Journal

Music

Nields

Karl Wallinger and Our Midwest Tour

Music has a power that I don’t understand. I feel it sometimes when I experience the loyalty of our own following. But it took Karl’s death for me to remember its sway on me. Lately, I’ve avoided listening to music. Why? Music makes me feel. I can’t have it playing in the background. It’s distracting––not so much to my mind but to my heart. Listening to music, I become a sea creature, at the mercy of the waves. When I get fearful, I pull myself out of the water and sit on a rock, my knees to my chest, glowering at the fickle ocean.

Book Talk

Writing Process

How to Think About Writing Prompts

I use several kinds of prompts. Most often, I use an entire poem. I see poems as secular prayer, a way of borrowing a bit of genius when I myself feel depleted. Reading a poem, or hearing it, puts me in a literary mind, a new state. I think of it as kindling; a little bit of torched wood tossed onto my log. Or the way, at a peace vigil, we hold candles and pass the flame to our neighbor.

Book Talk

Journal

Writing Process

How to Get Through Horrifying Process of Literary Agent Submissions

I have reached a critical point in the list of orderly steps in the long march to publication which I have been given by others and have dutifully written down. They are/were as follows:

1.     Write the shitty first draft
2.     Read it and make less shitty
3.     Send it to Kind & Wise Mentory Editor Who Has Read James Joyce
4.     Laugh and cry as you read her Kind & Wise suggestions; take 99% of them. Redraft.
5.     Send new draft to 28-Year-Old Editor Who Doesn’t Remember President Nixon But Is Much Smarter Than I
6.     Enjoy life with no novel to think about and write songs and poems while 28 y-o reads and edits draft.
7.     Receive edits from 28-y-o and cry for a month. Decide you are not a novelist. Pick yourself up off the carpet and have a Zoom call with her in which she tells you she had a very hard time editing your novel because it was practically perfect.
8.     Wonder if you are crazy.
9.     Take 69% of her suggestions and finish the draft.
10.  Write a synopsis which is harder than writing the novel
11.  Write the query letter which is harder than writing the synopsis
12.  Make a list of agents you’d love to work with by finding names in the acknowledgements pages of your favorite novels. Cross off the dead ones.

Book Talk

The Big Idea

Writing Process

On Point of View

Practically the first thing you need to decide when writing fiction is “who is telling this story?” Historically, we novelists have had many options. When novel-writing in English began in…

Book Talk

Journal

Writing Process

The Road and The Vaster Wilds: Anti-Odysseys (Part 3 in an ongoing series)

By happenstance, I read Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 apocalyptic novel The Road and followed it with Lauren Groff’s latest, The Vaster Wilds. It was September, technically still summer, but both of these novels take place in life-threateningly cold weather, and each author made me feel that cold, that terror of being consumed by the natural world, an awareness of the scarcity of essential resources, the distrust of other human beings–even our intimates. As I revisit these novels today, fittingly on Halloween, when the air in Massachusetts has grown chill and my body continues to fight against that novel corona virus, I find myself sharing some of these primal fears. When the terrain is unknown and the enemy invisible, who and what can we trust?

Journal

Music

Nields

River Roads

Here’s the strange thing about me: I can completely forget I’m a musician until I arrive at the gig. It’s as though that part of me is a set of clothes for another season, kept in a moth-proof box in the attic, out of mind until the weather changes.

How to Be an Adult

Journal

Parenting/The Full Catastrophe

Writing Process

Live to Work, or Work to Live?

I’m with my husband, daughter and son—my family—for a ten-day trip to England and Wales. As I write these words, I feel a lump in my throat. Lila is 18, and in late August, she’s off to college. Johnny, almost 16, also has his own busy happy life. It’s very likely that the four of us will never again travel as a contained unit. Tom and I seem to have done what we were supposed to do in that department—raised independent kids who are engaged in their own interesting lives, form successful relationships, seek our advice, but don’t cling. More to the immediate point: they don’t need us the way they used to, and they don’t like being dragged around any more than you or I. 

Book Talk

Journal

Writing Process

Choreography: How to Save a Scene from Too Much Interiority

In her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie achieves an ideal to which I aspire: a smart, literary, highly readable love story full of cultural references, history, and vivid, textured characters––just the kind of novel I love to read and want to write. I was particularly impressed with Adichie’s technique in moving her characters around in space, as I have trouble with this. Choreography!!! I scold myself, scrawling the word in red ink in the margins of my drafts. More importantly, because of the way she weaves her character’s growing comprehension into the action of the scene using a skillful interplay of description, movement, dialogue, and interiority, we are riveted to both the inner world and the outer world of our protagonist, Olanna.

Writing Process

On Revision

with a little help from Barbara Abercrombie and Henry David Thoreau. Revision is writing, but it’s a different kind of writing from the jagged, ebullient flow of first draft. When…

Journal

Writing Process

Autobiography in Five Sentences

It’s Day 2 of my January Retreat here in Little Blue. Every morning, I give a short prompt best done long-hand. Today’s was inspired by Melissa Febos, a brilliant writer…

30poemsinNovember

Journal

Poems

Thoughts After Listening to a Podcast Interview of Tricia Hersey

Raising a child in America is an act of violenceEverything from the crashing together of the two cells(To say nothing of the act that caused that unionWhether it involved a…