To state the obvious, there’s been a change of theme around this place. My friend Benjamin Gemmel does digital art in his spare time and was willing to take on the project of making my sad blog a little less sad. Girlwonders, new and improved, with 100% more Cthulhu! Ben blogged about his process — he based the original concept on a few of my stories, let me weigh in on multiple drafts and was generally dreamy to work with. We’ve been batting the header back and forth for a few months now, and I’m very pleased with the final result. Thanks, Ben!
I’ve stopped posting about my wrist and arm pain. Partly because I was sick of my own whining. Partly because I feared the professional repercussions of going on the job market while publicly “broken.” But Cat Valente has as usual written the post that sums up what I’m feeling. I’m doing better than a year ago, and much better than she is, from the sound of it. But this week, when I’m grading 70+ essays by hand to help out a colleague who’s on leave thanks to recently becoming a father, after spending the morning reviewing, also by hand, a hundred or so compositions by incoming freshman so as to place them into an appropriate introductory writing course, well…I’m not getting much of my own writing done, and it kills me. Every day I do what I can, and usually more — far more — than I should. I return too many emails too conscientiously. Every day it’s a battle between my desire to work, my ability to tolerate pain, and the sure knowledge that if I push myself too hard, I’ll shut down completely (which is what happened in June-July of 2013). Braces help. Dragon helps. I’m beginning to understand that I’ll never be fully healed, and that the writing process that has produced my very best work is too brutal on my body to sustain over the arc of a career. Slowly I’m piecing together a kinder, gentler, slower process. It makes me want to scream.
I’ve been reading Essay Daily for ages. First discovered it through Nicole Walker, but I became an avid follower after putting Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point on my comprehensive exam list and falling in love with his fragmented style. I never thought I’d someday be writing for them. It’s is a review of Cris Mazza’s new memoir, Something Wrong with Her, with an interview to follow on Wednesday. Happy reading!
ETA: The interview is now live.
I’ll be reading at the upcoming Tuesday Funk on April 1. Looking forward to being back at the Hopleaf. Please come out, sip a fancy beer, and listen to some great new work.
Check it out. Thanks, Emily Nordling!
Both of my AWP panels could not have gone better, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow panelists (Nick, Rahul, Aimee, Alexandra, Cyndi, and Nava) all of whom had thoughtful and provocative things to say. At the end of both panels there was a Q&A, and during said Q&A some questions came up that deserved a more sustained answer than I could give off the cuff. I figured I’d blog my expanded responses.
From the Wreckage of Reason panel, the final question asked each writer to cite her influences, the more obscure the better.
My (ever expanding, incomplete) list of favorite experimental women writers (beyond the women writers featured in the two Wreckage of Reason anthologies, which is certainly a great place to begin) would include Joanna Russ, Jean Rhys, Anaïs Nin, Maguerite Duras, Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis, Joyelle McSweeney, Clarice Lispector, Lynne Tillman, Susan Steinberg, Kate Bernheimer, Anna Joy Springer, Megan Milks, Shelley Jackson, Shirley Jackson, Kij Johnson (especially Fudoki and her story collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees), Kelly Link, and theorists Hélène Cixous and Donna Haraway. I’m trying to avoid the totally obvious (Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Woolf), though many of these authors are anything but obscure (Nin, Acker, Jackson). I know I’m forgetting many luminaries, but perhaps this can serve as a starter kit.
From the Give Us Your Fae panel, several audience members wanted more in-class exercises. Here’s another two:
1) For practicing sustained attention/observation, I give students an entire class period to wander the campus by themselves and return with one sentence. This sentence should be rhythmically beautiful, with attention paid to assonance, consonance, alliteration and other rhetorical devices. It can involve metaphor or simile so long the comparison is fresh/unusual. The sentence should be a single observation of an object or event that also contains an emotional charge. Note that descriptions can contain melancholy or joy or rage (feel free to provide examples — I use ones from a text we’ve recently read in class). Aim to describe something that gives you an emotional charge, in such a way that other might feel it too. The idea here is to focus students’ perceptions. One sentence. Thirty minutes, for one perfect sentence. Tell them to jot down ideas, take notes, observe many things and then pick the best one. Tell them to revise the sentence. Mix up the order of the words. Try writing a long sentence with lots of punctuation. Then try to condense it. How does the length of the sentence alter how it makes its meaning? Try to surprise yourself; try to take a risk, connecting an image to a very far distant emotion. Then we return to the class, circle up, read our sentences, and offer brief reactions to them.
2) I also run a retold fairytale exercise. First we read two to three riffs on a single tale. [I recently taught Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, Joyce Carol Oates’ Bluebearded Lover, and Helena Bell’s Variations on Bluebeard and Dalton’s Law Along the Event Horizon; Theodora Goss’s The Rose in Twelve Petals alongside any Sleeping Beauty variant would also work. Retold fairytales are legion.] The exercise asks students to retell the story from the perspective of any other character or object appearing in the tale. Free them from the constraints of sticking to plot and setting — how would the plot change with a different protagonist, or if the story took place somewhere unusual? Ask them to consider how the main character might gain agency — what does this peripheral character want? How might they get what they want? Fairytales seem to provide enough scaffolding that students can work freely inside their constraints; just make sure the scaffolding doesn’t become a cage. I encourage them to work with lesser-known fairytales, too, and I’ll sometimes bring in several large anthologies and let them choose a story (Calvino’s Italian Folktales is excellent for this, as are all the colors of Fairy Book. Perrault and Grimm are also standbys).
If you are stopping by the blog because we met in person at AWP, I’m pleased to meet you, and thanks for looking me up/attending one of these panels/stopping by The Account table.
Here is a picture of the view out our Seattle hotel room, along with about half of the books I bought (they wouldn’t all fit on the sill). Reading material for the next few months.
My Cthulhu-lives-inside-a-nose story, “The Sneeze,” is in the February issue of 713 Flash over at Kazka Press. I’m particularly pleased this piece finally found a home, as it was one of my Clarion submission stories. Be forewarned: it’s a weird, dark ride.
I’ll be moderating one panel and serving on another. I’ll also be manning The Account’s table at the Bookfair. Please come by and say hello!
Friday, 10:30-11:45am, Room LL4, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level:
F156. Give Me Your Vampires, Your Fae, Your Bulbous Alien Masses Yearning to Breathe Free. (Rachel Swirsky, Rahul Kanakia, Brooke Wonders, Nick Mamatas) Realist and experimental fiction writers often express nervousness about allowing their undergraduates to submit fantasy and science fiction to workshop. Some go so far as to ban such work outright, a tactic that can defuse young writers’ enthusiasm. Join writers whose work has appeared in both literary and genre publications as they discuss how a successful undergraduate workshop can include teaching serious genre fiction.
Sat., 10:30-11:45am, Cedar Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor:
S135. The Wreckage of Reason: Contemporary Experimental Prose by Women Writers. (Aimee Parkison, Alexandra Chasin, Brooke Wonders, Cyndi Reeves, Nava Renek) Writers from Wreckage of Reason 2, an anthology of contemporary experimental prose by women, discuss challenging traditional modes of storytelling, subverting narrative and language, and exploring provocative subject matter as they follow in the footsteps of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes at a time when experimental writing by women has been virtually shut out of the mainstream publishing market.
Have not been feeling the blogging love of late, I fear. No resolution post (a standby, I know). I do, however, have A List which may be of interest. I kept a book log of my reading habits for the second year running. In defense of the log, I do seem to read more when I’m tracking my reading. Ninety-two books is not unrespectable, I suppose. I was hoping to break 100, but this doesn’t count the many online magazines and critical journals I read, nor does it include the many friends with whom I trade work. There are many words read in 2013 that are unaccounted for here.
A round-up: This year contained more fiction than nonfiction, more books written by friends and colleagues, and fewer terrible writing advice books than in years past. A few poetry volumes, a fair number of critical works (especially re: fairytale, allegory, and capitalism…which makes sense in terms of how my interests have shifted this year), and a bizarre Stephen King phase that lasted for most of the month of June and for which I can offer zero justification other than that it was summer and King’s nothing if not compulsively readable when the temperature breaks 90 degrees. I tend to get my recommendations from other blogs I read, and from friends on Facebook: many of the works listed were reccs from Matt Bell, Rahul Kanakia, Kij Johnson, Virginia Konchan, or Nick Mamatas (and I’m sure I’m forgetting people…oh of course, Saskatchewan Review’s unfinished book reviews!). So for those braver than I who regularly post reviews of what they read, here’s one devoted reader who much appreciates it. It so helps when deciding which of a million worthy works I ought devote my time to reading.
Weird how much this feels like oversharing, like flashing my undergarments, when in fact it’s just my book list. One’s tastes are private…but of course, since I don’t comment on my reads, those tastes are still mostly concealed. They’re pretty mundane anyway. Beige-neutral undergarments, really.
Note: I track haphazardly. I’m probably missing some books, possibly many. I may have duplicated some reads from last year (I reread with fair regularity) that are unmarked herein. Without further preamble, the list:
1. The Flamethrowers
2. Stop-Time, Conroy
3. Patrick Melrose/Never Mind, Aubyn
4. Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (unfinished)
5. The Circle, Eggers
6. Zizek, Sublime Object of Ideology
7. Jennifer Silva, Coming Up Short
8. Allegory: Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Angus Fletcher
9. Little, Big (unfinished)
10. There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced…
11. In Search Of and Others, Will Ludwigsen
12. The Girl Next Door, Ketchum
13. XO Orpheus (unfinished)
14. We, A Reimagined Family History, C. Vance
15. Modern Allegory and Fantasy, Hunter (unfinished)
16. Finding a Form, William Gass
17. Shirley Jackson, Come Along with Me
18. The Tales (Les Figues Press)
19. Anna Kornbluh, Realizing Capital
20. Dani Shugart, The Sound of Secrets
21. 9.5 Theses on Art and Class
22. Thinking, Fast and Slow
23. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
24. Krughoff, My Brother’s Name
25. ETA Hoffman, Best-of Collection
26. The Interestings
28. Electricity and Other Dreams, Micah Dean Hicks
29. More Than Human, Ramez Naam
30. My Work Is Not Yet Done, Ligotti
31. In the House upon the Dirt… Matt Bell
32. Luthi, Once Upon a Time: on the Nature of Fairytales
33. Luthi, On the Form of Folktale
34. On Writer’s Block
35. 100 Apocalypses
36. Ozick, Metaphor and Memory
37. Wizard and Glass
38. Wolves of the Calla
39. Song of Susannah
40. The Dark Tower
41. Ocean at the End of the Lane
42. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
44. Millhauser, Knife Thrower
45. Gluck, Wild Iris
46. Tampa, Alissa Nutting
47. Face in the Frost
48. Jane Austen Book Club
49. The Gunslinger
50. Drawing of 3
51. The Wasteland
52. Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
53. Andy Duncan, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories
54. Von Franz, Interpretation of Fairytales
55. Sensation, Mamatas
56. Lukacs, Theory of the Novel
57. The Repeat Year
58. Ancient, Ancient
59. Bridge of Birds
60. The Flame Alphabet
61. Financial Lives of the Poets
62. The Stars My Destination, Bester
63. The Fault in Our Stars, Greene
65. Mr. Fox, Oyeyemi
66. The Future Is Japanese
67. Patricia Hampl, Collection
68. Red Mars
70. Zoo City
71. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale
72. Caliban and the Witch (unfinished)
73. Tongue Lyre, Tyler Mills
74. Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment
75. Amy Hempel, Collected Stories
76. The Vanishers, Heidi Julavits
78. Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion
78. Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl
79. Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen (reread)
80. Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove
81. Alex Woloch, The One V. the Many (reread)
82. George Saunders, The 10th of December
83. NW, Zadie Smith (reread)
84. Marcia Aldrich, Companion to an Untold Story (reread)
85. David Lodge, Art of Fiction
86. The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
87. The Magician King, Grossman
88. Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects, Valente
89. Joseph Heller, Something Happened
90. Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark
91. Amazing Adult Fantasy, A.D. Jameson
92. Master and Commander, O’Brian