Monthly Archives: January 2012

2011 The Year in Reading Part Deux: The Actual Books

Without further adieu, here they are, in reading order (more or less):

1. Great House by Nicole Krauss

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

4. The Boys of My Youth by Joann Beard

5. City of Thieves by David Benioff

6. Tinkers by Paul Harding

7. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergese

8. Flashlight Memories Ed. Ginny Greene

9. Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

11. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

12. Carry Me Across the Water by Ethan Canin

13. Quiet Americans by Erica Dreifus

14. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

15. The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure

16. Composing Ourselves as Writer Teacher Writers: Starting With Wendy Bishop ed. Pat Bizarro, Alys Culhane, Devan Cook

17.Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel

18. Alligators, Old Mink and New Money:  One Woman’s Adventures in Vintage Clothing Allison Houtte

19. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

20. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

21. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

22. Last Will and Testament by Jim Tinker

23. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

24. The Architect of Flowers by William Lychack

25. One Nation Under Goods by James J. Farrell

26. Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy ed. Chris Drew, David Yost, Joseph Rein

Lots of really great reads in there, despite the brevity of the list.  Wordamour will forever remember 2011 as the year she discovered Nicole Krauss (where was Wordamour living? under a rock?); Great House was mesmerizing. The Architect of Flowers and Quiet Americans, two more riveting, and in the former case, luminously iconoclastic, reads also got the kudos they deserved in other end of year lists.  Wonderstruck started slowly but ultimately transported the reader to late 1970’s New York City (one of Wordamour’s favorite times/places) as all the story strands came together as if stitched by an invisble hand. Composing Ourselves as Writer-Teacher-Writers, about Wendy Bishop, was the only “festschriften” of sorts Wordamour has ever read that frequently brought tears.

But as my friend and colleague Graeme Harper likes to say, Onward!

What’s on deck for 2012?

You’ll find out in the The First Book of 2012, coming soon!

Bye y’all,

SV

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2011 The Year In Reading–Part One

(hey, don’t forget the giveaway for a FREE amazon giftcard; see previous posts)

In some ways, it wasn’t the greatest reading year.  Wordamour read the lowest number of books she’s read read since she started keeping track, a lonely 25.

But inn true American fashion, she’s got something to blame for this.  Her NookColor.

Which sounds like a contradiction.  An e-reader resulting in reading fewer books?

Let Wordamour explain.

First of all, Wordamour loves her NookColor.  In many ways it has enabled her to do more reading, especially in bed, than she’s been able to for years.  You see, Wordamour’s husband is an extremely light, fitful sleeper.  In fact, if there was a contest between Wordamour’s husband and the Princess,  of “The Princess and the Pea Fame,” Wordamour’s husband would probably win.  After all, how many people do you know can be awakened by the sound of the whispery clicks of an Ipod wheel?  All kidding aside, when you love a light, fitful sleeper you become almost as invested in their getting that elusive good night’s sleep as they are.

And that means giving up reading in bed longer than they do. Because when it’s lights out, it’s light’s out, folks.

Until the NookColor.  Because the Nook screen is backlit and when turned just so, the light doesn’t seem to keep Mr. Wordamour awake.

Hallelujah.  Reading in bed again after 19 years going without.  Because Wordamour LOVES reading in bed.

So why isn’t the reading list longer, especially considering the fact that she received the NookColor as an early birthday present in January 2011?

One word.

You see, soon after receiving the Nook, Wordamour discovered the Pulse App, a free app that automatically downloads all the news and essays of the day from your favorite sources: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Salon, as well as sources of its own into which it curates top technology news, top design news, top health news.  You get the picture.

So you can enjoy all this reading on a device that fits between your hands and enables you to cuddle in bed next to said light sleeper while he remains in that coveted dreamland.

Paradise.   Warm feet, happy partner, the New York Times and you don’t even have to worry about how you’re going to manage those huge pages or keep newsprint off the sheets.

For a long time, it was all about the Pulse App.  Wordamour actually looked forward to getting in bed and clicking on the little “P” icon, it was like phoning an illicit lover (not that Wordamour–or anyone willing to give up 19 years of reading in bed for her partner’s happiness– would know anything about that) or openly reading Good Housekeeping in a gym full of academics, a little risky, a little edgy.

But after awhile, the newness wore off.  Wordamour still reads Pulse regularly but she’s learned how to scroll through quickly and read only the most interesting articles and essays (instead of the very latest on Mit Romney’s efforts to rustle up a personality) so she can move along to the book at hand.

Which means, hopefully, 2012 will be a better year for books.  Unless someone invents an even more distracting app.  Wordamour isn’t even going to imagine what that might be.

Bye for now y’all until 2011 The Year In Reading–Part Deux, in which you actually get to see the list.

SV

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Historical Accuracy–A Fine Line

How much research does one do for a book that is set in a time period removed from one’s own?  If you do too much, you run the risk of letting history take over the story. In addition, you can spend so much time doing research that the book itself languishes.  But if you do too little, you run the risk of being historically inaccurate.  Yes, it is quite a fine line.

Here’s how I handled it when writing The Lost Son (working title), the novel I’m currently finishing, set in Germany and the US between 1924 and 1945.

I did a fair amount of background reading to get a feel for the eras, a couple of general World War II histories, a couple of books set in 1940’s New York, a couple of books about living in Germany during the rise of Hitler and especially Hitler youth (one of my characters is a reluctant Hitler youth member).  I also read magazines and newspapers from the early forties in the US, just to get a sense of current events and pop culture during the time.  But I really love history (I could have been a history major in college but that is another story) and realized that I could keep researching forever.  So I finally decided I had a good enough sense of the time to finally just plunge into the novel.

During the revision process, however, I kept a notebook with me at all times in which I kept a running list of questions that kept coming up.  What kinds of magazines would a German teenager read?  What kinds of jobs were there for people who worked in breweries?  What did the breweries do when Prohibition came along?  What were some famous department stores in Munich in the early 1900’s?  The list of questions ended up encompassing several pages of the notebook.

After the first whole-novel revision I spent several days on the internet researching all those questions.  Like I said, I love history and I love web surfing, so I had an absolute blast.  I managed to get answers to all the questions and then, for the next revision, went about adding them to the relevant parts of the story.

So the story unfolded completely under its own steam.  It did not serve history but later, history served it.  This seems to me the best way to write something that is not necessarily meant to be “historical fiction,” but that does take place during a completely different historical period from one’s own.

Something I read in  I’m teaching in my Creative Nonfiction Class this semester, Telling True Stories, really drives this home.  Mark Kramer writes: “Do just enough research to orient yourself, then do most of your reporting.  Save most of the research for late in the reporting procss.  At that point you only have to find the right information for your story.  If you research too early, you have to find out everything” (27).

Right now, I’m reading for my next project, a creative nonfiction book that takes place in the nineteen seventies and eighties.  I lived during that era, so you might think I don’t need to do much research.  But the truth is, I’m still doing a lot of background reading to get a real feel for the period.  After all, it was a long time ago.  The memory often needs a little jog.

How about you?  How do you achieve historical accuracy without slowing down or overencumbering your story?

Bye y’all,

SV

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Naming your characters. . .

(Don’t forget the amazon card giveway in the last post.)

My oldest son reads fan fiction obsessively and occasionally likes to write it.  Recently, he was wondering how writers name their characters.  He shared a few of his techniques with me and I was impressed–he looks up websites that have meanings for names and chooses based on that, pretty good for a fifteen year old (his parent’s son?).  If the name is in another language (Japanese, in his case) he puts English words into Google translate and sees how they come out in that language.  And he makes sure they’re gender-appropriate.

Part of my recent novel takes place in Germany in the first half of the last century, so websites providing common German names during that time were a great boon for me.  Actually, the web proved invaluable for me in the accuracy of that novel, which I’ll discuss in another post.

As Lynn, my linguist friend, will attest, naming is powerful.  How about you?  How do you name your characters?

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Today’s the Day! And a Giveaway–

Yep.  Today’s the day that Rethinking Creative Writing officially debuts in hard copy.  It’s been available in e-book form since May and the paperback actually pre-premiered at the NAWE (National Association of Writer’s in Education) conference in London in November.

Advance word has been good nationally and internationally; check out the reviews in the page on this blog, as well as the reviews on Goodreads.  But today is the first day the book becomes available to order on say, Amazon.

So I’m thinking a contest may be in order.  I’m liking the reviews on Goodreads but I’d like to see some on Amazon and even Barnes and Noble.  A shout out on your blog would be good too, and hey, if you want to interview me on your blog, I’m all for that as well.

But right now, let’s focus on the reviews. Anyone who either:

reads and then post a review of Rethinking Creative Writing on Amazon or Barnes and Noble OR

reads and then posts a review of Rethinking Creative Writing on her or his blog

by January 31 will be entered into a drawing for one of two $25 amazon.com gift certificates (those who have already done this (Erika Dreifus, Mike Rush) will also be entered).  Just send me a copy of the link with your contact info. You get an entry for every time the review appears.

I’ll announce the winners February 1.

Bye (for now) y’all,

SV

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Resolutions–and Thanks to Dr. Oz

Yesterday I got an email from wordpress that was a “blog year in review,” with stuff like, how many posts I wrote, how many hits I got, what got the most hits, etc. all portrayed in brilliant graphics.  It was pretty cool but it made me feel more guilty than anything else because. . .

I only wrote 32 posts last year.

And most of those were the first half of the year.  So tops in my resolutions list this year is to pick up the pace.  I have a lot going on this year, a lot I want to promote, my book (officially debuting in hard-copy form January 12, more on that in later posts), other peoples’ books, and so on so I’ve got to get better on the blogging front.  Also,  I  like blogging so it’s not like I’m torturing myself or anything by trying to ramp up the schedule.

That was going to be the only resolution I shared publically but I recently decided to share the other one in the hopes that going public with it will 1. help me do a better job with it and 2. might be enlightening to someone reading this.  I’m going to do a better job of taking care of myself this year.  Now, I actually do an ok job of this already, specifically, I do about four hours of indoor cycling a week that helps me manage stress and all those other important things like cholesterol levels and blood pressure and so on.  No complaints there; it’s all good. I eat reasonably healthfully, don’t have any serious vices and take my vitamins with the full knowledge that my chiropractor-grandfather is smiling down from heaven on me each night as I do it (yes, I know there have been recent negative reports about vitamins but old habits die hard and I will need to see more to be convinced).  But about a month ago, I developed a painful condition starting at the back of my neck and stretching all the way to my forehead called a “muscle contraction headache,” that has been dogging me ever since and requiring some major pharmaceuticals to get under control.

A little web research revealed that these things are very much stress related.  Now, I think I have about the same level of stress in my life as most people  I know–in 2012 all of us are trying to keep the stress devil at bay.  However, I do think my response to it, which is very internal and which can momentarily drive up all of those critical numbers, especially heart rate and blood pressure–leaves a lot to be desired so I will defininitely be working on that.  I’ve started a yoga class for the first time and was suprised to find out that I was actually good at it (according to the teacher, I’m very “bendy.”).  So that will be one part of the taking better care–reeducating my body to respond better to momentary stress through things like yoga, breathing exercises, making sure I get my Omega 3’s etc.

The other part will be–and I share it only because it was something of a revelation to me–trying, when I can, to avoid that which causes me severe anxiety and stress.  I recently read the Time magazine feature on anxiety with great interest because it’s something that yes, I’ve suffered somewhat silently from on and off for most of my adult life.  I related deeply to the whole feature, but for me, the best part was a quote from Dr. Oz that essentially said that after you control for taking care of your response to anxiety (through therapy, mind-body work, etc.) you might want to avoid situations that cause it.

What a concept.  Sure, like any person who suffers from occasional high anxiety, I instinctively tried to avoid situations that caused it, but I always felt terribly, terribly guilty about this, that it made me pathetic and weak.  It never occured to me that it might actually be okay to plan for avoiding these situations.  Powering through has always been the mantra I thought I was supposed to be following, even though this mantra might lead to days when it truly felt like someone with concrete hands had a grip on my heart.  Thanks to Dr. Oz, I even came to the conclusion that it might not actually be healthy for someone cruising into middle age to feel like someone with concrete hands was holding her heart, even just for a few days or maybe especially for a few days.

The whole concrete hands metaphor is pretty dramatic but, truth be told, these situations are fortunately few.  They just pack a really big punch.  However, I know what they are and I occasionally do have some control over them.  Like traveling by train or car because it’s better for me personally.  While flying somewhere  may get me there faster and just as or more safely, for example, it’s a trade off because the days before the flights will do a number on my body, which can’t be good as it ages.  It just can’t.

Sure there are lots of stressors I simply can’t control–i.e. tornado season comes around every year and because I do like to travel, there are some places I can only reasonably get to by plane.  That’s where the mind-body work, the yoga, keeping up the exercise and the Omega 3’s come in (and in the latter situation, a little pharmaceutical support never hurts).  But it’s been a revelation to me (and maybe it will be to you) to realize, as mid-life winks over the horizon, that sometimes there is stuff you simply don’t have to do and taking care of yourself is a good enough reason for not doing it.

So.  A more personal post than usual but one that I hope might be as freeing for you as if has been for me.

Bye (for now) y’all,

SV

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