there should be no need for bridges
like Seamus digging
squat pen ‘tween finger and thumb
hang on for dear life
Haiku 366-67 fear packed away…
Source: Haiku 366-65, -66, -67
there should be no need for bridges
like Seamus digging
squat pen ‘tween finger and thumb
hang on for dear life
Haiku 366-67 fear packed away…
Source: Haiku 366-65, -66, -67
We use icons in our writing all the time, especially so when place is critical to the plot. A cozy mystery set in London, and a mention of Big Ben or the Tower of London is obligatory. What would a Cold War thriller be without a mention of The Berlin Wall or The Kremlin? Central Park is the venue of many a murder in a crime procedural set in New York City. I’m sure you can think of many others.
Mentioning an icon is the quick, easy way to put the reader into exactly where in your world the action takes place. Trust me, say “Central Park,” and the average reader knows exactly where the story takes place. Even if he or she has never been to New York City, a reader has seen enough pictures or TV shows to be able to place the locale.
Writers who invent new worlds or use more obscure locales have to do more description of place and setting so the reader can “see” it. Especially if you make up your own town or city, you have to provide just the right balance of back story to make the place believable. For example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit wouldn’t be the same without the vivid, rich descriptions of Middle Earth or Mordor. We need to see all those different kingdoms in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice books because they are just as crucial to the story as any of the characters. Striking that balance can be difficult, because you can bog the reader down in minutia.
The photo prompt for this week’s Friday Fictioneers is one of those icons where just one glance at it, and you know exactly where you are. You may even know “when you are” by the type of picture or the other items in it. Juxtaposed as it was with the twelfth anniversary of September 11, 2001, it will likely evoke many emotionally charged 100-word stories this week. That’s a good thing, because we must never forget.
The picture prompted one of my rare forays into poetry, probably a good thing, the rarity, that is. We recently lost the great Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, and his poetry always had a strong sense of place, even for an American one generation removed from her Irish roots. His poems could put me in a peat bog, on a battlefield, in a thatched-roof hut, even though I’ve never seen those things with my own eyes. I’ve tried to do that in “The New Colossus.” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tag, then select the story from the drop-down list.
Boston’s snow today (eight to ten inches) was beautiful–from the inside looking out. I was ever so grateful that AWP is all in one building and I can walk to Hynes convention center, about a block and a half away from my hotel, entirely on sky-walks and through shopping malls. There’s something efficient about the states in the northern latitudes–by the time the snow stopped this afternoon, the roads and sidewalks were clear.
I started the morning off with “Purpose and the Practical in Historical Writing,” something of interest to me because I write the historical thriller, or so genre assigning says. The planned moderator Anne Keesey got held up by the bad weather, so Marshall Klimasewiski (Tyrants: Stories) managed the panel of Peter Ho Davies (The Welsh Girl), Emily Barton (Brookland), and Zachary Lazar (Sway). A great discussion of how they became interested in historical fiction, how to define it, and when to stop researching and write.
I slipped from the first session during the audience Q&A to head to a craft panel called “Art of the Ending,” or bringing your work to a successful conclusion. The room was already so full, the fire marshal once again wouldn’t allow anyone inside until some people left. That wasn’t happening, so I moved on to “This is Your Brain on Fiction.” This was an excellent discussion of how the human brain processes fiction. It turns out when a writer has done a good job, the brain reacts as if it’s seen something real. The moderator and panelists (Susan Hubbard, Brock Adams, Hillary Casavant, John Henry Fleming, and John King) gave their opinions on this, and where it was more for the neurologists in the room, it was food for thought. The brain just skips over cliches, for example, but describe something texturally, and it lights up.
As I walked to meet some writer friends for lunch, I passed Seamus Heaney in a hallway. He gave me a nod and a great Irish smile, and I think I kept my composure. I’m sure he nods politely to every middle-aged woman who gawps at him, but I’d like to think he saw the Irish in me. Still, it was the highlight of the day.
After lunch I dropped some things (translation–went shopping in the mall) off in my room and fully intended to head back for “Story Autopsy: How I Wrote a Novel in Three Days and Adapted It into a Movie,” but, well, I fell asleep. I did make it to “Style and Story: Balancing Form and Content in the Short Story.” The planned moderator, Jessica King, was also absent because of weather, but her replacement moderator never introduced himself. However, he did introduce the panel, Ted Sanders, Josh Cohen, and Susan Steinberg, all authors of short story collections and whose style has been deemed “experimental” by critics. The discussion of which comes first–form (chicken) or style (egg)–was lively and provocative, and each author read a bit from their work.
A little more shopping and it was back to the room to prep for tomorrow’s sessions:
0900 – 1015 A Room of Our Own: How to Make the Most of (or Create) a Writer’s Workspace
1030 – 1145 Women in Crime
1200 – 1315 Career Suicide
1330 – 1445 Numbers Trouble: Editors and Writers Speak to VIDA’s Count
1500 – 1615 Master of None: Surviving and Thriving without an MFA
1630 – 1745 Shadow Show: Writers and Teachers on the Influence of Ray Bradbury
I’m not eccentric enough to be a writer, I’ve decided. I have red hair, but not a bright enough red or magenta or maroon. I no longer have the legs to wear a multi-layered, tulle just-below-the-butt skirt accessorized with the tiger-stripe fish-net stockings and the unlaced combat boots. (Though I will say I’m wearing patterned knee-highs and crocs with my Lee jeans, and I did touch up my roots with a new shade of red with AWP in mind.)
Of course, there are plenty of conventional-looking writers around my age or older. So, I don’t know which is more dismaying–that I’m too old to be the writer who dresses in a way that makes avant-garde seem conventional or too young for the tweed jacket with elbow patches, corduroy slacks, and sensible shoes set.
But, it’s great to be surrounded by writers, to talk writer stuff, and even continuously answer the ubiquitous question, “What do you write?”
The first session of the day, “The Ten-Minute Play: The Essential Ingredients,” was the perfect follow-up to the play-writing workshop a couple of weekends ago put on by SWAG Writers. Panelists Gregory Fletcher, Jean Klein, and L. Elizabeth Powers gave us a lot of dos and don’ts, and I was happy to see that I didn’t commit many of the don’ts on the first draft of my ten-minute play I wrote last week. A sample of ten-minute play formatting and a list of places to submit ten-plays, and AWP13 kicked off perfectly.
And then it went south. The next panel was one of two must-sees on my carefully planned schedule: “Small Worlds–Flash, Sudden, and Other Very Short Fiction Internationally and at Home.” Even though all the sessions take place in the same building, I’ve discovered fifteen minutes to get from the end of one session to the beginning of another is only doable if you don’t have to pee. Even then, it’s touch and go, so when I arrived at the appointed room for “Small Worlds,” not only was every seat taken, but the SRO space was full. However, in the room next door, three times the size of the first, there were plenty of seats for “Being a Good Literary Citizen.”
Rob Spillman moderated authors Alan Heathcock and Matthew Specktor, bookseller Emma Stoub, and agent Julie Barer as they discussed how to get your greater community involved with your writing community and how to be a “mannerly” author during book events and with your agent. Frankly, I found this a little preachy on the book event and agent side, and I was far more interested in how Heathcock got people in Boise, ID, to pay $35 a person to come to his writer group’s readings.
I decided to opt out of “The First Five Pages: Literary Agents and Editors Talk” because I’ve been to many versions of this in the past couple of years. I had lunch instead then went to “Launching the Literary Journal: New Editors Confess.” The editors (Graham Hilliard, John Gosslee, Jarrett Haley, and Patrick Sugrue) of four relatively new literary magazines (Cumberland River Review, Fjords Review, Bull Men’s Fiction, and Bellow, respectively) talked about how their publications got started. Two of the four had nothing better to do (their words), one wanted to showcase his college, and one wanted a publication for a niche market. A very interesting discussion about submissions, and of the four I liked the editor and the concept of Bellow, which is produced through CreateSpace, a highly unique production process for a literary magazine.
“Women Writers in the Contemporary Literary Landscape” was a wonderful discussion among three writers (two prose, one poetry) who don’t write “typical” women’s fiction or poetry. Susan Steinberg, Fiona Maazel, and Mary Jo Bang all discussed the stereotypes women authors encounter even today. A great Q&A session, and for the men at AWP who’ve been complaining on Twitter that there are twenty-three panels on women’s literary issues and only one on men’s issues, let me just remind you you’ve dominated literature for, oh, the past two millennia, so hush.
I wanted to close the regular day with “Bending Genres,” my other “must see” panel, but it was another SRO event, so I prowled the AWP Bookfair and talked to a couple of MFA programs because that still comes to the forefront of my brain on occasion; then, dinner and a bit of a rest before the keynote speakers, not one but two Nobel Laureates.
I’m aware of the poet Derek Walcott, who won the Nobel in Literature in 1992, but not to the extent that I know Seamus Heaney, a Nobelist in 1995. Both read two of their poems, which was a delight, but to see Heaney in person, to hear his voice in person, transported me. All too soon it was over. Walcott and Heaney wanted to take questions, but the moderator pointed out, with 12,000 of us, there were “too many people.”
Tomorrow the plan is this:
0900 – 1015 Purpose and the Practical in Historical Writing
1030 – 1145 Art of the Ending
Lunch with some writer friends, plus attending a friend’s book signing
1500 – 1615 Story Autopsy: How I Wrote a Novel in Three Days and Then Adapted It into a Movie
1630 – 1545 Style and Story: Balancing Form and Content in the Short Story
Let’s hope the best laid plans of mice and writers don’t gang awry.
My arrival at AWP began about 1400 yesterday afternoon when I pointed my trusty Jeep northeastward and headed for Washington, DC’s Union Station. I made a brief detour into my old neighborhood to “my” Barnes and Noble for a chai and a snack. And to get in practice for AWP’s Bookfair, I bought two books. Around six I discovered I can still deal with DC’s rush hour traffic and made it to Union Station in about a half-hour.
Which meant a three and a half hour wait for the train to depart, but Union Station is primo for people watching. And apparently I must look like a nice person. Every beggar in the place asked me for money.
The snow-apocalypse hadn’t yet started when the train pulled out at 2210, and I had already finished one of the books I bought at B&N. I settled in to catch a nap–not so easy when the conductor announces every stop along the way–but I managed to get about five hours of sleep overnight in a series of naps. I woke to a beautiful sunrise near Mystic, CT, and I got a little artistic with the photo I snapped in Instagram (below, left).
The train arrived in Boston a bit early, there was a cab waiting right away, and, lo and behold, there was actually a room ready for me with a great view of Boston (right).
My regular Politics Wednesday blog post, lunch (chowdah, my absolute fave!), and a nap later, and I was ready to pick up my registration materials for the conference. Just me and a couple hundred others.
Now, the good news is a sky-walk connects the hotel and the Hynes Convention Center, the location of the AWP Conference–no treks through Boston’s notoriously chilly and windy weather. The bad news? You go through a really, really great shopping mall to get there. (I have my eye on a set of Russian matryoshka dolls, and there’s a Vera Bradley store.) Very tempting.
I’d already looked at the conference schedule on-line, and, as usual, AWP offers a bounty of panels and reading, and I spent at least an hour figuring out my schedule for the next three days, only to discover I’d left no time for lunch. Oh, well.
Here’s what’s up for tomorrow:
0900 – 1015 The Ten-Minute Play: The Essential Ingredients
1030 – 1145 Small Worlds–Flash, Sudden, & Other Very Short Fiction Internationally and at Home
1200 – 1315 The First Five Pages: Literary Agents & Editors Talk
1330 – 1445 Launching the Literary Journal: New Editors Confess
1500 – 1615 Women Writers in the Contemporary Literary Landscape
1630 – 1745 Bending Genre
2030 – 2200 Keynote Presentation: A Conversation Between Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott
A full day–but I can’t wait.
Imagine what life would be like if, every time we say something stupid, we could just shrug and say, “I didn’t intend that to be a factual statement.” Then, everyone who heard the stupidity would just smile and say, “Sure, no problem. Of course you didn’t intend that to be a factual statement.”
That begs the question, what is a non-factual statement? Why, I think everyone from my grandmother to my old English teacher to a priest or two I had respect for would say, “It’s a lie.”
Those of us on the left–excuse me, we liberals–have been the only ones up in arms about Sen. John Kyl’s (R.-AZ) pontificating on the floor of the Senate about how 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions. Once Planned Parenthood pointed out to the media that the percentage was more like three, Kyl’s spokesperson indicated to the media that Kyl hadn’t intended that to be a “factual statement.”
Oh, I see. Even if you accept that politicians lie–and they do–that admission by Kyl’s spokesperson, the glibness of it, is disgusting. Set aside the disrespect against an organization which has done more for women’s health than the nail on John Kyl’s pinky. I knew and know women–myself included before I joined up with Uncle Sam and got health insurance–who went to Planned Parenthood for medical examinations and tests exclusive to women. I know women who went to Planned Parenthood to be diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted diseases because if they went to their hometown doctors it would be too embarrassing. And yes, I know a few women who went to Planned Parenthood to get a referral for an abortion because that was the only way they could afford it.
Planned Parenthood doesn’t push abortion, but if a woman asks for one, Planned Parenthood makes no judgements but does make certain she gets a safe procedure. And everything else you go to Planned Parenthood for–routine medical screenings and cancer tests–you get treated like a human being, a person, not just a group health plan number.
Kyl was pontificating to make a political point and to advance his and the Republicans’ social agenda. (Mr. Boehner, where are those jobs y’all ran on and promised?) But, apparently, he also has sway with the Congressional Record. When the edition came out reflecting the Senate proceedings on the day Mr. Kyl made his unintended factual statement, the transcript didn’t reflect the 90% figure. The entire statement was edited to make it almost innocuous. Well, thank goodness for C-SPAN. We can still view the video, unless Kyl somehow manages a judicious edit of that, too.
So, what’s my long-winded point?
Politicians lie, but lately Republican politicians and potential Republican Presidential candidates have dropped some whoppers on us. We shouldn’t shrug this off as more of the same. We should be worried.
I could say, “I didn’t intend any of the above to be a factual statement,” but that would be a lie.
P.S. Something I thought I’d never say–way to go, Gov. Jan Brewer. She of the draconian and unconstitutional immigration bill showed amazing good sense in vetoing Arizona’s birther legislation. Will wonders never cease?
And this post’s homage to National Poetry Month acknowledges the other half of my heritage. Last post I printed a Seamus Heaney poem (and managed, with my bad typing to misspell his last name). Here then, enjoy Robert Burns’ “Lament for Culloden.”
The lovely lass o’ Inverness,
Nae joy nor pleasure can she see;
For e’en and morn, she cries, “Alas!”
And aye the saut tear blin’s her e’e:
“Drumossie moor, Drumossie day,
A waefu’ day it was to me!
For there I lost my father dear,
My father dear and brethren three.
“Their winding-sheet the bluidy clay,
Their graves are growing green to see;
And by them lies the dearest lad
That ever blest a woman’s e’e!
Now wae to thee, thou cruel lord,
A bluidy man I trow thou be;
For monie a heart thou hast made sair,
That ne’er did wrang to thine or thee.”