, and he was mine.
Who’s is he now?
I’m not witty and I can’t rhyme
But when Michele asked me to write a poem
I took the time
To sit and study verse
I suppose what I’ve written can’t be much worse.
I love to write so any challenge only adds to the game
Of creating, writing, and naming names.
Robin Whitten is a Physician’s Assistant working in family practice. She enjoys writing science fiction and has finished her third book, a coming of age story full of shapeshifting and traveling to other worlds. Her story ‘A Drop in Time’ appeared in recent issue of the Red Clay Review: The Literary & Arts Magazine of Central Carolina Community College (CCCC).
Spring presents writers with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world. Spring fuels us with the energy to tackle physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve us. Over the next several posts, I’ll explore the role of spring cleaning for your writing life. I also asked writer friends for their thoughts and will share their nuggets of wisdom. I posed this question to them: What is one thing that you’re doing, giving away, rearranging, reassessing, reorganizing, etc., to support your writing life?
The ONLY thing unique I have been doing for spring is rearranging my writing nook. (It’s a small indentation that has a desk with shelves all the way up the wall above it across from my bed in my bedroom. I have to write on my laptop sitting on my bed due to my disability.) I have been saving my son’s schoolwork there as well, but have found that it sits there making me feel guilty that I am not putting it into albums, scrapbooks etc., while I am trying to write. So I am moving all his stuff to a place all by itself AWAY from the nook, so I can take ONE day this summer to go through it and file everything where it belongs. It’s been so distracting to have something OTHER than my writing materials in my writing nook. It’s amazing how all that other stuff hanging out in one’s writing area (reminding you of all the other projects waiting for you), can make you feel bad about writing!
So spring is about making my writing space EXCLUSIVELY about writing and not a multitasking space. It’s already made me feel more focused that I have given my writing its own place, making it a real priority.
Jennie Kohl Austin, a writer who also describes herself as a “fiercely determined mom, artist, researcher, lover, and motorcycle enthusiast” shared:
I chose to rework my writing work space as a part of my spring routine this year. I separated my writing work space from my regular computer area so that I could define the state of “being a writer.” Laptop, markers and notepads, nice lighting, and my most inspiring books make for a soothing space that not only honors my process, but also lets my family know I’m working. The best part is how it doesn’t gather unrelated clutter, so I’m always ready to work!
Samantha and Jennie’s insights remind us how important it is to periodically reassess our writing space. Go and look at your writing space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel as sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing area?
Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.
It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.
Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive, but a good place to start.
-Do you need to organize and sort out your paper files?
-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals?
-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?
-Do you need to release some writing books? Welcome others?
-Do you need to physically clean your computer?
-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?
-Do you need more or less shelf space?
-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (i.e. paint)?
Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.
I’d love to hear from you about your process of spring cleaning and your writing life. Any please feel free to share any tips!
Looking for a new suspense writer to fall in love with? Look no further than Linda Johnson. Linda’s just published two compelling novels. One is A Tangled Web, a black widow suspense drama, and Trail of Destruction, a political thriller. For many years Linda worked in advertising. When the cold and gray of her native Chicago got to be too much, she and her husband, Brian, packed up their dogs and horses and relocated to sunny and warm North Carolina. After working for several years as the owner and manager of a hunter/jumper equestrian facility, Linda decided to trade riding for writing.
I know Linda through our monthly writers’ group and have enjoyed the way she creates smart, psychopathic villains. She’s produced several suspense novels and short stories. I recently sat down with this productive writer to learn more about her writing practice.
1) Where did the ideas for your novels come from?
Both of my suspense novels were inspired by real life situations. A Tangled Web was inspired by a murder that took place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was intrigued by the case which involved a young wife and mother who opted to murder her husband rather than divorce him. I couldn’t understand why she would go down that path and I felt it was an intriguing story worth exploring. What’s great about writing fiction is the flexibility to use an idea as a launching pad and then take it in many unique and interesting directions: narcissism, greed, blackmail, betrayal, and murder.
My second novel, Trail of Destruction, was motivated by news stories of various politicians who have affairs at great risk to their careers. Many politicians have tremendous egos which feed into their desire to be with multiple women and can lead to a sense of invulnerability. In my novel, I explored the idea of a candidate running for president who gets his lover pregnant and then has her murdered to cover up the scandal. In an interesting twist, the politician’s younger brother is a journalist covering the candidate’s quest for the White House. He eventually unearths his brother’s actions and is faced with the decision whether to protect him or bring him down.
I think it’s important for a writer to have a dedicated writing space — a place that is removed from other activities and responsibilities. I set my space up in a guest room that we don’t use very often. When we do have visitors, I take a break from writing anyway. I keep my writing and research material in there, but nothing else — no letters, bills, etc. — nothing that can distract me from writing. Most writers I know are excellent procrastinators, and I’m no exception. So the more focused I can be, the more productive I am.
3) What’s the easiest part of writing for you: plot, voice, characterization?
I’m not sure if it’s the easiest, but the one I enjoy the most is characterization. I start with an overall idea for the book. Then I delve into the characters, writing fairly detailed sketches of all of the key players — including childhood, education, career, personality, ambitions, and relationships. Once I have my characters fleshed out, they guide me through plot and voice. They are just like creative partners with minds of their own, so I’ve learned to listen to them.
4) Who is one writer that you’d love to know was reading your work?
Tess Gerritsen, because she is the writer I aspire to become. She’s an excellent role model — the types of novels she writes, her characters, and her writing style. I’m hoping if I keep practicing my craft, I can become as talented a writer as she is.
Find out more about Linda and where to buy her books!
There are few times that I get down about living in a small town in North Carolina, but this weekend is one of them. I have been excited about the film debut of Precious for weeks. I thought I was going to see the film and do a bit of film analysis on the blog, since I have read and taught PUSH by Sapphire (the powerful novel that that film is based on), for years. But, alas it is not opening anywhere in the Raleigh/Durham area until Nov 20! So I can’t write about the film. I can, however, share a bit about how Sapphire’s coming into her own as a writer at 40, along with other writers and activists, who started their journeys later in life, have been an inspiration to me.
Two weekends ago, I was watching MILK, the incredible story of the gay activist Harvey Milk. Early in the film, he picks up a man who will become his long term lover. At this time Harvey Milk is a closeted gay man. Right after the clock strikes on his 40th birthday, he says to his lover plaintively, “I’ve haven’t done a single thing I’m proud of.” (I’m paraphrasing). With his lover’s urging, they move to San Francisco, reinvent themselves and within a year, he is on the path that will eventually shape the modern gay rights movement.
When I have students read PUSH, I ask them to also read an interview with her conducted by Patricia Bell Scott in Flat-Footed Truths: Telling Black Women’s Lives. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
“Although I had been writing for some time, I was almost forty before I claimed my identity as a writer. In 1990, when I did my last major performance, a fifty minute choreopoem, ‘Are You Ready to Rock,’ my business manager, a wonderful young African American woman, said to me, “If I’m going to promote you as a writer, where’s the writing? Where’s the book?” I was trying to do the performance work, trying to write, and none of it was making a living. I was exhausted. Dead tired. And I couldn’t go on.
I went through an intense midlife-turning forty crisis. I felt that I had not really done much with my life, when I compared myself to mentors like Ntozake [Shange], who had five or six books. Then I looked at some of the reasons I hadn’t tried. A lack of confidence-a belief that maybe I couldn’t do it or that I wasn’t good or smart enough. I also realized that I had never committed myself to any one thing. I had always tried to dance, act and write at the same time.
With this awareness, I decided to totally commit myself to becoming a writer. I said “I will put together a collection of writings for publication,” and that became American Dreams. I said, “I will go to school and get an MFA degree”; and I did.”
Witnessing Harvey Milk’s decision to begin over again at 40 and Sapphire’s commitment to writing at 40 makes me grateful about manifesting my creative work at this stage in my life (41). It’s only been recently that I’ve come to appreciate that the path to your heart’s desire is rarely straight and narrow, or, progress easily demarcated strictly by one’s age.
I’ve always been somewhat enchanted with child stars and people who seem to achieve big things early in their careers. And, it’s true that as an academic, I’ve had solid and early professional success, so I can’t complain on that front. I’ve, however, been creatively writing all my life, but it is has only been in the last ten years that I’ve made more space for that identity to flourish. I used to be more convinced that something needed to happen at a particular age: 20, 25, and 38. I’m now less worried about age being a gauge of inner or outer success. I do think that by midlife, people are usually getting intuitive prompts, urgings and guidance about new directions, if they have been blocked. This often leads to new commitments to pursue buried or unrealized dreams.
I am also cheered by examples of writers including Amy Tan and Toni Morrison that didn’t start their writing careers until their late thirties or early 40s. PUSH is a remarkable novel and I think the skill and focus it took to craft it might not had happened if Sapphire had not lived a full and complex life (sex worker, writer, incest survivor, performance artist, teacher), and faced her internal demons and doubts squarely in the face as a mature woman. Her life and other ‘over thirty’ creative bloomers are useful reminders of the arc of human potential.
I hope that you will read PUSH and see the film. So, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where it is opening this weekend, go see it. Seeing the film sends a message to Hollywood that the viewing public is interested in being challenged and hearing new stories.
I’ve included a link to Sapphire being interviewed on NPR:
Sapphire’s Story: How ‘Push’ Became ‘Precious’
All things considered: NOV 6 – 2009