Novel Writing Month

I once participated in NaNoWriMo. In fact, it was got me started blogging. I actually did it in September since November is a crazy month for me with the holidays and my daughter’s birthday and visitors staying with us. So I took it upon myself to write 50,00 words in one month and set up a blog to keep me accountable. I did it. I finished a first draft. Actually I consider it more of a down draft. I got 50,000 words down but there are POV shifts, tense changes, no real structure or plot yet. But what a rush to have accomplished that much writing in one month. I see the appeal. Especially when you know that thousands of other writers are pounding at the keyboard across the world at the same time. For the isolated writer, that’s no small comfort.

I haven’t participated since then. I still have the down draft of that novel that I return to again and again, still intrigued by the characters and story  not to mention a novel-in-stories I need to revise, not to mention a collection of stories I am polishing one by one and sending out into the world not to mention several new ideas tapping at my subconscious waiting for their opportunity. The last thing I need is another messy draft to revise. The pace of NaNoWriMo is thrilling, invigorating even But the pace also leaves you with a huge mess to then cope with. I think if you write slower and more thoughtfully, you’re better off. It will not be a polished version by any means but it probably won’t be a barely coherent mish-mash of a skeleton of a story.

I like what Tayari Jones has to say about it here. I have a couple of friends who are  participating this month and they have shaped it to fit what they need to accomplish on their individual writing projects. That’s the best way to approach it. Figure out what you need to and can accomplish in one month and ride that creative energy generated around the world with all of those writers huddled over their keyboards doing the same thing. Good luck!

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A Reading Plan, of Sorts

This came to me last night as I finished one book and wondered which one to pick up next. I literally have hundreds of unread books lining my shelves. To narrow my options I decided to read only short stories this month. Month by month, for a while anyway, I will choose one genre or one author to focus on: memoir, novels, non-fiction, classics, essays. After reading the latest Poets & Writer, I am intrigued by Jonathan Lathem and would love to take a month a read what I can of his work. I also have several Michael Chabon books waiting to be read. A little structure to control the book choice chaos… not a bad idea.

Books Read in October

“Waiting to Surface” a novel by Emily Listfield
It is possible, after all, for someone to vanish off the face of the earth.

I remember reading one of her first novels, “It Was Gonna Be Like Paris” and being drawn to her not only because I enjoyed the story but also because she was a writer who did not have an MFA. Over the years I’ve read her novels as they’ve come out, followed her career as an editor of magazines such as Self and Fitness.  “Waiting to Surface” is a story close to her own. Both Listfield and her protagonist, Sarah married successful artists and both received a phone call informing them that their husbands had disappeared while in Florida.  Over the course of the novel we watch as Sarah attempts to navigate life as a magazine editor and mother to her six-year-old daughter. Her husband, Todd was not officially dead. They had been separated but are now bound together in this odd kind of limbo. The story pulled me in not only out of curiosity about what happened to Todd but the careful observance of Sarah in the face of it.

“In a Perfect World” a novel by Laura Kasischke
If you are READING this you are going to DIE!

Here is yet another novel that explores my morbid curiosity about a post-apocalyptic world. The difference with this one is that we see the world slowly unravel and slip into chaos. The “Phoenix Flu” is the catalyst which eerily mimics our own swine flu fears. News of celebrities dying creates a world-wide panic as imports and exports are halted and Americans find themselves unwelcome in other countries. These are just the first dominoes as Jiselle’s world crumbles around her and her new step-children. I love the way Jiselle’s personal story of marrying a pilot and trying to adapt to an instant family is propped against this other wider story. It was thrilling and disturbing to read as if feels almost inevitable. Thoroughly absorbing and Kasischke’s background as a poet informs her prose with beautiful imagery and rhythm.

“The Wishing Box” a novel by Dashka Slater
My grandmother was doing the breaststroke in the YMCA’s steamy haze.

I picked this book up years and years ago at a used bookstore out in Phoenix. After all this time I pulled it from my bookshelf and found it was not at all what I was expecting. There is a magical realism quality to the story that reminded me of Allende or Esquivel. Julia is a single mom when she and her sister create a wishing box, calling for the return of the father who had abandoned them as children. Amazingly, he does return.  The chapters alternate points of view and we get glimpses into their parents’ life before children. Woven throughout are chapters told from the POV of their aunt, a mystical woman who sees beyond what is visible.

“The Glass Castle” a memoir by Jeannette Walls
I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

I was hooked from that mesmerizing first line and Walls didn’t disappoint. I was amazed at how she was able to tell the story without passing judgment on her parents. I wanted to hate them but she balanced their destructive tendencies with moments of beautiful loyalty and resilience and love. I was taken aback at our book club discussion when someone brought up her disbelief of the story. I wonder if James Frey and subsequent memoir scandals have forever jaded our experience of reading another person’s interpretation of their life story. And it is an interpretation. My sisters and I could each write a memoir and I’m sure you’d find it hard to believe that we all came from the same family.  I was disappointed that such a well-written and engaging story was picked apart for it’s veracity, or supposed lack thereof. I read memoir on faith. Faith that the writer is telling her version to the best of her recollection. It is not my job to determine if moments that though I may find hard to believe are indeed to be believed. We read to enlarge our world and it is exactly those moments that astound us because they seem so foreign to our own small world, that open us up to another’s.

“Blame” a novel by Michelle Huneven
The first thing Millicent Hawthorne did after scheduling her surgery was to enroll her daughter Joey in a summer typing class at the local high school.

Patsy MacLemoore wakes in jail- again- but this time is different. This time two people are dead. This time there is no place to hide. Patsy, an alcoholic driving with a suspended license knows that the beautiful life she has known is over. For good. She goes to prison but even when released she is stuck in the prison of her own guilt, determined to atone for her mistakes. Decades later, a knew piece of information finds its way to her and she is stunned and confused about what it actually means. Her life has been balanced with her absorbing the blame she believed she deserved. But if she isn’t to blame, what does that mean to her life? To who she is? To how she sees herself?

“The Bright Forever” a novel by Lee Martin
I’m not saying I didn’t do it. I don’t know.

From that first sentence, the suspense is set and is kept taught throughout. On a summer day in a small Indiana town nine-year-old Katie Mackey, daughter of the town’s most affluent family, disappears after riding her bike to return some library books. The story is told from overlapping points of view, each one revealing something new or deeper as we go along, piecing together like a quilt what happened to Katie and the aftermath such an event has on a family and a town.