Tag Archives: writers writing about writing

The Ceiling that Started It All

palmer house cornerJack and I were sitting in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago when my book sold; I talked to two different publishing houses, chose one, and off we went.

It’s a story I’ve been reliving from telling it at back-to-back literary festivals these past three days, and because my friend Tele Aadsen has sold her memoir. Rejoicing at a fellow writer’s recognition sparks happy memories.

Tele’s book on being a fisherwoman, which caught bids from no less than four publishing houses, will be out in about a year. Her blog is HOOKED; it comes right up if you google her. If you want to read my “sold the book” story, it’s “THE DAY THE BORDERS CLOSED AND OPENED AT THE SAME TIME” in the December blog postings.

palmer house ceilingBack to that ceiling: The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago is a wonderful place, and since Jack and I got it on a last-minute half-price deal a week before we left, it wasn’t ruinously expensive. And they have a swimming pool. Getting into water always makes me happy.

I sat under this glorious human-made sky, feeling like anything in the world was possible, the day the competing editors talked to me about their vision for my book. It was a heady time, and Editor Nichole turned out to be as lovely as she sounded that first day. She shaped and smoothed, guided with a gentle hand, and smiled the whole time with more than just gritted teeth. She was having fun, and that was fun.

teleWhich is what I’m wishing for Tele, whose sky and sea are of a different hue and temperament, and for all my new friends made these past three days. Whether you self-publish or work with a house, may you have a voice you trust, a hand whose firmness is comforting rather than restraining, and fun, fun, fun. Underneath the miasma of economics and marketing and other underbelly necessities of publishing, there are stories waiting to be told. Great stories, quiet stories, honest and enlightening stories, tales that will make us laugh and think and remember.

So here’s to all the storytellers giving us back the tales of our lives. I lift my own cup of overflowing happiness to you, and wish you well.

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Embrace the Jabberwock

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! –Lewis Carroll

Everyone finds it hard to make time to write. Sometimes squeezing “butt in seat” moments requires hiding from humanity.

Since publication of Little Bookstore last October–heck, since the February before–my agent Pamela, a diplomatic woman of great gentleness, has been dropping hints. “Working on anything?” She doesn’t push, she just … asks. Every once in awhile.

It’s very effective.

Lest poor Pam bear the brunt, I have WANTed to be writing again. A vague idea has swirled into semi-solid form, and the little pin prickles of desire, of inspiration–of guilt–have grown into claws that reach out to pull my butt back in the chair.

Those of you out there who write know what it’s like: toy with an idea, write a scene, think, daydream. Start to build. Force yourself into the chair and silence your internal critic’s voice: “This is stupid. This is crap.”

Beware the jaws that bite.

Then the half-formed beast of an idea’s claws reach out and pull you in, and you’re dropping social engagements to get another hour with your characters. You never want to leave that chair.

It’s not unlike being in love.

Last weekend I fled to a quiet place for two days of butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. It’s funny how writing begets writing in the same way that exercising exhausts you, then energizes you to exercise more. First your brain goes into a post-writing meltdown where you have nothing to say; every last spark of creativity gone, you curl into fetal position under a quilt. Lying in the dark, you start to think “what if he…” and you’re up again, fingers on keys, butt in chair.

And then you hit a bald patch, or the characters take over and drive you into a corner you can’t see a way out of, and you pout and fume and go back under the quilt, and a mental image comes to you, and up you get, and so it goes.

Perhaps it’s less love than lion taming. You don’t want to completely subdue the beast of an idea, but you can’t let it take over, either.  Partnership rather than dominance; you need it and it needs you.

I’m not sure the chair-quilt swing is a healthy lifestyle, but glory, it’s fun. When it’s going well. Or when it’s over. It’s fun the same way half-way through the marathon is fun (my running friends tell me) even though every step is pain. Sometimes it’s about the moment you’re in. Sometimes it’s about the goal you’re reaching.

But it’s always, always a thrill when those claws reach out and catch you, and you see in your mind’s eye what’s going to happen next, and you’re just waiting for the chance to put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and hear the roar again.

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Country Cousins: 3 Books About Rural Living

Today’s blog is Wendy’s essay up on NPR Books. You can see it on the NPR page at the link below.

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/12/166479169/country-cousins-3-books-about-rural-living

December 12, 2012 7:00 AM

As a small-town girl, I love depictions of rural living when they’ve got a little style and sass in their makeup. Replete with enough quirks and quaintness to choke a mule, small towns are timelessly fertile ground for writers. But the best authors ignore — or even play with — stereotypes to tell truly compelling stories.

Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm

by Stella Gibbons

Paperback, 233 pages

Stella Gibbons has plenty of sass. She was writing in the 1930s, when the “local color” movement glossed all things rural with sentiment, and farms were described without even a whiff of manure. Her comic novel Cold Comfort Farm stuck a pin in the balloon of idyllic country living. Featuring the Starkadder family, the cast includes oversexed farmhands Seth and Reuben, crazy Great Aunt Ada in the attic, and their sensible city-dweller cousin Flora Poste, who is capable of “every art and grace save that of earning her own living.” In one of the loveliest meta-storytelling devices ever, Gibbons marks her best passages with one or two asterisks, for the reader’s enhanced enjoyment. This book makes me laugh out loud every time I read it, which is at least once a year.

Homestead

Homestead

by Rosina Lippi

Paperback, 210 pages

Fewer laughs and more tears come from Rosina Lippi’s Homestead. A series of linked stories, it chronicles six generations of women in an Austrian mountain village, starting about 1909. Her characters are drawn with casual grace, and her understated writing is insightful and beautiful. In one tale she describes the interaction between a man and a woman negotiating sexual politics, as “Francesco had feared to ask too much of her, and saw, too late, that he had asked too little.” Quiet stories, and gentle ones, they depict the inner longings and outer strength of mountain women everywhere.

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There

by Philip P. Hallie

Paperback, 303 pages

Through the influence of the charismatic pastoral couple Andre and Magda Trocme, the isolated village of Le Chambon became a “city of refuge” for Jewish people in Vichy France. Philip Hallie tells the story in academic language peppered with anecdotes and first-person interviews. Any small town has rivalries and factions, and these played into simultaneously creating sanctuary while dooming some rescuers. Le Chambon is part of that era’s larger story: the daily interactions of one small town set against the backdrop of hell come to earth.

These three writers reached into the enclaves of mountain villages, subsistence farms and human hearts — and gave us funny, sweet, sorrowful insights into small-town lives lived large.

Wendy Welch is the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

Three Books…is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Rosie Friedman with production assistance from Annalisa Quinn.

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