Tag Archives: writing

Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth Isn’t Just for Suburban Moms’ Book Clubs

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I am so into Ann Patchett right now. Is it hip to be into Ann Patchett? Is it edgy? No. It’s book-clubby. It’s suburban-mommy. My book club of suburban moms met last night and discussed Patchett’s Commonwealth. When we chose it, we laughed a little about what an obvious pick it was. Suburban moms are often brutally self-aware. Ann Patchett is, too.

When I recently recommended Commonwealth to a friend I used to work with at a bookstore back in our younger, edgier days, she replied, “I haven’t read it, but I gave it to my mom for Christmas.” There you have it. It was my own mom who introduced me to Patchett with a copy of Bel Canto. All of her librarian friends had loved it. It had a book club discussion guide at the end. I rolled my eyes for months before I bothered to read it, only to find that I loved it, too. I was awestruck by the floating, omniscient narrative which would change mid-sentence and still remain fluid and easy to follow.

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I’m Blogging for Ploughshares

I’m excited to be writing for the Ploughshares blog in 2016. My personal blog will, of course, suffer for this, but these are exactly the kind of subjects I want to be writing about, and I’ll post excerpts and links here. My first one appeared on January 11. 

Majestic Endings

As I closed in on the first draft of a novel, I wrote toward an ending I’d held in my mind for months. It was a quiet climax in keeping with the, ahem, literary nature of my novel. I knew that when I finished the draft, I’d have to smooth out the road between, say, pages 75 and 300, maybe even rewrite them completely. But that final scene was divine. Tears would probably fall to my keyboard as I wrote it, and readers, in turn, would weep.

Instead, when I reached my perfect ending it was dead. After a period of mourning, I pulled out my trusted writing books and flipped to the sections on endings.

I began with Robert McKee’s Story, a book about the principles of screenwriting, which is to say it’s about plot. It’s peppered with references to Aristotle’s Poetics, including Aristotle’s requirement that an ending be both “inevitable and unexpected.” McKee’s prescriptions can be reductive but his confidence is overwhelming. If nothing else, I figured his advice on the matter of endings would be clear.

“If…as the protagonist takes the climactic action, we once more pry apart the gap between expectation and result, if we can split probability from necessity just one more time, we may create a majestic ending the audience will treasure for a lifetime. For a climax built around a Turning Point is the most satisfying of all.”

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The Trouble with Endings

Old orchard

Two weeks ago I finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for a year. My kids were spending the week with their grandparents and Andrew was backpacking with his brothers for a few days and I went feral—falling into irregular patterns of eating, sleeping, and grooming—and wrote over 13,000 words in five days. I was determined that I would finish it during this huge gift of a week and then actually enjoy our upcoming family vacation. I would bask in the glow of this momentous accomplishment and let the draft rest during the back-to-school crunch and agonizing transitions of September. I would pick it up again in October and revise it during the coming academic year. 

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A New Site and Two New Songs

The River’s Bend Sessions

Andrew and I decided our songwriting project needed its own home, so Andrew built something. It feels good to have given it a home. We just posted two new songs there. We wrote both of them in January, so they’ve been in progress for a long time.

You Never Knew Me

This one was at least 80% Andrew (the writing—the tracks are always about 95% Andrew). He wrote it on the last day of his two-week music focus. My memory of it is that I took our four-year-old down the street to his thirty-minute swimming lesson, dropped him off at a friend’s house (also just down the street), came home, and Andrew told me he’d written a song. Then he played me something that I thought was totally catchy and fully formed. I was excited because I liked the song a lot, and because he’d accomplished one of the things he’d set out to do during his time away from his regular work. I must point out here that although he wrote most of this song in an hour, it was on day ten of ten days he’d dedicated to thinking about and playing and writing music. This supports my theory (and I’m sure much research, which I don’t feel like looking up right now) about creativity. Sometimes it takes a long time to prepare the soil, and then when something grows it seems miraculous. But it’s not. He made the time and did the work. 

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Happy Birthday Dear Blog

Today is my blog’s first birthday. It’s also my thirty-eighth birthday. It’s also my nephew Liam’s second Birthdaybuddiesbirthday. I started the day off right eating breakfast at the Deluxe Town Diner with him and a few other great people, and then we struck a birthday buddies pose in front of these trash cans. I think it’s fair to say that both Liam and I have learned a lot this past year. 

When I wrote that first blog entry, I had no idea what kind of year I was headed into, and it’s turned out to be one of my best. It even has a theme: the year I stopped allowing my fear of creating something bad to paralyze me. 

Exhibit A: I started a blog, even though there are many people better qualified to write about all the things I write about. I’d been meaning to start a blog for ten years. 

Exhibit B: I started writing the novel I was excited about writing instead of the novel it would have been more sensible to write. The one I’m writing is about musicians, which I knew had the potential pitfall of not being able to convey what it needed to convey about music. I knew this problem might be impossible to solve. I’m not at all sure I’ve solved it, but Andrew and I have been creative about trying to, by… 

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On Relentlessness

Two days ago I found out that I received an award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. I was overwhelmed by this news. The last time I checked my email in the middle of a writing day, which I am not supposed to do, I received my second rejection of the day for a short story I have out. I can handle one a day, but two felt like a lot. That was last week. Also, I applied for this grant six months ago with no luck. This time I applied with the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, and they dug it. They even sent me nice comments from the jurors encouraging me to keep going. I am still reeling a bit from the MCC Fellowship, which I found out about in May (they funded me based on nearly the same work sample I sent to the Sustainable Arts Foundation last time around, so it really does depend on who’s reading).

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New Song: “New Girl”

New girl

Andrew and I have a new song. It’s called “New Girl.” I came up with what turned out to be the bridge a couple of months ago, from an idea in the novel I’m working on. The bridge is: “Baby, leave me here with my last cigarette. You don’t want to be the only vice I’ve got left.” I liked the idea of a person or a relationship being a vice, and I like the idea of a sober addict transferring his addictive tendencies to a person, and how it might feel to be that person. This song became a warning from one of the characters in my novel to another. She ignores it, of course. 

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I Am Obsessed With This 1992 Axl Rose Interview


I’m not sure why I didn’t realize sooner that I should write a novel about musicians, because now my research is watching rockumentaries and reading back issues of Rolling Stone. My fingers are crossed that I’ll get Life, Keith Richards’s memoir, for Christmas, and I’m eagerly anticipating Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon’s memoir, which is due out in February. I could not love that title any more. I can now admit that Sonic Youth was a bit noisy for me even when I was seventeen, but I still think Kim Gordon is devastatingly cool. 

You know who I never, ever thought was cool? Axl Rose. By the time I was really into music, Nirvana had arrived and Guns n’ Roses seemed excessive and shallow. But I can’t get this 1992 Axl Rose interview from Rolling Stone out of my head.

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We Made a Song

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Seventeen years after Andrew first walked into my dorm room bearing a few CDs he thought I might love, we wrote and recorded a song together. 

It’s here. I would love it if you listened to it. He built a thing himself so it could play music nicely, so it’s just easier if you do it there, though I know all of this back and forth is a lot to ask. 

Okay. You’re back. I hope you liked it. The process for writing this song was incredibly roundabout. We both love music and I sing (mostly around the house these days) and he plays like every instrument and is also really into digital music recording. So this seems like something we should have already done, but it’s been a struggle.

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I Started Writing a New Novel

012712 Barn 219

I’m just going to blurt it out: I’m working on a new novel. I have 58 pages. It’s so, so new. A lot of mystique surrounds this process. And a lot of superstition. Some authors (published ones, with books!) won’t tell anyone what their work-in-progress is about. They don’t let anyone see any of it until it’s done. They fear breaking the spell, or jinxing, it seems, rather than having to face the task of explaining what one’s novel is about. Having to explain what one’s novel is about is almost embarrassing enough to make one stop writing the novel.  

Here. I will show you by trying to describe my novel right now. It’s about musicians. See, this girl’s dad is a producer who owns a studio in Vermont. It’s in a renovated barn on many, many acres of beautiful land, and a river runs through it. Like Trey from Phish. Only he is NOT LIKE TREY FROM PHISH AT ALL. I don’t know why I even brought up Trey. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I was never into Phish. That was my husband. I mean, I never even went to one single Phish show, and I was in college in their heyday, so that was a very deliberate choice. Nothing against Trey. It just wasn’t my thing. I just happened to be googling for photos of barn studios in Vermont so I could accurately describe one, and there was Trey’s. It’s really gorgeous. Anyway, he sold it. Trey no longer has a barn studio, so let’s stop talking about it.  

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