Tag Archives: Fiction

Virginia Quarterly Review and the awesomeness of books and moves, with emphasis on Amour and Iron Man 3

I began this post shortly after seeing  Amour — a gorgeous film, IMO, with sets that convinced me to return for a second viewing, despite its difficult subject matter. And the depth and breadth of human experience it reveals  — well, for the week after enjoying this movie, I toyed with the idea that I should actually throw out my 40+ years of writing stories (yes, I started when I was six) and learn how to craft a screenplay.

Old Dog New Tricks

Old Dog New Tricks (Photo credit: maxymedia)

And. But. One: I’m an old dog, it’d be a new trick, etcetera; there is truth to adages. Two: I love stories more than I enjoy movies. Three: see my previous post; my short story has me in its howling grip and I can’t/won’t walk away from it.

Then: VQR arrived in the mail, with Richard Nash’s essay, What is the Business of Literature. He writes eloquently about the book as technology — like a chair! or the wheel! — and concludes, “Literature is about blowing sh*t up.” (He uses the entire s word. My kids read these posts so I’m making an effort to be family friendly.)

Then, in early May, we went to Iron Man 3. It is always a pleasure to watch Robert Downey Jr. in action. But the last, oh, 30-40 minutes is naught but explosions, and glistening-with-sweat near-death misses. The opposite of the still, quiet, physical-explosion-free Amour, which was, for me,  the more devestating movie.

Marcel Proust in 1900

Marcel Proust in 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have pondered the appeal of each of these films, and the motivation behind those who imagined and created them. They are as different as Marcel Proust and formulaic romance novels, yet, like each of those genres, each holds its pleasures for this reader. They each have a place in the human experience; they each have something to teach us about how to behave with each other.

And they each started with a story in someone’s head. I don’t care if you write comic books or Great Literature, an effective story is both well-told and compelling. Check out Donald Maas’ comment on Julianna Baggott’s post at Writer (un)Boxed for his succinct analysis of the false dichotomy between stories that are sold to us as “literature” versus those promoted as “entertainment.”

In Amour, the sh*t that gets blown up, as in expanded, was my idea of end-of-life care and what it may require of us, as humans, lovers, family. In Iron Man 3, the sh*t that gets blown up is more literal: buildings, oil tankers, human beings. Eye-candy fireworks.

But it’s all about blowing it up.

Put in your ear plugs, strike your match and light your fuse. Let us see your explosion.


I spent a blissed-out couple of days at the Porches this past weekend, participating in Valley Haggard‘s writing retreat. As I confessed to our small group on the first day, I have been fastidiously avoiding a story that’s been poke-poke-poking me for the last three months. Because it is a story I lack the competence to write.

Or perhaps another way to describe it is as “the story that I’ve told myself a story about.” Although I am sure of the title, and of the last scene, I do not have the broad general or the small specific knowledge to portray one of its protagonists: an evangelical man.

I’m not a man. I’m not evangelical. My tongue mangles the word evangelical when I speak it aloud.

But! Here is the prompt from Valley that shifted my willingness to try to write the story. Admit to yourself you don’t think you can write the story. Then mutter to yourself: “If I WERE going to write this story, however, this is what I would say.”

Perhaps as you’ve already guessed, when I pretend I’m not really writing the story, just writing about what I would write, IF I were writing, which I am NOT, ohnonotmedon’tthinkI’mwritingI’mnotstoplooking! … then … a whole bunch of stuff pours out.

English: Maple sap being transformed to maple ...

English: Maple sap being transformed to maple syrup at a sugar shack in Pakenham, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a messy pour, and my knowledge gaps are like sticky pools of syrup. But I’ve set little “find out more” notes adrift in these pools, and now when I need a break from the writing, I hop on Wikipedia and start to clean them up.


National Novel Writing Month is about OVER. Thank Gawd.

ImageI decided, on the third of November, that I would participate in the National Novel Writing Month project this year. I have a short story whose protagonist has been poking me with the proverbial pointy stick for fifteen-plus years, and she and her neighbors and family and Preacher weren’t obeying my command for them to stay within the short story format. So I decided to let them romp for all of November. Whatever they wanted, they could have.

This is not a stance I adopt often, in either real life or creative life. I am one of those who has an idea of where the story is headed, often not because I’ve forced it, but because endings come to me before beginnings. Ah, I think, there it is. The. End. Then I have to figure out how that character arrived at that end.

As my kids will attest, the day when anything goes is a cold day in hell in our household, indeed. I have this motherly insistence on fresh veggies, limited screen time, and not consuming more sugar grams than one can count on one’s fingers and toes. At least not at a single sitting.


Photo credit: Roger Penguino

So yes, go ahead and call me anal, or right-brain dominant, but structure serves me well. Routines and habits allow me to get me to the writing desk on a regular-enough basis without paying the piper in the precious psychic coins of mounds of dirty laundry, no milk, no bread, dirty litter boxes, and dog fur matted into a pseudo-carpet on the stairs.

But because I started a few days later than November first, I was behind on the average words-that-must-be-generated-daily-to-write-50,000-words-by-November-30th. Gack. I had to do 2500 words a day, more, ideally, if I were to get enough ahead to be semi-present during the Thanksgiving break when we would be out of town. Double gack.

So I dared to step at least one foot over the threshold of my comfortable routines. I didn’t go to the gym first thing, I wrote. Then I skipped the gym entirely! I didn’t keep up with my email. We ate a fair amount of frozen food. Without fresh veggies. I believe a gallon of ice cream was consumed in less than twelve hours by my children. The dog’s walks were considerably shorter (now she glares at me from the couch when I say, “walk time!” accusing me of abusing the term walk. It’s not a walk when you go out, do your business and come back in. It’s a walk when you go to the woods, chase the squirrels, roll in deer poop, eat some of same, and run, run, run. Liar, her glare accuses. I have to do penance, apparently. I did not know dogs kept score in addition to giving unconditional love.)

I frolicked in letting my writing all hang out. I enjoyed the encouraging NaNoWriMo emails. I buddied a friend I’d made at a writing conference. I gloated over the graph on the website that showed my forward progress.

And I noticed several things: 1. When I treat my writing like a job with a deadline, I get more done. 2. My writing doesn’t feel like a job when it’s all about generating new words only (eg, no revising, no research). 3. The jobs of revision and research appeal to me today, at the end of a month of nothing but making up a new story. I, queen of the routine, need variety.

Yet again, just when I have become semi-self-satisified that I have figured out “the answer” to what works for me, I discover that I don’t, in fact, have it figured out. Either because my circumstances have changed, or I have changed, or because the story needling me demands a different exit method.

Duh. But obviously a lesson I need to learn, again.

A green and red Perseid meteor striking the sk...

A green and red Perseid meteor striking the sky just below Milky Way. The trail appears slightly curved due to edge distortion in the lens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope all of us fumbling creative souls, in the shortening days leading to the solstice, may have a version of NaNoWriMo:  a moment, at least, to step outside ourselves and gaze with surprise and wonder at the starry skies above us. And then another moment when, returning, we step inside and gaze with equal delight and awe at our own spinning universes, so often clouded over.