Monday, July 9, 2018

A question on change

Yesterday, while towing a  trailer of canoes down the road to an invasive species removal event, I found myself listening to the program, Out of Bounds on NPR. On this particular show they were interviewing poet Michael Jennings, and talking with hm about his recently released chapbook, Summoning the Outlaws. Now, I missed a good part of the interview, spending a sizable chunk of time getting out of the truck to make sure the hitch was line up properly with the trailer, then getting the trailer hitched up, then walking around the trailer to make sure all the lights and turn signals worked, and triple-checking that half a dozen canoes weren't going to go flying off the back of the trailer while I'm trundling down the road (it's my worst nightmare; hasn't happened yet, knock wood).

Once everything was squared away and secure, I got to listen to the rest of the interview, which was pretty interesting. I'm not what you might call a big fan of poetry, but the poems Jennings read on air were good, and it's always interesting to listen to writers of any kind talk about their process. One question in particular caught my fancy.

How did writing this book change you?

As often happens when I listen to these sort of programs, I let my imagination run away a little. I wasn't listening to Michael Jennings whilst hauling a canoe trailer through the heart of the county on a Sunday morning; no, I was the one being asked the question after the publication of my latest, greatest book. How did writing this book change me?

First off, fantasy me did not answer that, as a newly-minted best seller, I was jetting around the world in my private jet and rubbing shoulders with all the biggest celebrities and bending the ears of heads of state--my fantasies don't typically run that way. It's enough to be published and to get interviewed on a radio show for me! Besides, that wasn't what the question was aiming at; it was more to the point of how writing the book changed Jennings'(my) world view.

For me, a book (and yeah, I know it's not technically a book until it's published, but I've still got one foot in fantasyland here, okay?) typically starts when something catches my attention. That something triggers a question, most typically one that starts with "What if...?" The possible answer to that question fires off all kinds of things in my brain and a story emerges, slowly (very slowly) but surely. At least in the case of this book, what caught my attention were the views of a certain billionaire presidential candidate and a certain sort-of in control political party. Seeing what was happening, listening to what was being said worked on my brain, and this story started to develop. In terms of the question being asked, it's not so much that I wrote this book, therefore I changed as much as it's I changed, therefore I wrote this book.

Now, in fairness, I think it's also true that writing this not-yet-a-book has changed me as well. At this point in time, I haven't been able to quantify any changes that have occurred as a result of writing this particular project. I suspect it will vary from project to project. Fortunately, fantasy interviewer was appropriately appreciative of my response and didn't press the point. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to hear what Michael Jennings said; I was too busy responding in my head (and keeping one eye on the mirror to make sure my trailer--and all my canoes--were still there).

What about you? Does writing change you, or do you change, then write? And, while we're at it, am I the only one who does fantasy interviews in my head?
 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Reading List, 2018 (Part II)

Hard to believe we're into July already, isn't it? Seems like just yesterday I was sitting here at my computer, likely with a blanket draped over my shoulders and posting Part I of this series. This morning I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt and it's comfortable, after the hottest night of the year so far.

Before getting into the list, I'll add that I've (finally) gotten around to actual rewrites on my latest project, the one that landed at about 138,000 words. I'm about 14,000 words/50 pages in right now, struggling with how to shorten the beginning without losing too much of importance. This is the job the phrase "Kill your darlings" was meant for.

One other note: on Saturday, I led a canoe trip for what turned out to be around 30 people (we had a veritable Spanish Armada out there) on what was until yesterday the hottest day of the year. Let me tell you, there is no feeling on this earth quite like sticking your feet over the sides of your canoe and into cool water on a hot day. It is heaven. On to the list!

All Our Wrong Todays (2017), Elan Mastai. After thirty pages with no dialogue I was almost ready to toss this one aside. I'm glad I stuck with it. Time travel by a screw-up, which screws things up.

Tool of War (2017), Paolo Bacigalup. I much preferred by The Windup Girl and The Water Knife. Entertaining and fast-paced, but not quite my thing.

The Heart Goes Last (2015), Margaret Atwood. Atwood's a great writer, and she explores some creepy directions society could go. Unfortunately, this one gets muddier the longer it goes.

Oops: Tales of a Sexpert (2018), Vivian Peters. This may be the most important book I've read this year. Long-time educator for Planned Parenthood relays her experiences working with teens in rural America. It's often funny, but not funny at all, if you know what I mean.

American War (2017), Omar El Akkad. Quote from the book, which seemed particularly appropriate given our times: "Nativism being a pyramid scheme, I found myself contemptuous of the refugees' presence in a city already overburdened. At the foot of the docks, we yelled at them to go home, even though we knew home to be a pestilence field. We carried signs calling them terrorists and criminals and we vandalized the homes that would take them in. It made me feel good to do it, it made me feel rooted; their unbelonging was proof of my belonging."

Flight Behavior (2012), Barbara Kingsolver. How is it I've never read Barbara Kingsolver before?

A Hologram for the King (2012), Dave Eggers. A man finds himself in an absurd situation in Saudi Arabia.

Summerlong (2015), Dean Bakopoulos. Don and Claire Lowry's marriage becomes a slow-motion car wreck. That description does not do this book justice.

Catskill (2001), John R. Hayes. This is easily the worst book I've read in a long time. Why did I read all of it? I hate to leave things unfinished.

Commonwealth (2016), Ann Patchett. A tale of a blended family (and not always well-blended, at that) that unfolds over fifty years. Very well done.

Ten books read this quarter, not bad! I suppose this is what happens a) once hockey season and and, b) when I was trying to avoid working on my own writing.

What about you? What have you been reading? Anything from on this list?