SAFARI seems to no longer work
for comments...use another browser?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book soup

A springing mind--
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Maze of Blood
(Mercer, fall 2015)
Advice to writers

Advice to writers, even my own, makes me cringe a little. Perhaps I prefer some silly bit of advice like David Sedaris saying that you must write with a candy cane pen.

Because it doesn't matter a whit what writers say about writing or painters about painting or dancers about dancing, etc. Just get on with the playing with words, the pushing of paint, the moving of a body in the air, or whatever it is that draws you.

And if, after a while, you don't want to do that thing, know it and stop (preferable to having the desire seep away in dribs and drabs, I imagine, though I am not sure. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps that is easier. And then there are those who compare making something out of words to slashing open a vein--what of them? Terrible to have no sense of joy and play...)

It is impossible to say anything against advice without committing advice. Silence is, I expect, better.

What's up on this rainy day (other than dandelions)

I'm writing a little play for teens and children today. It's about the boy who becomes King David... There will be lots and lots of sheep. (Last year I was commissioned to write one that I called "The Great Flood of All the World." Fun.) And I'm daydreaming about a novel that I want to write. And maybe I'll do a little tinkering with poems. Also: massive heaps of laundry are mumbling my name.

Thank you to those of you

who voted for Maze of Blood in the comments at the Foreword site. (Voting closes in a week, but such things generally result in a small flurry upon announcement.) If you were here, I would give you a peach-colored tulip with raindrops.

The truth is, I'm not very good at asking for anything that might help my books, even now that I've moved to a small press and university press setting, where I ought to do so. Thanking people for helpful acts is easy. When I was struck by how easily and forthrightly McKinty asks for Amazon reviews and support for his novels, I came to the realization that I just can't do it. My polite Southern ancestors all seem to sit up in their graves and stare balefully.

But I am very thankful when people show that they care about the books. I thank you. The green lawn and the wet tulips and uvularia with its yellow bell flowers all thank you, or so I declare! Words are magic.

Emily Barton

has a new book. The Book of Esther. I'm not going to read it until later because I have a golem idea for a story, but I am going to get it to save. Here's a wonderful review that starts with the line, "In her third novel, brainy and ebulliently eloquent Barton (Brookland, 2006) tells the story of a Jewish Joan of Arc on the forbidding steppes between the Black and Caspian Seas."


  1. i bet there's a golem around the house with two arms that isn't doing anything and would be delighted to fill them with laundry... silence can be golden: it all depends on the wavelength, noise being restricted to a very limited frequency in tune with human ears. there's all kinds of sounds in outer space; just that it's in different wave lengths. even sunlight could be noisy to someone(or thing). except no off switch there...

    1. If only! Golden golem arms.

      Sunshine could be noisy. Wonderful thought. I was sunburned yesterday (we have had one good day, and I managed to get sunburned! Crazy.)

  2. Very excited at the notion of a Golem novel. Just saying!

    1. Me too! And there's a poem coming out soon called "The Poet and the Golem."

  3. If I can write (perhaps more vaguely - if I eternally feel the urge to write) it's because other people along the way have pointed out that what I'd done up to then wasn't writing. I can't pretend I was pleased then, nor can I claim that advice has always stuck. After all how does "writing" (I hate quotes; I think they're needed here but that too is merely one opinion among many) differ from compiling a laundry list? And if you can answer that, here's another: could a laundry list ever be considered "writing"?

    Old men, often with severe digestive problems, sitting round the subs' table at the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford in the fifties were my first mentors. Their rule of thumb: remove as many adjectives and adverbs as possible. It's a good rule but now I am older than they were then I recognise it is incomplete. Here's my update: Remove as many epithets as possible while still saying the same thing. In effect: choose exact nouns and verbs.

    What those wise men were never able to tell me is what constitutes good writing. Advanced age has led me to conclude there is no universal rule, only examples. Graham Greene bemoans the difficulties of writing action passages that convey the nature of action. In an essay I have been unable to track down susbsequently my alliterative hero cites a five-line para in RLS's Kidnapped whereby Alan Breck, prepared in body and soul, awaiting an onslaught, sees the door open on him. The words that follow are not only short but simple; so are the sentences. But the sense of conflict is absolute. Why, asks GG, can I not write like that? Some might say this was humility, I'd say exasperation.

    Just passing through. Wanting to say thank-you for your most recent comment on my post: Too Many Damned Questions. So wise it might almost be classified as sagacious. Would that adjective (which seems to have crept in) be a first for you?

    1. When you have three children, nobody calls you sagacious! And people (aka children) keep your feet on the ground. So no, I don't think that precise word has been slapped on my head.

      For long periods I will make a list every morning and work my way through it. It gives me the illusion of organization. But it is never beautiful. It is, however, generally true.

      Must say that describing the roller coaster of action is glorious fun. And I like both the scene in the roundhouse you describe (I think) and "the flight in the heather."

      While most writers bend toward simplicity as they grow older, I don't think that reach toward clean, tight prose is the only way to tilt at the transcendentals and power in words. Writing is a kind of mesh that a crippled maker casts to capture Venus and Mars and many another thing. Surely the mesh can be woven in many ways?

  4. Sounds as though you are busily occupied as always. I started reading a novel about David, but had to take it back to the library, so didn't continue...
    Esther is an interesting character. I might see if I can pick up this novel about her at the library, when I get back there.
    RE: writing, it is often play, but it depends what you're writing and the subject matter too. Sometimes it's difficult and painful, but necessary. Sometimes it's just a slog. With poems, generally, play, for me anyhow.

    1. It's not "the" Esther...

      But I expect you would like Emily Barton.

      I imagine that it's any number of things, if we let it be what it wants to be. A bridled horse racing toward freedom... well, that's what leaped into mind.

  5. I'm not Southern, but I have a similar experience when I try to ask for book-related favors, except that it's not my ancestors who sit up and stare; rather, I see the shades of countless faces from a childhood where literature wasn't highly valued. "Well, lah-de-dah," they sneer, "and who does he think he is, wanting attention for some thing he made?" Someday I'll come up with a devastatingly snappy response to them...

    1. Luckily I had a librarian and an analytical chemist who wrote fiction and poetry for parents. But he was a sharecropper's child--no room for literature there, though they loved to tell stories on the porch. And though she came from a very large family and was the only one to finish her education, nevertheless I would see that family as creative. My grandfather built beautiful houses in Georgia, including his own, and the women in that side of my family were all ingenious needlewomen. (Although my other grandmother made interesting quilts out of flour sacks and scraps.)


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.