Les Semaines

July 12, 2009

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


Second & Third Weeks of Clarion West 2009

I feel privileged to once again be a witness to this alchemical process. Both Karen Joy Fowler and Elizabeth Bear were new Clarion West instructors to me (Karen Joy Fowler has taught for us, but not for a long time, and Elizabeth Bear is new to CW) but they built on John Kessel's beginnings, delving into the arcana of writing. Both had wonderful things to say about plot, about character, about the varieties of POV and their effects...meanwhile the students were critiquing a minimum of three stories a night (mostly four), critiquing in class, perhaps doing an exercise or two and writing their stories, which have been really impressive first drafts.

I'm so impressed with both Karen and Bear as instructors for the workshop—so great at outlining basics, yet also at issues of art and inspiration, practical about the practical issues and yet able to point to the things about writing that you can't really quite talk about. Karen's passion and Bear's energy—or is it Karen's energy and Bear's passion—inspired me. I also liked both of them so much as people.

I know I sound like a cheerleader when I talk about this process, but this is the ninth time I have experienced it as an observer (and once previously as a participant) and I remain fascinated by how it works and how while each group of students and instructors is different, the process has similarities.

Sure there are rough spots, critiques that shred the author's skin, moments of painful exhaustion, interpersonal rough spots, but the crucible that is this kind of workshop still burns off an amazing amount of dross and an astonishing amount of gold.

In the meantime, Jim turned 50(!), Devin continued to recover from her ACL surgery, and our other niece, Meredith, from the brain tumour surgery (still no final word about the biopsy, which is nagging at me). We've had spells of hot weather for Seattle, and now some cold/rainy/windy. We've been picking blackcurrants and raspberries. Cherry season has been tasty.

I continue to struggle to catch up with the write-a-thon, various household and personal tasks and to catch up on that constant barrage called email. I'd really better do something quickly, as the inbox approaches 1,000 messages retained in expectation of me doing something with them. I've tossed all the rest. How does this happen?

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


I like Regina Spektor's Far okay. It's a little on the pop side for me, with slightly less intriguing quirkiness than her previous albums. Still, miles above most of the stuff I keep sampling in hopes of finding something interesting and new, and the final track "Man of a Thousand Faces" has as wonderful Leonard Cohen-esque feel.

last week's listening § next week's listening


In Nina Malkin's young adult fantasy Swoon when the ghost of an 18th-century man unjustly condemned for the murder of his wife suddenly partially possesses her cousin, the psychic Dice falls in love with him. He has sworn revenge on her entire town, but he loves her, too. She does try to dissuade him. It's a unique story and a quick read, but awkward. Definitely aimed at the Twilight market.

Arthur Phillips' novel The Song Is You is about a man passionate about music who is separated from his wife after the death of their toddler, who then starts a strange obsessive relationship with a young woman in a band who is clearly a rising star. He leaves her a cryptic message but which has suggestions for her that she takes, and they start a weird kind of stalking. Interesting story and full of nice touches, but ultimately unbelievable.

Carol Lynch Williams' young adult novel The Chosen One is the story of Kyra, a 13-year-old girl brought up in a polygamist cult. When the cult's leader ordains the god wants her to be 60-year-old uncle's newest wife, Kyra doesn't know what to do. She loves her family, especially her siblings, but any rebellion threatens them. The sadistic nature of the patriarchs felt a little overplayed—at least I truly hope so—but Kyra's struggles felt very real.

Gayle Forman's young adult fantasy novel If I Stay is about a young girl who is the sole survivor of a car wreck that kills her parents and brother. Hovering on the edge of life, she can suddenly see her body and her situation from outside. As she examines her life to decide if she will stay or let go, we see how difficult a decision this is. Genuinely moving.

Lauren Myracle's young adult novel Peace, Love and Baby Ducks follows hippy/rebel Carly who returns from an outward-bound type experience only to discover that her younger sister suddenly has a figure that now attracts all the boys. She is falling for the gorgeous new guy who town who keeps giving her mixed signals—he gets her jokes, says he shares her values, but asks out the girl who conforms to the values of her rich, southern suburb. Carly's story is realistic and fun, and deeper than this summary implies.

John Crowley's novel, Four Freedoms follows the lives of people working in a fictional airplane factory during World War II. Mainly centering on the experience of Prosper Olander, a young man crippled by failed back surgery, but also including some of the lives of his friends, lovers, and of the men responsible for the factory. What is remarkable about this book is the detail of the lives of these highly believable characters against the tapestry of a world quickly changing by dramatic historical events. Rich and rewarding.

Julia Hoban's young adult novel Willow follows the pain of grief of the title character, a young girl now living with her brother, his wife, and their baby daughter because her parents died in a car accident when she was driving. To cope with her grief, Willow becomes a cutter, which works quite well for her until she meets Guy, who realizes what she's doing and just won't let her carry on with it. Then they start falling for each other. Well-handled for the most part and the characters and situations felt real.

Melissa Marr's young adult fantasy, Fragile Eternity is another sequel to Wicked Lovely, focusing back on the characters in that novel. Impossible to summarize without spoiling that book, this one is a close look at the tangled situation shaped by the previous volumes. The book feels like it's spinning its wheels for a long while (the character cycle through the same situations and talk a lot about them with no forward motion), but when I quite enjoyed the latter part of the book when it does finally get going.

last week's reading § next week's reading


Good poetry news: The write-a-thon is keeping me on track with the novel revision. I describe the process now as somewhat like combing the cats—they don't really like it and at each stroke you only get out a few excess hairs but if you keep at it they start to almost enjoy it and they do look significantly cleaner. Or something. Unplugging the modem really, really helps me stay focused, which I suppose is a good thing to know. Clumps of hair combed out of my novel daily! Woot! And an extra large clump this past Saturday, which was our day-long writing retreat.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: old journal

Saturday, June 14, 1997
(near Dumfries) Carrutherstown

Busy. Had a lovely breakfast at the Bridge Hotel. Booked a bed for tonight, then headed to see the Ruthwell Cross.

A section of the Ruthwell CrossThe section of the Ruthwell Cross which shows the Magdalene washing Christ's feet with her hair.


It's a 6th C. cross that was at some point dug up after being buried after the Reformation. Some lovely carvings and inscriptions. They've installed it in the parish church. We got the key and went to the church. Lovely dog biting something, and the Magdalene washing X's feet with her hair.

On the way there, we'd stopped by a small church, Hoddam, 18th C burned in 1975. Lovely ruin.

HoddamThe ruins of Hoddam Church.


After Ruthwell, went to Caerlaverock Castle, still owned by the Maxwells as it has been since it was built in the 13th C. Probably the most gorgeous exterior I've seen. Triangular in shape, though two towers at the entrance.

Caerlaerock CastleThe beauteous Caerlaverock Castle.


Traces of elaborate interior, too. Lovely moat with yellow irises. Pigeons nesting in the gun holes. Really charming.

Ate lunch in the car because it was cool out, though not raining.

Then bypassed Dumfries west to Sweetheart Abbey, founded by Lady Devorgilla of Galloway in honour of her husband, John Balliol (founder of Balliol College). Gorgeous red stone set against bright green grass. Lovely ruin.
Sweetheart AbbeyI lurk behind a pillar in Sweetheart Abbey.


Then looking for the Twelve Apostles, which Mom located in a field full of young cows, heifers. Photographed from the lane, until a car stopped beside us. The woman asked us what we thought—she said we could go in the field—"I belong the them and they to me". She said they were going to do some excavations there this August. Nice stones, well cow-caressed. Most fallen, but still taller than me. The cows followed me, especially Ideal Matilda. Fun names for the coos.

Twelve apostlesMe amongst the coos admiring one of the fallen apostles.


Then so as not to get to the B&B too early, we stopped at Lincluden Collegiate Church, a ruin from the 16th C, probably designed by the same guy who did much of Melrose Abbey. There was a group of children playing all over it. They were fun—we chatted for a while after I took a picture of two of them.

Me and the children at Lincluden ChurchMe amongst the children at Lincluden Church. Don't you envy them having that as their playground?


Then to our hotel.

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