Tag Archives: fiction

Publication: Abundant Grace

Abundant Grace book cover

I’m honored and thrilled to see my short story, “Digging to Switzerland,” in print. It appears in the anthology Abundant Grace: Fiction by DC Area Women (Paycock Press), edited by Richard Peabody.

 

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Thankful for NaNoWriMo

Rhea at the laptop

Working off Thanksgiving dinner in New York. Thinking burns a ton of calories, you know. Photo credit: Marji Yablon.

As I write this, it is Thanksgiving. It’s also Day 26 of NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. Like many others, I’m grateful for both the family and food I’ve enjoyed today. Like a hefty helping of my fellow writers, I’m also thankful for an opportunity to write (mostly) fiction (almost) every day this month.

I want to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve been doing for the past three-plus weeks. My arrangement is a network binding myself and three other scribes into a daily writing practice. We haven’t pledged to write a novel from whole cloth during this month (though one of us has, indeed, put the final stitches in her book-in-progress. Congratulations, Celeste!) We haven’t even committed to 30 days of fiction. It’s just about writing creatively–for any amount of time–every single day.

What has this meant for me? Let’s see. I’ve written:

  • Nine flash fiction stories
  • Five zygotes of additional stories
  • One pitch for an article (which was accepted!)
  • The article (link coming by Hanukkah)
  • Another pitch for an article (awaiting review)
  • A mysterious file that is blank except for the title “Maybe we thaw and gel”

Great thanks to Celeste, Dottye, and Cheryl for making this happen over daily emails. I’ll miss those one- and two-sentence check-ins. Looking forward to four more days, at the least.

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What I’m Consuming: The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon

In the first of what I hope to make a series of posts, I’d like to talk about The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas by Mary Gordon (Pantheon Books, 2014).

I’m calling the series “What I’m Consuming.” I’m going to write about things I’ve watched, read, or heard (and maybe even eaten) that I liked and would recommend.

What it is and why it’s here

The Liar’s Wife is a collection of an odd genre. I’ve never seen more than one of these long stories/short novels together before. The quartet comes to 288 pages in all, and comes together well. Three of the protagonists are women — two very young and the third just past retirement age. Only one of the main characters is male — an elderly man looking back on his teenaged years.

Two of the novellas plop real historical figures Simone Weil and Thomas Mann into plausible but completely fictional settings.  Gordon then imagines a central character to put in his or her path and a series of events steeped in the figure’s heyday.

I’m writing about this here — with a heading that pledges I would recommend it — because of the characters, especially the female protagonists Jocelyn, Genevieve, and Theresa. Here are brilliant women, one of them fortunate in life (financially, family-wise, professionally) on top of that. The other two are survivors of World War II Europe and an affair with a pretentious professor, respectively. These women bask in and benefit from their enviable luck and talents, but also question their worth. It takes a great writer to create a woman who has a comfortable retirement, a loving husband, and thriving children, but wonders if she might be better off roaming the country in a Frito Lay truck and singing in dives — and Gordon makes the reader wonder, too.

How I came upon it

I read this book because Gordon’s daughter was a childhood friend. No joke! I didn’t realize at the time that Anna’s mother was a famous writer. But by this past fall, I knew it well enough to hightail it to Politics and Prose to see the mom from the stone house on North Oakwood Street.

Gordon is a fantastic reader. She read from the title work, performing the parts of the Irish truth twister, his Southern-born companion, and the Italian pizzeria owner as easily as the protagonist with a familiar northeastern American voice. I dug into the book a few months later, during what I’ll call a “working staycation” between semesters.

The upshot

I could have binge-watched yet more Scandal over those cold, laid-back weeks, but the characters and stories in The Liar’s Wife kept pulling me back to the printed page. They kept me reading and made me think.

 

Until next time, happy consuming!

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Common Core and the 70 percent

Yesterday, news of the Common Core State Standards exploded. A front page feature in The Washington Post brought them to my attention, and I guess a few others’, too. By 9:30 a.m., more than 300 comments trailed the piece.  The standards in question were adopted by states as early as 2010, sprawl across a 66-page document (PDF), and raise some questions about genres and communication.

This effort toward K-12 education reform is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What was the deal with these standards, and why would I—a college instructor and non-parent—really care? Well, the goal, according to the document, is “to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school.” So yeah, I do care about students’ readiness to tackle my course material and do well in their professions. But I also have to make a confession: I learned from a crazy, mixed up set of genres and I liked it.

My confession

I was the kid who read Flatland: A romance of many dimensions for extra credit in ninth grade math class. My Civil War bookshelf comprised the fiction of Toni Morrison and Margaret Mitchell alongside the documentation of Howard Zinn, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. I saw some high school classmates grok their longing through Whitman, while others soaked up our health class textbook with fascination. Later, I would understand nonfiction by John Hersey and Maxine Hong Kingston as deeply literary work. So when I saw something about required amounts of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry on reading lists, I perked up. Continue reading

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Reviewing friends’ work

Two friends recently asked me to look at novel manuscripts. When the electronic files popped into my mailbox, I immediately knew a few things: 1) This chance to see their new creations flattered me to no end; 2) As honored as I was, I would not be able to look at them right away, and; 3) When I did take in my friends’ carefully-crafted phrases, sentences, and pages entrusted to me, I would believe that they gave me this privilege because of my writing wisdom and experience—and would have absolutely no idea what to say.

Should I mark the margins with my comments about what I loved? Point out moments that confused me?

Would they want me to trot out the proofreading marks, dotting the page with missing-comma carrots and delete-it curlicues?

Or look at the pieces holistically, and offer comments that way?

If I go with that last idea, should I speak to the areas where I have experience—via life, my understanding of the writers’ perspectives, or my particular brand of fiction interest—or engage it simply as an innocent reader?

One did ask me to look at certain parts of the book related to a deaf character, because I have some involvement with the deaf community. The other explained that he is calling on reviewers because this is the first time he has written a major work without a workshop class to share it with. Should I stick to what they’ve asked, or decide what begs to come back to them?

I have worked through some of their words already. I found myself marking in the margins on my hard copy printouts, as if I were back in workshops. Where do I go from here?

What do you do when a writer friend or colleague asks for feedback?

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