Thursday, March 26, 2009

Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

I never know what will happen when I sit down before dawn and take up my pen. Yes, I still begin a writing project with pen and paper. Usually, the room is quiet but for ambient bird noise or the upstairs tenant doing dishes. Occasionally, I turn on classical music. Mostly though, I hear a running commentary in my head, often a scared voice telling me that this idea is weak, it won't work, people will laugh or look at me with blank faces, not understanding what I want to tell them. Then a different voice says, "Oh, go ahead. Just try it. It's not like you have to share this piece if it doesn't turn out well. After all, you have plenty of paper and a box of pens. Go on, write something." If I'm starting a short story, I often begin by describing the scene from a distance, getting my bearings in the environment, looking at what might happen in such a place. This week the place was a rented room in a tenement, similar to the historic one I once visited in New York. I wondered who would live there, what kind of people they might be. I sort of had it in mind to write a love story. Not a very romantic setting for that. But people love and hate one another in all sorts of places.

Pretty soon I heard a line of dialog from the narrator, and that was what it took. I knew he was an interesting guy and could see how he fit into that room. And how he related to his lover. I think the story works, not that any of us ever quite knows what that means, but it has stayed with me for about 36 hours now, like the memory of a good film. I still see Daniel and Ana in that place and feel their estrangement. No it's not a feel good, Cinderella story, but it does seem authentic. And for me that's what matters, that I met a couple of people with realistic strengths and weaknesses, and a hint of the impossible. No one else has seen it yet, so my satisfaction might be a form of motherly pride in another newborn, however wrinkled and innocuous. But this story would not have survived if I had listened to that doubting voice and not to the one who says, "Hey, you've done this before. Trust the process. What if . . . ?" So, I'm watching the snow blow past the window, wondering if I'll meet any interesting characters today, whether they live in New York tenements from the late 1800's or a futuristic biosphere with Pierrot paint on their faces. Some of my best friends are invisible.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A New Mission

Yesterday I met with the new manager of my local independent bookstore, and came away excited. Something I have dreamed about for years is about to be realized: a writers' haven where we can engage in real conversation and events that interest us, a welcome oasis in the sea of commercialism. We plan to have, every other Sunday, a couple of hours devoted to things we like--talking, listening, learning about writing, reading, and the books we still love despite the techno revolution that both connects and separates us. I like the computer world, but I also like people I can shake hands with, look in the eyes, hear the timber of their voices, drink tea with, let conversation flow and dance, and relax in the company of my peers.

I used to think I wanted to own a writers' B&B, still do, sort of, but in addition to being a poet, I am a practical person who knows the value of her own meager funds and the energy required to run a business. So now my business is helping Nancy K. get this store-front refuge up and going. We'll concentrate on our community, try to meet and serve those who labor at their desks in our part of Colorado, whether the world confers success on them or not. This is not about stardom, but about the joys and sorrows, the tricks and traps of the writing life and sharing them with others who are there, have been there, want to go there--here. Yes, here. And for those of you who still believe--I walked into Nancy's store in search of a particular dictionary, such a writerly thing to do. Within five minutes, we were dreaming big and recognized a common approach and a commitment to "build community among writers, readers, and book lovers." Get your calendars ready. We are off and running!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hooray for an Audience

How can I tell you the appreciation I feel for my audience, any audience? Last evening I took to my writing group a short-short story that I was worried about because it was set in a specific era, and it featured a naive narrator, one who does not know what the audience/reader knows. How though, does one create that setting in an economical way and not leave the reader wondering what the heck is going on? First, I had to do my homework, my research, and make fairly certain that I knew what I was writing about. In this case, I had to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of both Celtic mythology and immigration into New York in the late 1800's. The mythology was interesting and somewhat familiar, as my first book of poems stems from that tradition. The immigration piece came out of my genealogy work on my own Irish ancestors. Anything can be grist for the writer, though sometimes information is more gristle than grist.

Packing all of this back story and lively characterization and dialogue into 700 words was a challenge, and I knew I did not have an objective view of it to see if I'd pulled it off. Well, I did. Mostly. Those in the group who had no background in mythology were left behind, but most of the people got it. I even saw that knowing gleam in our facilitator's eyes as she linked her mind to the story and knew what I knew, what the first-person narrator did not know, that she was talking to a god-figure who had appeared on the sidewalks of New York. What fun! There are, as I've probably said before, three high points in writing--one, when you get that tickle in the brain that says you're onto something worth writing about; two, when an audience responds the way you hope; and three, when an objective editor says yes!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Meandering toward a book

Well, finally, it looks like my new poetry book, The Great Hunger, will appear soon from Plain View Press. I'm waiting for the cover design. The galley proofs are done. These things always take longer than we anticipate, but it will be worth the wait. Although, once it's set and sold, the chance of embarrassment increases. It's too late to refine and revise; it's time to, as Valery said, abandon the poems, let them try their wings, fly out of the nest, and all those other cliched descriptions of letting go, like raising children and sending them out into the world still a little green, raw, unfinished. I'd like to think the work is as good as I can make it, but that niggling thought still pops into my head, "Oh, no! It's still not good enough." Too late, too late!

Time then to concentrate on the business end of writing--getting a list together of people who might be interested in reviewing the work (however ragged it may seem to me), another list of those who might buy the book, including book stores, and a guest list for the launch party. I have a place in mind, one I am told will be available, and a fabulous singer-song writer--Frank Gregg--who will play for the guests. I know where I'll get the big boxes of coffee and where to find a punch bowl. I'm rehearsing, sort of,  the thanks to the people who helped, my version of the Academy speech, though less glamorous. Well, knowing me and my friends, it'll be a lot less glamorous but way more fun. This is not my first book, but it's the youngest, and the baby always gets the bulk of ones attention. I just hope this kid behaves and doesn't spit up on someone's best jeans.