Sentences I Wish I had Written

From “Ask for a Convertible” stories by Danit Brown

“One of her tears landed on Osnat’s right earlobe. It was wet and warm and felt like something that belonged inside her.”

“… but Osnat knew this was just a way to make it appear that he had a genuine interest in astronomy. Truth was, people didn’t watch stars. They watched each other.”

“If you closed your eyes and inhaled, even the newest neighborhood was reduced to its essence: hot asphalt, a trace of urine, cracked earth.”

My Natural Subject

I just created a page of books that have made it onto my permanent bookshelf and learned a few things. I noticed that I have almost twice as many short story collections as novels and that almost all of the novels focus on adolescent girls. Not exactly sure what that means. A woman at a conference once asked me if I intended to write YA fiction because for many of the in-class exercises my characters defaulted to that particular voice. At first I took offense. I want to write “real” fiction. Literary fiction. I read a lot of YA myself. It’s good. Really good. But for some reason, when she said that, I took it to mean that I couldn’t cut it as an adult fiction writer. Irrational, I know but that’s the price I pay for living inside this head of mine. So am I considering writing YA? Should I only write short stories featuring adolescent girls? I don’t know the answers quite yet. I am thinking that part of the reason I can get so stuck in my writing and not focus on one of my many, many half done  projects is because I have not found my natural subject yet. Or am fighting it. Or avoiding it. Or forcing myself to be a certain kind of writer that I am not. So not real answers, just somem things to think about as the new year rolls in with all its possibilities.

Books Read in November

I know this was supposed to be my “short story” month and it started off that way. But then two books that I had requested from the library came in so I had to read them and they were not short stories. I still like the idea of reading according to a theme each month. Not sure what this month’s is yet. I’ll have to figure it out today I guess.

“Going Away Shoes” short stories by Jill McCorkle

Debby Tyler is a mythical stereotype, the oldest child who stays home to tend the sick and dying mother while her sisters marry and have prosperous lives elsewhere.

These stories were like chips. I couldn’t stop at just one. In fact, I think I did the book a disservice by reading it too fast. It is definitely worth another more reflective reading. I made notes on several that I think may help me breathe life into some of my own stories. We get a glimpse into a range of women at various stage of their lives from a grandmother grieving the loss of her son while trying to connect with his daughter who seems almost foreign to her to a single mom dealing with the first Christmas eve with her sons after a divorce. I laughed out loud at times yet the stories are also deeply moving.

“Nothing Right” short stories by Antonya Nelson

“Never shake a baby,” the flyer insisted, “Never, never, never.”

I read everything she writes. Her stories give me glimpses into familiar yet totally unique situations. It feels like I am reading something completely new and original. In one story a woman learns of the death of her young lover from her husband. In another a grown woman returns home to take care of her younger brother after their parents are involved in a serious car accident. I love her dark humor. In the title story a man, angry at his ex, threatens to hire a hit man. “It was terrible, Hannah thought, when only a hit man would suffice.” The relationships Nelson depicts are intricate and layered and so carefully observed. Many of her books have made their way onto my permanent bookshelf and this one is no exception.

Bad Mother- A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” by Ayelet Waldman

I busted my first Bad Mother in the spring of 1994, on a Muni train in San Francisco.

Waldman garnered much attention after writing an essay where she declared that she loved her husband (Michael Chabon) more than her children. She was on all of the talk shows, including Oprah where other moms impaled her with their self-righteous indignation. Personally, I felt all those moms were jealous that Waldman was obviously still deeply in love with her husband and getting laid on a regular basis. The thoughtful and thought-provoking essays in this collection need to be read by every mother who has ever judged herself or another mom harshly. That includes just about all of us I’d say. She covers everything from our children’s homework being the bane of our existence to the heart wrenching decision she must make after learning her baby may be born with a severe mental defect. She never flinches from the honest experience of being a mom and makes us all breathe a little sigh of relief that we can now maybe go a little easier on ourselves.

“April & Oliver” a novel by Tess Callahan

Buddy has been lost for some time, his wipers whisking the thick Maine snow, when he spots a missed turn in his rearview and brakes.

I finished this novel in a day and a half because A) I needed to return it to the library today and B) It’s a page turner. But not a page turner in the usual sense. Most page turners, for me, depend on lots of action and mystery. Callahan has built a novel with such emotional intensity that I felt compelled to keep reading to see what finally happens. This book is definitely character driven yet compelling, not always an easy task. April and Oliver grew up together, virtual soul mates without any definite romantic connection. They grew up, apart and away from each other until April’s brother, Buddy is suddenly killed and they are thrown back together only now they are adults. Or trying to be. Oliver has given up a lot to become a lawyer and is back with a fiancee. April has never quite found her way and Oliver is naturally drawn to help and protect her. A delicious read that I lost myself in.