Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Thursday, October 27, 2005

And she sweeps out of the Palace--

Back for All Hallows Eve and trick-or-treating. No doubt the Celt (and the shivering Southerner) in me will want a bonfire.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Childhood settings / Gone fishing

Ingledove has a review in the Spring 2005 issue of Berea College's Appalachian Heritage, a journal with a mandate to publicize and promote writing linked to Appalachia. This is the first time I've had a notice with the central purpose of clarifying the exact setting of a book of mine and of figuring out my relationship to the setting: "Set in the Bryson City, Hazel Creek, area of North Carolina, this is a fantasy tale centering on the creation of Fontana Lake. Although this youth novel deals with an alternative world and Fontana's answer to the Loch Ness, it actually illuminates the real history of the Cherokee and White people of the area. Marly Youmans grew up in Cullowhee and fished with her father on Fontana Lake. She is the author of The Curse of the Raven Mocker, which explores a similar setting and theme."

While the North Carolina mountains feature in a lot of my poems and short stories, I haven't written much about them in my longer fiction. Little Jordan has something of a mountain setting, with hills and streams and jewelweed, but the template for that setting was Tinker Creek and the outskirts of Roanoke (plus the Carolina coast). Much of Catherwood is set in a northern foothills landscape, and it was inspired by living in a Yankee section of the Appalachian spine. The Wolf Pit has a North Carolina circuit rider.

And how did they know that I had ever gone fishing with my father on Fontana?

My very favorite place to fish in childhood was False River Lake in Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana, where I caught an alligator snapping turtle and hauled its enormous head out of the water. I put that one in a story called "Compass of Dreams," published eons ago. The glitter on the water, the tree frogs, the ice-cold Dr. Pepper, the plums by the bamboo, the fishermen running to cut my line: I suppose I was five years old, or perhaps six.

False River is no longer that magical water I recall as a bright, fish-skinned thing: the Atchafalaya Basin Program and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers have launched an effort to restore the lake. Silt and run-off have meant a loss of richness and the dying off of many species.

I suppose it happens in every generation that the world changes until one no longer has any but a tenuous place in it. But it is sad to think of the joy I had there, lost, and the unclean waters.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"Their Ancient Glittering Eyes": Passion of the Old Guys

What William Hazlitt named gusto, "power or passion defining any object," and found foremost in Shakespeare, he assigned to Boccaccio and Rabelais above all other prose writers. Hazlitt also urged us to realize that the arts are not progressive--a realization that belated ages, like our own, attempt to resist.

--Bloom, "Elegiac Conclusion," The Western Canon

The infinite quantity of dramatic invention in Shakespeare takes from his gusto. The power he delights to show is not intensive, but discursive. He never insists on anything as much as he might, except a quibble. Milton has great gusto. He repeats his blows twice; grapples with and exhausts his subject. His imagination has a double relish of its objects, an inveterate attachment to the things he describes, and to the words describing them.

--Hazlitt, "On Gusto," 1816

I look forward to reading the book--old-time critics like Mr. Rubin always have something worthwhile to say.

--from a letter by a novelist & penpal

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pullman, Lewis, & the world-changing redemption of the ordinary

Grumpy angel courtesy & copyright
of Hugh MacLeod & gapingvoid.com.

Philip Pullman has been attacking C. S. Lewis once more, turning a few speckled grains of truth (a girl with fat legs, a mix of good and bad among those with dark skin) into the pomp of a major mole mountain. How many dead writers get this kind of sustained pummeling, I wonder? The last notable spectacle of this kind is probably Griswold's repeated kicking of the corpse of Poe. I don’t think Pullman can make his arguments of racism work without exaggerating some evidence and ignoring other evidence, but Tim Cavanaugh has thrown his feathered hat into the ring by arguing that racism is a source of power and interest in many British writers. I like the first two volumes of His Dark Materials but always find it curious that the author is so very shrill about Lewis when his own loathing of religion (not just religion as it is “organized” into human institutions, but the concepts of a living, borderless kingdom of believers, God, and a world beyond this one) wounded the final book of the trilogy.

So I guess it’s time to think about MacLeod again.

17. Merit can be bought. Passion can't. The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.

--Hugh MacLeod,
How to be Creative, The Gaping Void

Topic: world-changing.

Last night I was daydreaming about the thread of the fantastic in poem and narrative, stitching my way back to George MacDonald and William Morris and to the American Romantics and then all the way through Renaissance Arcadian romance to Gawain and Beowulf and the Dream of the Rood. While no book has ever been or can ever be identical with so-called reality, and while “our” reality does not exist in fiction—despite mirrors, despite the onslaughts of movements called American Realism and Naturalism—the length of the distance between “our” reality and a created world can vary considerably.

Writers like Hawthorne who "tinge" their pictures with "the marvelous" are positing the possibility of other worlds, other ways of being. It’s why fantastic literature is (unless too derivative) automatically subversive and in violation of our world’s natural laws. Surely it’s why so much speculative writing is religious (more subversion of normal values) or “otherworldly” in coloring--and why MacDonald and Lewis and Tolkien hold such sway. It helps to live in more than one world; it helps to believe that one soul’s Passion can transform the globe. Perhaps the invention of another world always brings with it a built-in sense of wonder that is essentially religious, whether the writer is so or not. Pullman can’t, in the end, break free of a Christian world view; he ends with Eden, although it is a rather perverse one, where two children have sex and then separate forever.

All art attempts to play redeemer. At its highest level, art restores infant sight to the humdrum world. Art knocks the picture askew so that we can notice and see its image once more. An act of art is like the child jumping rope in the kitchen (don't do that!) who catches up a pot of cyclamen in his arc; the crack! of ordinary clay startles us, and we both kneel, staring at the delicate curved stems and flowers and the pale curled roots in the potting soil. When we look up, the world is standing—broken and bright and saved from the ordinary--all around us.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A consideration of "How to Be Creative"


Large big-mouth talking, courtesy and copyright of Hugh MacLeod
and www.gapingvoid.com.




I have decided to mull the Wisdom of Hugh, despite the fact that he occasionally offends my sensibilities. Perhaps because he occasionally, etc.

However, I refuse to do it in the proper order.

22. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay etc, especially if you haven't sold it yet. And the ones that aren't, you don't want in your life anyway.


--Hugh MacLeod, How to be Creative, The Gaping Void



For various reasons that I won’t go into—for fear that they might reflect oddly on somebody, somewhere, somewhen—I grew up with a high tolerance for "different" and crazy people. This is an unfortunate propensity for a writer, because writers attract crazy people. This was especially unfortunate when I lived near an eminent Yankee psychiatric institution or nuthouse. When I pushed the pram through the charming Olmstead-designed park with my sterling, adorable babies, the local unhinged population trailed after me, making strange cries of infant-worship and calling out curious things about their sex lives, the local topography, and other potentially frightening topics.

I still have a lot of crazy friends. Years of my life were devoted to crazy men, once upon a time. Finally I realized the difference between crazy and not crazy.

This was hard for me, because I come from a long line of neurologically-interesting people.

But it was not impossible.

I am married to a healthy-minded man with an astounding number of fun hobbies, including a liking for cooking his way through Bon Appetit each month.

But if you’re reading this and you’re a crazy friend of mine, remember: I love you. I’m nothing if not loyal.

:-}) :-) :-})


Oh, and that first bit of wisdom. We-the-writers knew that. We knew it in our scribbling bones, while we sat in the corners of our rooms (the chilly attic ones with the horrible wallpaper of fainting mongooses and stains in the shapes of tiger lilies), staring into the corner where the paper doesn’t quite match.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Book Party for Fae Malania at the Thanksgiving Home


Our second event for Fae Malania and the reprint of her 1961 Knopf book, The Quantity of a Hazelnut (Seabury, 2005), went off very well, hosted by Pat Donnelly (director) and Trish Webster (activities director). The reception was in the parlor at the Thanksgiving Home, with old-fashioned songs on piano and wine and cheese and crunchies. Every person who bought a book at the original launch party was invited, and I think that they all came. The room was crowded with friends of the book, as well as with most of the residents of the Home.

Fae looked delicate and pretty and happy, and that went a very long way to making the rest of us feel very pleased. I sold more "nuts," and I think that the book has done exceptionally well in our little village.

Now I need an accountant!

Meanwhile Fae has a lovely review in Library Journal:

MALANIA, FAE. The Quantity of a Hazelnut. Seabury. 2005. c.138p. ISBN1-59627-014-4. pap. $14. REL This gem of a book contains many years' worth of meditations on life's wonders and struggles by Malania, former Mademoiselle staff member and widowof an Episcopal priest. Malania writes with singular facility and wit; her mind engages the likes of T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Julian of Norwich as her prose addresses images as small as the titular hazelnut and problems as large as the death of a president. Not many spiritual writers could find wit enough to praise a camel with humor and dignity, yet Malania does. Highly recommended. (from the Spiritual Reading column by Graham Christian)

Edith Abbott, who has designed books for The Stinehour Press and other notable fine presses, thinks that Seabury did a first-rate job on the book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A & B

"H. E. Bates, who wrote beautiful stories about English country characters, told me that for him a story always needed two different ideas to get it off the ground, to make it begin working and fermenting in his mind. I thought about this and realized that the story writing process was exactly the same for me." --Joan Aiken, Introduction to Shadows & Moonshine (David R. Godine, 2001)

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Invention of Bloom

I hopped from The Reading Experience to an interview with Harold Bloom at Eurozine.

What strikes me is the wonderful complexity and roundness of the man's self-portrait--his dramatic vision of himself as Professor Bloom, beleaguered and scorned and beloved, enduring the twilight of Europe and the darkening of this land from inside his castle of books. Here's the breadth of a life--the death waiting, the wondering child, the grandeur and the weakness, and the way that an intelligent child became a lover of splendor and flourish and beauty.

He portrays himself as a sort of perambulating-and-thinking plum-pudding, a hodgepodge of familiar and unfamiliar and contradictory elements stewed together: the very sort of rich character he would admire, discovering him on the page.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Firebird covers

Ingledove frontispiece by Renato Alarcao.
Evidently Firebird (Penguin) will reprint The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove with at least one new cover for the paperbacks--they will both be images by Brazilian artist (and new papa) Renato Alarcao, whereas the FSG hardcover jackets are by two artists, Steve Cieslawski and Renato Alarcao. It will be entertaining to see what Renato does with the story. . . And I'm not likely to forget the original picture, as Steve's oil hangs right by me when I'm working, a special gift from him--his very last book jacket.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Great Frolic & the Coming World with its Excess of Writers and Pediatricians

The Great Birthday Frolic Poll

The Boy wants to be a genetic engineer.

The Ten Girls (ages 13 & 14) want to be:
1. H: a veterinarian
2. R: a writer (of fantasy)
3. V: an architect
4. M: a makeup artist
5. E1: a veterinarian
6. A: a writer; and, perhaps, a singer
7. C: a pediatrician
9. E2: a clothing designer
10. L: a pediatrician

Sweeping Generalizations to be Derived (from a ridiculously small sample):

1. When I was a child, They were busy telling us that there were no differences between girls and boys... When I was a child, They were wrong.

2. No wonder there are so many writers!

3. Girls naturally gravitate to the lower end of the pay scale: not two orthopedic surgeons (or genetic engineers) but two pediatricians.

4. Look at the world to come: There are lots of dogs and lots of children, architect-designed shelter, and books to read. We're well dressed and looking good. It's a round life, warm and lively. The Boy can go off and play genetic engineer if he likes, but the pediatricians will tease him if he causes problems. There are no soldiers, not much in the way of science, and no cut-throat climbers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The three days of The Great Birthday Frolic have come to an end, the last hurrah being a dinner with godparents and another cake. All candles on all cakes were successfully blown out, all wishes collected and kept secret.

The sylphs' 2-day Party with Silly Hats was an astonishing lark, a non-stop event with many English accents, much dressing up and changing of garments from the Infinite Dress-up Box, skits (Pythonesque in spirit), teasing of The Boy & the Little Brother (but not the Big Brother), four bouts of eating (with laughter), hide-and-seek with precipitous dives down the back stairs into the kitchen and much scrunching into tiny places, games of detection, etc.

The Little Brother will never be the same. Enchanted, he wants them all. To live with us and be ours. Forever.

It was rather like having a troop of fairies invade the house for the length of one of those odd fairyland moments that are also seven years. They were tireless, mischievous, sweet, and definitely not made of the same substance as the rest of us who are not dressed in silks and funny hats and who are no longer made of the immortal flesh of childhood.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Irresistible Delight of a New Book

Despite the fact that I am in the middle of numerous books (Louis Rubin's new book on writing and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and a Jim Harrison book that had become lost in a confusion of papers but has now surfaced and a story collection by Joan Aiken), I bought several used books on Saturday. I was fleeing the cleaning job for a teen sleepover and birthday extravaganza, and I just happened to go by Willis Monie's and tumble into the long hall and through the door.

It was rainy and slick: no wonder I slipped.

To console myself for my lot (cleaning drudge and teen party maven), I came home with a 2-volume compendium of Muriel Stark's novels and a copy of Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales--one of the many books I once owned but relinquished to the great moving-and-fundraising sale of 1991. Perhaps it was 1990.

Whenever it was, it was sad.

The party is almost ready. The gold-and-silver leaves are twined in the chandelier, with peacock feathers and strings of tiny transparent pumpkins. As soon as the pack of girls arrives, I shall call halt to all fussing and cleaning, and I shall plunge into my books. Simultaneously, if I can manage it.

*************************

"Perhaps it is because a foreigner, writing English, often falls as it were by accident on inimitably fresh ways of using our battered old words. Perhaps quite simply, the style seems so original and strange because the personality using it is original and strange." And having come to no conclusion at all, you will turn back to read until you are again stopped by some passage for which you can't find a comparison in the writing you know. Like this one, in "The Supper at Elsinore" at the end of the party. The two middle-aged but still brilliant sisters "were happy to get rid of their guests; but a little silent bitter minute accompanied the pleasure. For they could still make people fall in love with them; they had the radiance in them which could refract little rainbow effects on the atmosphere of Copenhagen existence. But who could make them feel in love? At this moment, the tristesse of the eternal hostess stiffened them a little."
--Dorothy Canfield, in the introduction to Isak Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Impossible Master

Ah, another candidate for Shakespeare! The more the merrier—back in high school I scribbled a paper about Shakespeare “really” being the Earl of Oxford. And I thought that it mattered for a few addled days.

It appears that we still can’t believe that an Elizabethan of middling rank and moderate education—though how many of us these days have even “small Latin, and less Greek”?—might actually wield a pen with lightning power. Nor can we fathom that imagination might allow him free access to both hovel and throne room.

Perhaps it is our day that blinds us; after all, we invented the worship of celebrity, and our latest awards are the “Quills,” given not to the best but to the bestselling writer. We grow unaccustomed to the idea that a potent writer might be a person of some modesty, and that he might stand with humility before the mysteries of life and death. Humility, despite all mastery…

And so we find it impossible that such a person—having dipped his feathered pen in an immortal ink bottle—could retire from London and choose a village life with what was left of his family. We find it difficult to conceive that he might very well have been taught by his own words that both kings and commoners end in a handful of dust, and that he might have left The King's Men and departed for a country life “in content / To liberty, and not to banishment.”

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Book Tour as Acorn-Strewing

I wish Some Bright Official Bookperson would decide “once and for all”—and especially for me—what works and what doesn’t work to get the word out about books and to build that highly desirable and seaworthy vessel, a readership. Heaps of recent articles and blog posts have argued that the institution of the Book Tour is hoary, unpleasant, and a waste of time for any but those who are promoted mightily. This is something that a writer not receiving a solid “push” (i.e. one of the 98 or 99% of us) sometimes feels while on a tour, especially in its boggier moments, so it has an unpleasant whiff of truth about it. But just when I decide that I’ll be like Anne Tyler and forget the whole unwieldy abandon-the-three-kids-to-Daddy enterprise, along comes Miss Snark with a post about her Acorn Academy.

What’s an author to do?

For now, ignore. The rampant confusion may go away.

I’m feeling pleased with the week so far, as Monday-Wednesday brought these developments: 1. I found my name on one dedication page; 2. I was asked to write a book; and 3. I have fresh reason to feel good about my newest editor. 3 for 3. Not bad.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Our Absolutely Deplorable Literary Situation" & Other Thoughts of a Man of Letters

"In saying that our literature must separate itself from the book and magazine industry of the metropolitan Northeast, what I mean is that it has got to be able to function on terms that do not require it to compete with the commercial mass market expectations of the entertainment industry, centered as the latter are on the television audience. The only way to arrange that is to operate independently of it. And that cannot be done as things now stand, because the two industries, publishing and showbiz-TV, are too massively and intricately tied together up and down the line.

"To state the proposition in book-business terms, obviously considerably more money is to be made from promoting a book so that it will sell 100,000 copies instead of 25,000, than from promoting a book so that it will sell 10,000 copies instead of 5,000. No publishing house, especially if owned by a conglomerate, is going to try to do both. That is why the deck is now so cruelly stacked against literary publishing. What the future welfare of our literature depends upon is the kind of book publishing that will concentrate on doing the latter rather than the former.

"It comes down, then, simply to this: so-called print culture must be removed from the auspices of the TV-centered mass entertainment industry. It is too valuable to be allowed to go by default--which is what seems to be happening now. We are letting it dwindle away toward oblivion. It does not follow, either logically or practically, that because many more people regularly watch Geraldo than read Annie Dillard or Mark Helprin, literature is therefore doomed. But when we allow the same industry to preside over the promulgation, distribution, and critical evaluation of all three, as if they were equally engaged in showbiz, how much chance do the latter two have?

"We have therefore got to sever the financial bands that have connected contemporary letters with the popular entertainment industry and let literature flourish on its own, as the product of literary folk writing for a literary audience."

--Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog: On Writers and Writing (Columbia: University of Missouri, October 2005)

**************************************
On matters of writing or publishing or writers-and-academia, it's always good to listen to Louis Rubin. He's the founder of the writing program at Hollins, the University Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Chapel Hill, mentor of many Southern writers, and the founder and former president of Algonquin Books. He is the author of some fifty books, including his recent My Father's People: A Family of Southern Jews, and he has received many, many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Book Critics Circle.

The book is elegant, with a reproduction of Carroll Cloar's Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog opposite the title page and on the jacket. And I am thrilled, tickled, and all-around surprised and abashed to be on the dedication page...

Table of Contents

1 The Ordeal of Unconstant Moose
2 On the Literary Uses of Memory
3 Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog: A Time, A Place, A Painting
4 Thoughts on Fictional Places
5 Questions of Intent: Some Thoughts on Author-ship
6 Bloom's Leap: Or, How Firm a Foundation
7 What Are All Those Writers Doing on Campus?
8 The Progress of Poetry:
Or, a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bookstore
9 Slugging It Out with Dempsey and Others
10 Polemical Coda: Our Absolutely Deplorable Literary Situation--
and Some Thoughts on How to Fix It Good

Monday, October 03, 2005

Malania Book Launch & the Templeton Pumpkin Festival

The shameless Sunday book-flogging for my little old lady friend, Fae Malania, went off very well. I found homes for all 60 of the books that I'd ordered, and I even sold most of her author copies. By the time the stragglers show up, we'll go over 70.

It was a peaceable, teetotaler's party--and much cheaper than champagne for 100--your basic C & T plus cake. I ordered a Gargantua-sized cake with yellow roses and an icing book on top with the sugary words, The Quantity of a Hazelnut by Fae Malania--made by an enterprising Templetonian baker--plus pots of red and white cyclamen and ornamental peppers from the Farmer's Market. And those went home with a few of the many people who have helped Fae.

There is a perfect riot of confusion in my brain about the money in little baggies and the checks, but I suppose it will be sorted out before long. Some have not paid but have taken a book. Some the reverse. Some didn't show but reserved... Sigh. I do not like to play accountant, extortionist, and delivery girl.

I celebrated book-launch success by taking my youngest to the second day of Pumpkinfest. Yesterday we saw Merdwyn the Mediocre do his famously mediocre magic show at the Doubleday Field. My son got him in a corner (difficult in an open-air festival) and talked candy and magic and other important topics at him until he begged us to go.

We inspected the giant pumpkins, including a 1,407.3-pound winner. That's one thousand four hundred and seven pounds, plus. Or as my third-grader says, poring over the problems in expanded form: 1,000 + 400 + 7. I don't know what he'd do with the smidge left over. I don't think he does expanded-form-with-fractions as yet.

Each of the four mega-pumpkins on stands in front of the Doubleday Field gates broke the New York state record. Which just goes to show that a little sunshine--what marvelous weather we have had this year--helps with all kinds of expanded form. I could deal with weather like this year round. If it was up to me, I would deal with weather like this year round. Most Templeton summer mornings I get up, put on a sweater, and lodge two or three complaints before breakfast. Some fall mornings, I put on snow boots and the giant down blueberry. It's so big that it stands up by itself and sticks its arms out. More expanded form at work.

Here is something I learned at Pumpkinfest: grossly fat pumpkins look just as weird and astonishing as grossly fat people. I thought my Southern cohorts might not know that, and it's an interesting fact. We have the spectacle of 450-pound humans pretty much everywhere these days, but it's not so often that we see a really excessive pumpkin down South... Pumpkin giants flop as they grow, lose their flower ends and umbilicals in wells of flesh, and sprout stretch marks.

In today's installment of pumpkin mania, my son played silly games and had his picture taken while sitting inside a pumpkin, next to a Grumplie, an equally large pumpkin carved in high relief. Sour-faced: hence, Grumplie. Our favorite part was watching the Catskill Puppet Theatre do "Hiawatha" with rod puppets; we'd seen the show once before, but one of us was only a toddler and didn't recall.

Alas, we missed the Regatta, though we did go and inspect the wet pumpkin boats behind the Lake Front Motel.