Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Strange Things Are Afoot at the Circle K."

I would say "Ten points to the first person who identifies the movie quote," but that would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Taking candy from a baby. Finding malapropisms in a George W. Bush speech. If you can't do it -- sorry, dudes.

Anyway, the rationale for the quote is that it sums up the situation at my personal Circle K, as I will shortly be moving for the first time in eight years . . . leaving my beautiful little studio in Park Slope to move in with James in Prospect Heights. (Note that I'm sharing this for your information, not your commentary.) Eight years in one apartment is a lifetime in New York City terms, and I've stayed here so long because I've really loved this apartment , in which I've done a great deal of my growing up. But I am also turning 30 this next month, and while this by no means means I am actually grown up -- God forbid -- I feel ready to go on to a new phase of my life. So. Posting here will probably continue to be erratic as I pack up, move out, and settle in.

Indeed, the only thing I have started to pack thus far is -- surprise! -- books. I have six boxes thus far, with probably another four or five to go, and it's forcing all kinds of hard choices about how I see my life and my reading in years to come. Am I ever actually going to read Daniel Deronda? Traveling Mercies? Swann's Way? Will I ever finish The Great Bridge? Little, Big? I never reread the non-Harriet Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries -- do I need to keep all of them around? (I decided "no" on this one, though of course I am keeping all twenty Aubrey-Maturins, as I'm looking forward to a glorious year rereading those. Someday.) What about those books I inherited from my grandmother -- not the family-heirloom ones, just random books I know she liked? Am I obligated to keep them? I was holding on to certain children's and YA novels because I thought my own children might want them to read -- also someday -- but that "someday" is far enough off that I don't think I'll have the shelf space by then, because I just keep finding more novels I love. . . . In the end, it's also no surprise that the first items James and I have bought for our joint apartment are new bookshelves.

Anyway, again. Other notes:

  • I'm enjoying the Democratic convention thus far, though not the political chatter around it -- all we Democrats need to stop second-guessing ourselves and Barack and just start bringing the rain on McCain. (This means you, Maureen Dowd.) I'm really looking forward to Barack's speech tomorrow night.
  • I'm going to Atlanta this weekend for the Literary Festival -- if you read this, do please say hello!
  • Kristin Cashore's Graceling is AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME. If you love Tamora Pierce, early Robin McKinley, Kate Constable, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you need to read this book. If you were disappointed in Breaking Dawn because it didn't force hard choices or you wanted Bella to be more of a feminist, you need to read this book. If you love a good romance and great fight scenes, you need to read this book. In general, you need to read this book. Galleys floating around now; out officially in October.
  • The SQUIDs I didn't answer in July all went out yesterday, so if you sent a SQUID anytime since April, you should get a reply this week.
Closing wisdom: Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two Poems about Peaches

(Best read with a juicy, delectable, gold-glowing farmer's-market peach in hand. Hat tip for both: The Writer's Almanac.)

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

by Peter Davison

A mouthful of language to swallow:
stretches of beach, sweet clinches,
breaches in walls, bleached branches;
britches hauled over haunches;
hunches leeches, wrenched teachers.

What English can do: ransack
the warmth that chuckles beneath
fuzzed surfaces, smooth velvet
richness, splashy juices.
I beseech you, peach,
clench me into the sweetness
of your reaches.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Terminus Speech + My Four Favorite Books on Writing

My Terminus speech is now online here: A Few Things Writers Can Learn from "Harry Potter"

Also, I was talking with someone at Terminus about good books on writing, and I realized these are my four all-time favorites:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This will teach you how to write a clean, strong sentence and paragraph, and once you master those building blocks, you can build essays, stories, arguments -- entire books.
  • The Poetics by Aristotle. Over 2,300 years ago, Aristotle identified nearly all the essential elements of a compelling plot and recorded them here. I often run through the elements he identified when trying to figure out why a story's not working.
  • Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (part of the Writers' Digest Elements of Writing series). Much more recently, Card anatomized what makes a compelling character and how you as a writer can get the reader to connect with your characters, not to mention how you can manipulate the point of view for different effects. Brilliant.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Reading this book is like having a friend teach you how to write: She gives you advice, encouragement, reassurance, and lots and lots of laughs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Three Thoughts

Pictures from my incredibly busy vacation! First Minnesota and Missouri, then Terminus. All parts of it were awesome, mostly thanks to the people. Friends and family: I adore you.

I have a cold now. It was going around the Leaky Cauldron staff, with whom I hung out, so I'm calling it my Leaky Coldron.

And goodness, this balance beam is a killer. (On TV, I should say.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

FAQ #Something: Do I have to finish the manuscript before I send you a query letter or the first two chapters?

I’ve gone both ways on this question in the past, but I thought about it a little more over the last week, and I’ve decided: Yes. Yes, you do. Because, as Maxwell Perkins said, "You can't know a book until you come to the end of it, and then all the rest must be modified to fit that"; and because what you want to send, and what I want to see, is your very best work—a draft you’ve completed, thought about, reread, tweaked, polished, perhaps had other people read, and in general taken to the point where you’ve done everything you can with it, and you’re ready for an editor’s (or agent's) opinion or advice. And no matter how assiduously you plan out your writing, I don’t think you can know what your very best work is until you’ve actually written it. So yes: Finish the manuscript first.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Quote File: Abraham Joshua Heschel

I was introduced to the name and thought of Abraham Joshua Heschel through a passing mention in a Spring 2009 novel, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. Most of the quotes below were taken from his Wikipedia page, but that doesn't make them any the less thought-provoking or worthy:

  • "Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge."
  • "A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers no harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."
  • "Racism is man's gravest threat to man -- the maximum hatred for a minimum reason."
  • "All it takes is one person… and another… and another… and another… to start a movement."
  • "God is of no importance unless He is of utmost importance."
  • "Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy."
  • "Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself."
  • "Life without commitment is not worth living."
  • "In regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, while all are responsible."
  • "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."
  • "Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin."
  • "Truth is often gray, and deceit is full of splendor. One must hunger fiercely after Truth to be able to cherish it."
  • "Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power. Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and frustrations and disappointments."