Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Signposts for the gadabout

With the incredible collapsing
hummingbird cake.
I've been playing on Facebook (so fun to get hundreds and hundreds of birthday wishes from all sorts of interesting people) and twitter (which, oddly, actually does good things for my books) and ignoring my blog for a good long while. Oh, I've been fairly dutiful and put up review clips for Maze of Blood, and left a books-in-print post when I ran off to Peru and Chile and Mexico. But I have left the blog in a condition of half-dressed neglect of late. Poor child, she needs her face scrubbed and a new gown and some kid slippers.

And so I'm wondering. I haven't asked what people would like to see or read about for a long time. So. Tell. Got a question, an idea, a wish, a direction, a signpost that fits?

Here are some of the things I've thought about doing lately. Tell me if you find any of them especially interesting, or even if you find them all dull and dowdy! Tell me your own ideas for what I should do, too--they may be better than mine.

Update (ideas from an editor): "I also wanted to suggest that you branch out and write more about non-literary, non-book topics. You are fun to talk to and have plenty of ideas and opinions, and it would be interesting to your readers as well as (I suspect) yourself to talk about some other things. What's it like living in Cooperstown (both as a small town, and as a wealthy tourist town in a mostly-depressed area of the country)? How about some interviews with other artists/musicians/writers who live in the area? What are the particular challenges and/or inspirations/advantages they deal with? Do you miss the South? Why or why not? Yankee attitudes vs Southern ones? You've been traveling - will you tell us about that?"

Update (from a painter friend): And would love to hear what you say about women authors not burning down the house with all of the men in it. Actually, we should do lunch to talk about that subject... 

And a brilliant US/NZ grad student: I would love to read more about how you and Clive work with a designer. (I would love to read more about whatever you feel like writing about, also.)

And an extremely capable writer, much published: someone who has so woefully neglected her own blog, I am at a loss. Though, I do like it when you write about poetry, because as much as I love reading it, I am never very comfortable writing about it for fear of sounding like an idiot. So I enjoy reading authors who do (and you do) know how to write about it.

And thanks to the rest of you who have offered such interesting ideas here and via email and comments elsewhere. (Special thanks to Alexandria for her ideas, including a Marly-society with embossed i.d.! A writer needs people who have faith in her powers.)  

--I have a friend who won a major poetry prize and, a year out, nothing about the book has appeared. It seems the case that fewer and fewer books are able to succeed in our bestseller-winner-take-all culture, no matter how good they are. I am bothered that she has received no reviews, and I've thought about doing a little series of posts about some of the poems in the book. Alternately, I might just write a longer, meditative sort of article for some other site.

--I've also thought about an interview with the same writer.

art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
book design by Burt and Burt
--A lot of my friends and e-friends are in the visual arts. People tend to know about my friendship with Clive Hicks-Jenkins because of the jackets and covers, as well as the lavish interior art for Thaliad, The Foliate Head, Glimmerglass, and Maze of Blood. But I have thought about doing a little series in honor of some of my painter friends. Maybe it would focus on particular pieces. Maybe it would combine a little bit about the paintings or a painting with a question directed at the painter.

--A shopping list: off-the-beaten track books and art, focusing on people I know.

--Podcasts of poems and fiction excerpts? (Oh, I need to look for my good microphone that Paul Digby gave me!)

--I might consider writing something about how and why I've made such odd choices, often seemingly wrong-headed ones, having to do with marketing and publishers and agents and so on. But I always think it's too much to comprehend, even for me! So perhaps I don't want to do that one, though I've started it (and trashed it) before.

A head full of blooming thoughts...
Interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Maze of Blood
--And I was just reading a hip young thing's complaints about her new baby who prevents her from writing, and thought that I really ought to write something about how more life is always helpful to a writer, that we never make a mistake by embracing more life. (She also wrote about misogyny and male writers and so on, but much of that "heavy bores" me, as Henry would say. Just let me get on with my work without indignation burning in my head.)

--Here's more of a hot-button topic: what's wrong with our trendy ideas of the evils of cultural appropriation--why they are fundamentally a wrong way to think for writers.

--And here's another: why a woman writer should not "burn down the house" of literature, with all its white male dead locked inside.

--The idea of doing a piece about how Clive and I work with a designer is appealing. And I do have plans to do an interview elsewhere that puts the two of us together.

--And what about a piece about how Elizabeth Adams planned, did the art work for, and designed Annunciation (Phoenicia Publishing)?

--More on Karin Svahn's embroidery.

--Peru, Chile?

Probably some of those miss the mark. And maybe I'm not thinking of other ideas that might be splendid and suit me. Tell me what to think, and I might just follow your lead, or debate you. Ask me a question, and I just might answer.


  1. Good lord, you have a lot to write about, Marly. I vote you focus first on your friend the poet whose major prize has thus far done her only minor good. I'd be interested in reading what you have to say about her work--and some of her poems. She deserves this, and you're good at it!

    1. Yes, I think that I must do some things for her. Breaks my heart to see people who are good be so ignored as they are in our current chaotic culture.

    2. Or I could just go out to lunch more and forget about the blog!

  2. I really like the first request. I would love to read about how life operates around you, and your thoughts on it. Cooperstown sounds like a very interesting place to live, and then you travel so! I think I would thoroughly enjoy reading your observations.
    I'm pretty certain they would meander wonderfully into all kinds of things. Writing, art, history, philosophy, and religion too!

    1. It is a curious place, that's for certain. Well, I will travel now that my kids are grown, but I have not done all that much.... My husband is the impressive traveler.

  3. The wonderful thing about blogging, out of fashion as it is, is that you're free to write whatever strikes your fancy! That said, I'm most curious about your award-winning poet friend. Perhaps her story will inspire a couple more readers to get their hands on her work. (But really, this reader will enjoy whatever thoughts you deem pixelworthy.)

    1. Pixilated pixies! Yes, I definitely need to do something about the poet.

  4. Like Jeff, I'll enjoy whatever you write.

    More importantly, happy birthday!

    1. Thank you, Scott. Much appreciated. I always enjoy you and Jeff!

  5. I wanted to know more about the award-winning poet friend, too. I thought it seemed like your article could do some good for her.

    The reflections about more life (motherhood) being helpful to a writer (and an artist) might be good to have out there, too. When I was a new mother, it seemed like my hands might be tied forever. It made me scared. Two more children later, I realized how much more material I had, and how many more things I felt strongly about. Reassurance from seasoned creative mothers could be so helpful to a new creative mothers who might be feeling the panic, or helplessness. I remember looking online at the time for artist mother role models who were pulling this off successfully, and having trouble finding examples.

    1. Kim! I have been thinking about you a lot--three weeks away followed by Thanksgiving means I am behind in everything, but I'm meaning to write you soon.

      Yes, I do seem to see a lot of comments about juggling or not being able to juggle the work and the children. I will think about that one more.

      And will write you! I have a bunch of overdue paperwork and a promised submission that I haven't figured out, but soon.

  6. They're considered negative but antipathies - by people who can articulate them and are not just sounding off - are always instructive. Especially in music. When Van Cliburn seemed likely to win the then Soviet Tchaikovsky Piano Competition the Soviet state forced Ashkenazy to take part. Reminiscing, years later, A admitted he wasn't enthusiastic about "such showy music". This was an informed opinion from someone whose opinions mattered. Etiquette would seem to demand that the object of one's antipathy be dead. No doubt long dead. For me it's the reasoning that appeals. And of course the danger.

    If I remember correctly I think Ashkenazy and Van Cliburn tied for first place. Sounds fixed.

    1. Antipathies. There's a thought. It would violate my Southern tact, which might be good for me!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.