Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Laundry List of Writing Desires


WANT                                                         WANT NOT

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Idle chit-chat

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Bad movies disguised as entertainment

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Self-help books

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Hair-trigger fire detectors

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Crappy Wi-Fi

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Bad coffee

Infinite quality writing time                                                    Wet socks

Infinite quality writing time                                                     Flat tires

Infinite quality writing time                                                     Another social media tool

Infinite quality writing time                                                     Christmas

Infinite quality writing time                                                     A hangover

Infinite quality writing time                                                     Over-priced therapists

Infinite quality writing time                                                     Flab

Infinite quality writing time                                                     Lame excuses



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nicholson Baker at Portland's Wordstock

Nicholson Baker at 2013 Wordstock in Portland.
Portland is kind to us writers who have their heads stuck in the sand. When I attended Wordstock on Saturday and waded past the numerous book vendors and writing service hawkers, I came upon a panel discussion with one of my favorite authors. I rubbed my eyes a few times to make certain that, yes, Nicholson Baker was on the stage, chatting it up with several other interesting characters -- a slam poet, a musician, a memoirist. But I knew him. He wrote a book I list in my top 5, The Anthologist, about a fellow trying to write an introduction to an athology of rhymed verse. His main character, Paul Chowder, is also a poet suffering writer's block. The character ruminates on poetry the way a folk artist plucks at a banjo. His work is a combination of wit and stream of conscious and digression.

Come to find out, Baker was also giving a reading later, which I attended, but only after I ran to the Broadway Books booth and purchased his new book, Traveling Sprinkler, the sequel to The Anthologist. I didn't know any of this would be going on until I aimlessly arrived late at Wordstock, saw him onstage and nearly had a heart murmur. I briefly spoke with him after the panel. Baker signed my copy of his new book and answered my uninformed, star-struck question, "What's the new book about?" He was in no way put out that I didn't know my fav book now had a companion; he stated during his reading that he wished all famous writers were also kind people.

Before he read, rather engagingly with the mic popped out of its stand and hunched enthusiastically over his book, he talked about writing Traveling Sprinkler. He says he wrote most of it sitting in "the most comfortable chair I own" in the most quiet place at his home in the Northeast -- inside his green KIA Rio. To finish it, he had to buy the most powerful cigar he could find, several of them, something that "smacks me on the side of the head and mops the floor with me."

Baker's work covers a broad genre palate because he writes non-fiction, and he writes what I would call literary erotica but the New York times dubs "smut." Good, funny smut, nonetheless full of sexual acrobats. I asked him how he could jump from one genre to the next, and he says he just likes to write about different things. He also likes to write his books using different techniques. For The Anthologist, he videotaped himself explaining poetic meter, iambic pentameter, etc., "until I understood it myself" -- all this, before he actually wrote a single sentence. His recording session involved a roaming lawn chair. He told the crowd he'd written a book while wearing earplugs.

At 55, he's written some 15 books and still has more to say, though he can't imagine why anyone would want to read anything more he has to write. "I always have more to say than I wish that I had to say." That's okay, Nicholson, keep it up. And thanks for the fan photo.
N and I




Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Writer's Reading List

What are you reading? I frequently ask people this question. So? Yep, give. You. And not only do I want to know what you are reading but why you are reading it and what the book is about and if you like what you are reading or not. I want to know the author and the genre and if it has a lot of pages or not so many. And if it's a series and who told you to read it. I'm making up for the time I won't be able to read everything that's ever been written. I wasted too many good years not reading, and I need details. So, give.

I lament that I'm a slow reader. I've always been and practice hasn't helped. I tend to read several books at once, which also doesn't help my progress, but I need to read for many reasons, for enjoyment, research and craft. It all adds up to slow going.

Here's my reading list as it awaits on my bedside table.

Not pictured, Twenty Years After. This is the Alexandre Dumas story of what happens to the Musketeers, you guessed it, 20 years after the end of the first story. It is not as good as its predecessor. But I'm reading it to inform the stories I'm writing, which complete storylines within the context of Dumas's world. I'll have to admit, I take my liberties.

Also, I will soon start reading the latest translation of The Three Musketeers by Richard Pevear, published in 2006. I've heard it is excellent. Someday, I might try my own spin on the novel, but it won't be a translation because I don't know any French. It'll have to be a retelling, and not of the YA variety.

When all the hype about the J.D. Salinger book came out recently, I pulled out a book of his short stories and read the one called For Esme -- With Love and Squalor. Excellent. Thank you to the lender.

I just bought The Black Count by Tom Reiss, which is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. It is the story of the father of Alexandre Dumas (do you understand why I get eye rolls from my family when I mention The Three Musketeers?).

A dear college friend of mine, who has begun to write (I take a little credit for inspiring her), sent me a copy of Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. This promises to be a hoot-and-a-half, though I wonder if encouraging me to drink more, get naked more and write more is a prudent suggestion.

At a yard sales we organized this summer, I met an inspirational writer, Jennifer Powers, who lives in Portland. She came to our sale and bought a big Teddy bear. She also happens to be the author of Oh, Shi*f*t! How to Change Your Life with a Little F'in Shift. I need more than a little f'ing one, but don't tell anyone. Her book is funny.

Another friend, who I credit with reviving my love of fiction, handed me a copy of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which also won a Pulitzer. And underneath that gem is Cheryl Strayed's Wild, a borrowed copy from a writer friend here. I have a book by said friend to read after Wild along with essays by writers in The Writer's Notebook II from Portland's Tin House Books. I picked it up at the Willamette Writer's conference.

Last but not least, I infrequently flip through a copy of No Fear Shakespeare, of the sonnets with notes to understand them.

Those are within arm's reach at night. What's on your reading radar?