Les Semaines

July 3, 2005

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal

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Second Week of Clarion West 2005

Andy Duncan was this week's instructor. He is a Clarion West graduate from 1994 (two years before me) who writes wonderful tales that echo Southern tall tales, rich with unusual characters and locations that are clear in your mind's eye as you read. He began the week by quoting from the beginning of Alice in Wonderland, "What good is a book without pictures or conversations?" and challenged the students to include both in their stories, and assigned them to go out and transcribe conversations around them. He read a hilarious collection he'd gotten from listening in to two different families round him in the airport. It really is amazing how conversation tells you so much about the characters and their relationships to each other.

From my point of view, it was an excellent week. I worry some that a few of the students are going to burn themselves out trying to do everything all the time with all the critiquing and writing and all. And we're only on the second week!

Speaking of burning out, Monday was my last day at my day job at the University of Washington until September. I'm so glad for this break. It helps me come back refreshed and with renewed energy by September for another academic year. If I didn't have this two-month break away from it, I would have burned out years ago. As it is, it's harder to go back since now Clarion West takes up half of it.

I'm still struggling with getting my 3,000 words a week out. You'd think it was 3,000 a day or something the way I barely manage to squeak it in. I hope now that I'm not working it will get easier.

I'm trying to think of what else happened in my week and coming up short. We saw Devin and Dave a couple of times as he left this morning for Los Angeles and is shortly to leave for Tonga as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. I had lunch with co-workers Wednesday to belatedly celebrate the birthday of one of them. It was fun and felt like a lovely end to my academic year. There were the usual readings (Andy reads wonderfully) and party (it was a fun one) for Clarion West.

I feel sure I'm forgetting something.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

Still enjoying Christine Fellow's new disc. It may be even better than her last.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

Fiona Avery's The Crown Rose is a story of Isabelle, a princess of France and her siblings. She's 17 and it shows -- she adores and is hurt by her older royal brothers, pretty much ignores her younger brothers, shows a huge ignorance of politics and her role in her society (could this be true of a princess of the time, even at 17?), does impetuous things most of which have few consequences, or rather positive consequences, everyone especially the common people adore her, her family finally understand when she doesn't want to marry the prince of neighbouring Germany and join the church (even he understands and becomes her dear friend), so when she does one impetuous thing too many that inadvertently starts a war, well, everyone else just seems unreasonable. What an odd book! I could tell from the beginning that I was kind of bouncing off it, but I was curious about the mystical element of the book -- which really didn't seem to have much impact on events -- so I read on. I dunno. I wanted to like this much more than I did, and am left feeling puzzled. Was it a romance? Mystical? About the obliviousness of teenagers? Maybe this just wasn't a book for me, though from the description I would think it would be exactly my cup of tea.

Holly Black's young adult novel Valiant was utterly my cup of tea. Once I had started it, I couldn't put it down, even though I was really sleepy and had a full schedule both the day I read it and the one that followed. I liked this even better than her previous novel, Tithe. This is the story of a teenager, Val, who also is 17 and who runs away from home, finding an odd young couple who are living in a hideaway in the subways, who offer her a place to stay. Because she can't quite decide to go home and doesn't know what else to do, and of course because they intrigue her, she goes. Through them she meets the young man's brother, who is a delivery boy for some very sketchy and strange characters indeed. Could they really be faeries? An absorbing story. I raced through it, and want to read it again soon to take it in a little more slowly this time.

Margo Lanagan's collection of short stories, Black Juice is odd, liminal, and full of edgy delights. The tales are folky, dark, focused, and feel utterly real, though they're full of fantastic events, creatures, and situations. What is most absorbing is the emotional reality of her stories -- each one hooks me right in.

Susan Carroll's The Dark Queen is a fantasy-based romance novel, set in 15th-century France. It posits a world where women's magic was once revered, widespread, and organized, and now it has fallen into disfavour and disarray, with its members attacked by fanatical witchhunters from the church. The Lady of the Isle is a young woman who inherited her title from the mother she misses very much. Her father has gone off on a long voyage and his return is long overdue, leaving her and her two sisters running the estate and in huge debt. When she meets the newly inherited Comte in the forest, he immediately decides he wants to marry her, and tells her. He even goes so far as to set up a wedding that she disdains to attend. Finally he offers her half of a set of magic rings, so that she can call on him at need -- and once she has called on his three times, she must marry him. The idea seems so ridiculous to her that she agrees, and hence the main romantic story begins. The Lady is also entangled in a plot of the Dark Queen, Catherine di Medici, another witch gone evil, and they all must struggle to survive her political machinations. This was a pleasant story, the rings were fun, the romance well-handled if predictable. Though isn't predictability part of the positive features of a romance? Hmm.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

Here's my message about my novel progress:

Dear Write-a-thon sponsors--

I reached my 3,000 word goal this week by the skin of my teeth. Yesterday I was squeezing out words like they were precious gems or something. They just didn't want to appear on my computer screen. It felt like what a friend of mine called sweating BBs (as in the ammo for BB guns). Right now the novel stands at 10,534 Word words, so I wrote 3,066 words, a whole 20 words over last week.

The novel is now officially the length of a novelette (and still shorter than a novella). It's probably 1/10th of its final length.

Our heroine has just realized to her shock that she's pregnant, which somewhat complicates her life.

Thanks for taking this journey with me.

--Neile

In other news, I think I forgot to mention that two of my poems have been chosen for an anthology of Northwest poets. Cool, eh?

Also, I am still groping around trying to find a shape for a poem I've been working on forever. I think I have too many distractions.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: old journal

On hiatus still.

last week's old journal § next week's old journal

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1964 people have wandered through this week with me