Friday, April 8, 2011

If You Had To Memorize A Book...

One of my best friends in the universe recently asked a great question in our social network on friendfeed. Her question:

In a Fahrenheit 451 society, which book would you memorize?

My head about exploded as i tried to find my answer. Leaves of Grass? Hmm...I love it, but I have to be in the mood for the grandiosity of that one. Something by Stephen King? I love him, and his books would be long enough to be distracting,, not what I would choose to spend that many brain cells on.

I started scanning my shelves, putting in perhaps too much effort for a question asked off the cuff. Dylan Thomas's Collected works, maybe - I like how playful he is with language (and saying "dingle starry" makes me smile every time). But no, I only get one book to memorize, and likely not much else to choose from...I want something more...more substantial than a collection of poems. I love poetry, but I also want a lengthy story to keep my mind occupied. I want it to be beautiful though; I want a longish story that has beautiful language and the rhythm of poetry to it.

At this point, I am standing in front of all of my bookshelves, a little upset at myself for not building a library that makes my answer obvious. How can I not have an answer to this? Maybe there's no book like that. But I don't really believe that. There has to be something. And I don't own it?


There is a ridiculously long, beautifully written, lyric story that could engage me for my whole life if I could only memorize one. Love, politics, intrigue, horror, beauty, religion, doubt, redemption. Oh, yes.

Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Divina Commedia. Specifically, the hardcover Book of the Month Club edition put out by Bantam, with the old Italian on one side and Mandelbaum's verse translation on the opposite pages. (They're illustrated by Barry Moser, and the illustrations are also beautiful.)

This might be cheating a little bit - the Divine Comedy comes in three parts and is usually published as three separate books, but as a story, all of those are required, so I'm going to count them as one "work." And it might also be cheating since the version of the book I chose does have it in two languages, so I could learn the music of the Italian, learning those lines aside the English lines. But mostly my choice fits within the confines of the question. Mostly.

In any case, I have to admit that I was surprised, both by my casting about for what I would really want to have knocking about my head, and about my final decision. Right now, typing this long past my bedtime, I'm feeling a bit guilty that i reread The Stand yearly, but the last time I read Alighieri was my freshman year in college.

I've just taken the volumes off their prominent spot of my main shelves and placed them in easy reach - I do believe this will be my summer reading project.

What about you? In a Fahrenheit 451 society, which book would you memorize? Share your decision in the comments!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Kentucky Vein is Launched!

The Kentucky Vein is now available! I'm so very excited - thank you to everyone at Punkin House - especially Amy & Julie - for their patience and kind attention.

For my friends and readers - if you do order a copy and care to tell me what you think of it, I would be happy to post your comments - and a photo of you with your copy of the book - here on my site. If you care to write a review of the book, do let me know so I can link to you.

There's little I've found that's more exciting than welcoming a new book - thank you for letting me share my enthusiasm and words with you! I'll post soon as I organize readings around Kentucky and Tennessee.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Joining the Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger HopI just discovered the Crazy for Books Blog, and am joining the Hop. The instructions are:

"is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read! So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!"

This week's question is "If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?"

A tough question! I have a few answers...

1. I am particularly in love with Vicki Pettersson's Sign of the Zodiac series, in which certain folks of the Zodiac bloodlines come into their powers and become, essentially, superheroes. Light side and dark. Superpowers. Hot men. I do love urban fantasy, and this is a great one. Do be sure you reD them in order, though, or they won't make much sense.

2. The series that first jumped into my head was the Dante Valentine series by Lilith Saintcrow. I'm a fan of strong female leads and paranormal adventure/romance, and Dante is so badass the devil hires her to keep his folks in line. (You don't get much stronger than that.)

3. I'd like for Nora Roberts to write me into one of her series. Her "In Death" series (written as J. D. Robb) is one of my long-time favorites; I love Eve Dallas as a heroine. I'm also enamored of her romance novels, which occasionally weave in magic and myth, and always have happy endings.

In all cases, the authors I'd want to "write me in" write strong women, and I'd love to appear on a page that way.

The Good Things About Travel: Reading & Arriving

I have a confession to make: I hate traveling. Don't get me wrong, I love to visit other places - it's the getting there that I don't like. My timing dependent on airlines and staff I have no power or authority over, crowded airlines, screaming children, overly perfumed bodies, and the guy with the overly-stinky bologna sandwich sitting behind, I have no love of in-progress travel.

The one part of traveling I do enjoy is that it is the one time I can usually indulge my reading habits without feeling guilty, since I find i cannot be productive in travel-mode. I haven't made the switch fully to e-books yet (I have an iPad, but I find it unwieldy, and I really just prefer dead-tree books), so I packed a number of books I've been wanting to read into my luggage. This past week, I traveled to Washington DC for the Computers in Libraries conference. On the way there, I read five books, and on the way back, I read another three. They were:

Darkfever - Karen Marie Moning
Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: The Four Disciplines of Making Any Organization World Class by Patrick Lencioni
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable about Destroying the Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors by Patrick Lencioni
The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker
The Three Big Questions from a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization of Your Life by Patrick Lencioni

Except for the lack of poetry (I dislike reading poetry when I travel, I like to be in a more stable environment so I can steep myself in it and concentrate), this is a likely representation of my reading habits. Usually it's a little heavier on the Darkfever end and lighter on the Lencioni, but a mix of paranormal adventure/romance, business, education, murder mystery fiction, and horror is my usual reading menu. I'm looking forward to a week-long vacation in May. I plan to scour the apartment clean, and read indolently on the couch (or in the sun, if the weather allows).

I have noticed that between work, projects related to work, and my work on the doctorate degree, I have not been maintaining the kind of balance I need to allow me the time for my reading and creative writing. In fact, I've been an anxious, harried hot mess for the past few months, burning the candle at all three ends. This weekend I am going to take a page from Lencioni's The Three Big Questions and draft up a plan to get back into better balance and make time for the other things I love. Reading, writing, gallomphing with my basset hound, and seeing friends.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Beautiful Book Cover!

IT'S HERE! Julie from Punkin House sent along the cover for The Kentucky Vein. The photo is courtesy of Erik Tuttle, an eastern Kentucky native who is also a former student worker of mine, a poet in his own right, and the one who insisted that I go get my MFA. Isn't it fantastic and striking? I am thrilled with it, and I hope it is something you'd be happy to have on your own shelf.

The Kentucky Vein. A Kentucky press. A Kentucky photographer. And having just spent the weekend driving to Lexington to see my loved ones (and hit the St. Patrick's Day parade in Lexington), I'm re-excited about Kentucky, and re-energized about the book. April 5th is the release date - stay tuned!

Free E-Books from Punkin House!

My new press is giving away free e-books in an attempt to get the word out about their authors, and their green ways! Check out what my fellow Punkin House authors are doing, and practice your e-book-fu! Follow the instructions here on their blog post to choose your free book and take advantage of the offer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Readers, Writers, Relationships and my Long-Time Love, Stephen King

My favorite writer of all time is Stephen King. I've read everything the man has penned and made public, including the initial draft of Under the Dome which was at some point posted as a pdf on his site.

I'm not saying that he hasn't written books I did not enjoy - he has. He even introduced me to the fear that as you become more famous, fewer editors will actually *edit* your work. But I think of Stephen and I as a long-term relationship. We've been together for decades. He has some quirks that annoy me. Sometimes his books snore and keep me awake, or fall asleep when I'm ready for some hot action. Sometimes they take me out to an expensive dinner and we hit a show before they take me back home to ravish me. But I know and appreciate the rhythms of his work. He is a hell of a storyteller, which I admire and envy. And though I couldn't tell you much about his life (Maine, car wreck, addiction, thick glasses, Tabitha-wife...that's about it), I know the man's writerly voice. In every single book, he talks. While I thoroughly enjoyed Full Dark, No Stars, my favorite part of the collection was the end, where he wrote an extended essay/letter to the reader. I remember as a kid hitting the first "Dear Reader" section in one of his books, and feeling flattered that the writer would care enough to talk to me outside his story - that has never diminished for me. I still find it flattering. I find it *cozy*.

I want to be a writer like that - one my readers want to talk to in cozy-fashion once the story is all told and there's nothing left to do but talk. Right now my blog is my way of doing this, until I beguile some press into letting me Afterword something.

Though my work is not yet as much of a life timeline as King's (may the muses be kind and make it so!), looking back on my own work, I am always surprised at how much of me you can truly come to know through my writing, though I haven't Dear Reader-ed anyone. You can come to know me through my poetry - I look back on God In My Throat: The Lilith Poems (Bellowing Ark, 2009) and am still surprised how hurt, angry and defiant I was when I wrote it, how angry at God; that piece of me still exists, and flares every once in awhile. These Terrible Sacraments (Bellowing Ark, 2010) is still new enough that reading it in printed-book-form still surprises me. It brings back both the stark terror and the constant low-level fear I felt when my brother was stationed abroad, and surprises me with my current complacency. Knowing that others are still feeling this every day for their loved ones makes me feel lazy that I haven't kept that concern fanned in my own heart. Coming to my own work as a reader surprises me, once I let go of the "wish-I-made-that-edit" feeling.

When I do get to read The Kentucky Vein in April (Punkin House, 2011), I'm sure I will be surprised again at which piece of myself fell out onto paper. (Reading your own book in print is always very different from reading it as a word processing document - at least that has been the case for me. Do other writers feel the same?) This one is an exploration of things that grow, things that die, of fresh-air things and homestyle things, of things looking for a home. Yet another facet of the "me" that has accumulated over the years, and I can't wait to see it.

If you want more autobiographical material, you can find it in my creative non-fiction work, like my essay "I Wonder If He Felt Me Write Him Dead" in issue 14 of damselfly press, or my chapters in Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages which discuss my health (thankfully good, now) and my career choice. Non-fiction always seems so much more naked, though. I rarely write it with an intent to publish it, though it does happen. Or you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed, on my blogs, or by email for my day-today banalities. None of it really as satisfying as what King has done, I think, all rolled up into the experience of the book itself.

In any case, I hope for and look forward to a writing career in which I can make the sort of long-term connection with my readers that King has made with his. I want that sort of connection. I want to be un-self-conscious enough to throw on my writerly pajamas and just hang out with my own Dear Readers. Anybody have any Bailey's to throw in the hot cocoa?

Fanning the Fiction Fires

I just received wonderful news from poet Diane Lockward, who is the guest editor for the literary journal Adanna. My short-short story (about 1100 words) "The Reader" will be published in the upcoming issue!

I'm excited about this for a number of reasons. First, any acceptance is hugely flattering. Second, Diane is a fantastic poet, so being chosen by her puffs me up quite a bit. (Her book Temptation by Water is a must-read, if you haven't already). Third, I like this piece. I like it a lot. For someone else to like it a whole lot - enough to publish it, even - may mean that I'm not completely biased or crazy. (I've got another blog post percolating about a writer's love of their own work. Stay tuned). Fourth, did I mention that it's a fiction piece? FICTION, I say! I mean, I don't know that I'm quite ready to stop calling myself a poet, since there's more of that going on too, but it's nice to have talented writers encourage me as I work in a new-to-me genre.

It also gives me the impetus I need to not put away that collection of short-shorts that I thought might turn into a book. My fiction fire has been fanned!

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Strict Beauty: The Corset of Form in Poetry

Do you cringe at the thought of writing poetry in strict form? I'll admit, I used to.

In some of my MFA workshops at Spalding University, it became a running joke that as newer poets, we would groan when Jeanie Thompson, Maureen Morehead, or Debra Kang Dean would read a piece and say, "This wants to be a sonnet...". We were quite certain our poems did not want to be sonnets. In fact, we did not care what our poems wanted to be when they grew up - like parents staunchly defending their children against a theater arts major, we defended ourselves from having to work in form. Form was scary. Form was restrictive. Form was draconian, and stifled our untrained free verse sensibilities. Mostly, though, form was difficult. We complained our way through rhyme schemes and meter. We wrestled out wordy verse into the tight corset of form.

And sometimes we surprised ourselves, and a sloppy, slovenly slattern of a poem became quite beautiful.

After a few years of study, many years of reading, and finding the open-mindedness that comes with both exposure to and practice of a new thing, I have reached a delicate balance with formal poetry structures. I had the good fortune to attend lectures and a workshop by renowned sonneteer Molly Peacock, who is not only a poet of great talent, but a lecturer who engages with the material in such a way that strict form seems approachable - in light of her discussions, formal poetry becomes the whalebone and strict seaming of fine clothes, as opposed to the rusted chains and straitjacket many fear.

To me, working in form almost always feels like work. On the other hand, there is work I love, and work I despise - my approach is to ensure that I walk into a poem open-minded. Nearly all of my first drafts begin free-form, free verse, no meter or rhyme (aside from the occasional slant-rhyme), and no real structure. I am what I would call, out of the gate, a lazy poet. After whatever inspiration I've had is out on paper, I look at it the way a craftsman might look at a piece of wood, and form is one of the tools I have to shape it. I think about the subject matter and flow, about where the line breaks should happen, and tone. And I think about form. Could it be a sonnet? Is there a turn in there? Is it an echo-ey sort of poem, that could do with a repetition-form like a villanelle or sestina? Is it an overly emotional piece, and do I need the container of form to give me some structure, so that i am not simply vomiting onto a page? Poet Helen Rickerby notes: "Sexton said she liked to use strict rhyme schemes, particularly in her early work, as a way of containing the strong emotion. The harder something was to write about, the more restrictive the scheme."

As I mature in the craft of writing, I have a greater appreciation of form. I highly respect poets who gravitate toward strict form for their work, because it takes quite a bit of discipline (and I am prone to admire folks who make what I find difficult look easy), and there is a special beauty to a poem that is crafted well. I am not scared of form, and cannot articulate why I was - form is a guideline, a structure, not a thing of snapping metal teeth. When I run up against a wall with a topic, or find myself in need of a prompt, I often turn to different forms so I can experiment and see what happens. I've even gotten lucky a few times - I've had sonnets placed in Sixty-Six: The Journal of Sonnet Studies and a handful of other journals.

Now when I think of form, I think of a corset. It may make it a bit more difficult to breathe when you wear one, and perhaps harder to sit down comfortably. However, it improves the posture, it positions the bosom to advantage, and when properly fitted, can be a beautiful addition to your wardrobe.

If you are interested in learning more about forms and finding an encyclopedia of forms which you can read and use as a basis for practice, I highly recommend The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms as a comprehensive, encyclopedic guide, and A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms as a more informal introduction to the topic.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Beautiful Covers and Good Books Are Like Potato Chips

The Kentucky Vein is getting even closer to being on shelves and in hands! My cover designer, Julie, has done a gorgeous job with some photos by Kentucky native and excellent photographer (and former student employee of mine), Erik Tuttle.

Right now I'm cooing over Julie's designs as I try to decide which I like better, and finding it difficult to choose just one - sort of like potato chips, only not as fattening, and far more compelling.

Another way book covers are like potato chips: it's rare that they're shared. (What? Am I the only greedy lout around?) In this case, I got lucky with some very generous folks. Punkin House Press (namely Amy, who has been my primary contact for big things; Cheryl, editor and fixerof-things for the text; and Julie, my designer for the cover) has solicited my input in a number of ways. I have heard stories from established poets that an unknown writer should not expect to get any input on anything regarding their book's cover, and changes to the text are mandated rather than requested. My experience has been quite the opposite - everything has been a conversation, I feel like my opinions and input have mattered at every point along this book's journey, and that in addition to writing the book, the rest of the work that goes into making text into a book has my name somewhere in it as well. (Given that it would be much easier for the Punkin team to just do as they wanted to speed things along and avoid any possible disagreements, it really is a testament to how this press treats their authors.)

So, Punkin is the type of place where they share their potato chips. For a fluffy lady like me, it is one more sign among many that this is the right place for my work.

Okay, so admittedly the potato chip metaphor is a little bit of a stretch. On the other hand, I do hope when you read through The Kentucky Vein, you find that you can't stop at one, and want to re-read it again and again. (With potato chips, if you like.) It's coming soon...are you ready for your copy?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Starting the Year With Short Stories

2010 went out with a roar, leaving me happily stranded in New York with the opportunity to spend another few days with family. 2011 has started with the same white roar, as I'm moving in to Day 2 of Snowpocalypse Chattanooga. The university is closed, and I am ignoring work I should be getting done in favor of lounging on my couch with hot cocoa, writing like a madwoman.

I know it would be wrong to wish for a two-month blizzard just so I can get some concentrated writing done...but I'm tempted.

Surprising myself, I sat down to wrestle some new poems into the world, and instead have two brand new short stories. They're very short for short stories - probably closer to flash - one at just over 1,000 words ("The Reader"), and the other just under 2,000 ("Stacked"). I could probably harangue them into longer form, but I like them in their current spare forms. I think I'm going to send them out for critique and maybe to a few lit mags, see if they gain any traction, and hope that these seeds grow into a short story collection.

But for now, while the snow is still making my parking lot look beautiful, I'm going to ignore my looming responsibilities a little while longer and write some more.