Quotable Tuesday

“And whenever we get lost – this happens inevitably and often– we need only remember that our story needs to physically stand someplace, that it must be a definite somewhere instead of an anywhere, that a story breathes in and breathes out just as we do.”

– Jane Vandenburgh, “Architecture of the Novel”

There are a couple of things I love about this. First, she uses “we”. She’s not pointing her finger at me, telling me how I should write. No, she is gently guiding me through the mysteries and craft of writing a novel with her at my side, acknowledging the inevitable bumps, if not outright abysses, that we will encounter along the way. And by saying “we” she is saying, “See, it’s okay. This happens to writers. To all of us. And I’m here to tell you to come on in anyway. That there’s a way out of the lostness.”  And the second thing I love is that the way out of the lostness is so simple. We write in scenes. We ground our story in a specific place, at a specific time, in a specific room, with specific weather and sounds and smells and texture. We write in scenes to learn what the story has to teach us about where it needs to go. We learn to trust the story by ultimately trusting ourselves.

Bold is in the Eye of the Beholder

I recently read a book, “Seductress” that explored women through the ages who defied social and cultural norms. Women who were fierce, bold, and daring. Exactly the opposite of what I feel most days. But, when I really consider my life, it has not been as conventional as I suspected. I may not go through men like water or abandon my children in pursuit of my own wild interests but I have made certain choices over the years that I can look at now and see as bold in their own way.

I have been a stay-at-home mom since my youngest was born almost eighteen years ago. Many of my friends went back to work after the children entered school. Being part of the first generation of “latch-key” children, I knew that once they hit middle and high school, that was when I needed to be home the most. In this economy, it’s a gift that I am able to make this choice. I know this. And I try to let my gratitude win out over my guilt, but it’s a struggle. But it is also a gift that we made room for. Made sacrifices for.

Not only is being one of the few stay-at-home moms within my circle a struggle but so is answering the question “What do you do?” I used to be able to say “I stay at home to raise my girls but I also do graphic design work and I write.” Well, the graphic design work is few and far between these days and claiming that I write leads to the inevitable awkwardness that ensues when asked where can they find my books. And recently, I’ve had people make rather snide comments about stay-at-home moms having too much time on their hands and that’s why they rule the PTA with an iron fist and try to out-Martha-Stewart each other on a regular basis. One was a stranger in a bar and I felt blind-sided and woefully inept at coming up with an appropriate response on the spot like that. The other from a good friend who momentarily forgot that I was one of those moms, minus the PTA and Martha Stewart tendencies.

In the spirit of being bold I am declaring that I am a stay-at-home mom instead of meekly and apologetically admitting it, which I am sad to report, has been my usual MO.

In that same spirit, I am also declaring that I am a writer. I didn’t say author which depends upon publication. I am a writer, a person who writes. A person who must write. John Cheever said, “I think that endeavoring to be a serious writer is quite a dangerous career.” I have been endeavoring just that for over twenty years and I didn’t go the usual  route. I did not get an MFA nor even a Bachelor’s degree. Instead, I went to art school, earned an Associate’s, working in that chosen field before realizing that writing is something I needed to do. And I have been doing it ever since, on my own, reading and writing voraciously. Dare I say, fiercely. Going after this dream in my own way, on my own terms. Boldly.

Welcome She-Writers

My blog and overall writing hit a bit of a summer slump. But it is now officially Fall and there’s that back-to-school feeling floating in the air that never really goes away no matter how old I am. So I am back to making lists of projects and where I am at with each one, lists of contests, lists of future projects/characters, lists of scenes in my current WIP, lists of books to read, lists of places to submit to, lists of blog post topics. Lists of all my lists at some point I am sure. But this She Writes Blogger Ball #7 is the perfect structure to ease me back into the writing routine. It’s forcing me to write, if only this short welcoming paragraph and I always find it inspiring to visit all of your blogs. Welcome!
Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

Five on Friday

1. One of my new fave writing blogs to follow.

2. This contest looks interesting.

3. A great interview with the lovely Dylan Landis. It’s made me want to go back and re-read her novel-in-stories “Normal People Don’t Live Like This”.

4. Letter to a Young Writer from the incredibly productive Julianna Baggott. You need to be part of Narrative to read it but it’s free so why wouldn’t you join?

5. This is a fun distraction:)

Books Read in August

“Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth” a novel by Donna M. Gershon

There are many who will tell you that the dark-skinned girls, las morenitas, have got no chance.

This moving, thought-provoking and  beautifully written novel was the first winner of the Bellwether Prize, founded by Barbara Kingsolver to support literature of social change. Not only is the story of Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vasquez (an amazing name) compelling, the prose is almost poetic in its beauty and the novel offers a glimpse into another culture.  My book club read the entire last chapter out loud just for the beauty of the scene as well as the language.

 What I learned: To read my own work out loud in order to find that beauty and rhythm.

 “Twenty Thirty- The Real Story of What Happens to America” a novel by Albert Brooks

It was a normal day, or so it seemed.

The premise is simple: there is a cure for cancer. It’s the holy grail, right?  What we all hope and pray for, especially when it touches our own lives. But there’s a downside. With people living much longer lives, they take up many more resources, depleting those resources that were meant for their children and grandchildren.  Thus begins a great divide between the younger generation and the Olds as they are called. What makes it so entertaining and yet so eerie is how much of what is going on politically in our country and around the world from the national debt to earthquakes is echoed in the story. His vision of America is compelling and disturbing. Even though it’s a novel, I put the book down and wondered what, if anything, could be done to change our course.

 What I learned: To anchor an intriguing premise with equally intriguing characters.

“The Journal Keeper” a memoir by Phyllis Theroux

A Monday Morning

All the neighborhood children are back in school.

“The Journal Keeper” details six years in the life of writer Phyllis Theroux. Her careful observations of her life and the people who inhabit it remind me of May Sarton. There is the same generous intimacy in these journals that are a great gift to the reader.

What I learned: To slow down in writing my own journals in order to savor the big and small moments.

“Healer” a novel by Carol Cassella

The body is a miracle, the way it heals.

Cassella, a practicing anesthesiologist, merges her medical knowledge with a love of literature to write compelling stories, with compelling characters that delve into the world of medicine. In “Healer” Claire’s husband, Addison makes a breakthrough medical discovery that sends their lives in a direction they never expected. She puts her own career as a doctor on hold and hangs on for the ride as they live a lavish life while raising their daughter. Then a risky gamble costs them everything. They move to an old farmhouse and Claire must find work but the only place that will take her is a crumbling public health clinic. In today’s economy this is a story that resonates as a family struggles to start anew and a marriage struggles to find its bearings once again.

 What I learned: To use what fascinates you and what you have knowledge of to inform your stories.