Friday, February 17, 2023

Book Stack ~ January 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

While Christmas shopping with my kids, I pointed to Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, Demon Copperhead, and told them they could get me that for Christmas. M took the hint, and in January I read the retelling David Copperfield, situated in rural Appalachia the midst of the opioid crisis. Through the engagingly delightful voice of young Demon--which never resorts to dialect or other cheap tricks to convey regionality--the reader is taken on a journey through systemic poverty, a failed social services system, and drug addiction. Born in a trailer in western Virginia, raised by an unstable mother, subjected to a cruel stepfather, shunted through a series of foster homes, and put to work too young in dangerous jobs, Demon has the deck stacked against him from the beginning. As with Dickens's character, despite the many ways life goes wrong for Demon, his fortunes often rise, and though he's forced to confront multiple villains, he is also blessed with good people in his life who help to steer him in the right direction. As a narrator, Demon is both innocent and wise in the telling of his tale, and through his voice and his life history, Kingsolver manages to convey the ravages that centuries of institutionalized poverty and exploitation and abuse by the tobacco, coal, and drug industries have wreaked on the region, while neither romanticizing the people nor condescending to them. She also celebrates the natural beauty of the landscape and the values of hard work, strong family ties, and attachment to the land that characterize the area. This book gripped me more than anything I've read in a long time--I stayed up way too late several nights in a row because I couldn't stop reading--and before I was even done I went out and got a copy of David Copperfield. It was a delight to read the original and see the ways Kingsolver turned a Victorian lawyer into a Virginian football coach, an honest and determined old fisherman into a feisty young nurse, and, of course, the ghastly Uriah Heep into the equally ghastly U-Haul Pyles. The combined 1,400 pages of the two books flew by in a matter of weeks, despite Dickens's version sagging a bit between about page 200 and 500 (due to young Copperfield going through a relatively good spell at that stage in the book).

On the lighters side, I also read three delightfully gothic Barbara Michaels novels: The Walker in the Shadows; House of Many Shadows; Be Buried in the Rain; and Wait for What Will Come. When I realized in December that I didn't own a copy of Ammie Come Home, I went through my collection to see what else was missing and ordered them from a used book shop. Michaels is the pen name that Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters used for her books of suspense. These often, though not always, have a supernatural element and are generally more serious in tone than her Peters books, though not without humor, and they frequently have gothic elements--the big creepy house, the young ingenuous heroine who can't leave for some reason, mysterious goings-on, often a housekeeper who is either alarmingly grim in demeanor or unbelievably cheery. Occasionally they take place in the classic Victorian gothic setting. There's always at least one handsome love interest (and in one case four), who is sometimes a friend and sometimes a foe, and sometimes the heroine doesn't know which until too late. These four are all contemporary (as in they take place in the '70s and '80s, when they were written), and they're evenly split between those with supernatural causes of the mysterious happenings and those with human villains. House of Many Shadows is fun for being one of the few of Michaels's books with an older protagonist (although there is, as always, still a pair of "confounded young lovers," as Radcliffe Emerson--chief hero of the Amelia Peabody series by E. Peters--would say). So it's never too late to find yourself in a haunted house.

The novel I drafted in January was a takeoff on the Barbara Michaels contemporary gothic--an homage if you will--so it was fun to read these at the same time as writing my own. I even hid some Easter eggs in the text, including Michaels's books on the shelves of the creepy house.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Finish It Friday ~ JANOWRIMO


The phenomenon known as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, takes place every November. The gist of it is to write 1,600-odd words each day for the whole month and come out a the end with a 50,000-word draft novel. There are all kinds of ways to connect to other people who are participating, such as posting your daily word count and joining group write-ins. I've tried, halfheartedly, to NaNoWriMo a couple of times in the past, but November is not a great month for me for daily writing, what with Thanksgiving, at least four days with no school, and it usually being the time of year that my attack of "spring" cleaning strikes. I also don't find motivation in the joining of groups or the declaring publicly that I'm working on something. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At the end of December, I was looking at a January calendar that was mostly clear and feeling the urge to work on something different than the projects I'd been doggedly grubbing away at all fall. I pulled up the file of a novel I'd started the last time I'd tried to NaNoWriMo, in 2018. I'd written 14,000 or so words before I couldn't bear to look at it any more. But now as I read through I realized there was something to it--a story I could work with. So I decided to create my own NaNoWriMo but in January--JanNoWriMo--and finish writing that book. There would be no joining, no declaring my intentions, no public posting of my daily word count; there would just be me pecking quietly away writing every day. 

Since I already had some words (about 8,000 that made it over from the original effort)--and because I did the math wrong--I only required myself to write 1,200 words in order to get a sticker for the day. Most days I wrote more, some days a *lot* more, and some days I quit at exactly 1,202 because I couldn't think of another single solitary word to write. I also wasn't quite done on January 31st and had to write a couple thousand words on February 1st to finish the book, In the end, I came out with a draft of around 61,500 words.

Another principle of NaNoWriMo is to write forward--no going back and tinkering--and I followed this mostly, until I got to a place about 3/4 of the way through when I got stuck. I had no idea where to go from there. So I went back to the beginning and started reading, and for the next three days got my word count in by backfilling all of the preceding scenes. This gave me both an overview of the book and enough of a rest that my brain had time to come up with the next scene. 

When I typed the last word Wednesday I experienced a feeling of euphoria that was quickly followed by a sense of letdown. I was going to miss these characters who kept me company when I lay awake at night with insomnia, imagining them acting out the scenes to come. I also knew that the really hard work--letting it rest, deciding if there's anything there worth keeping, and then revising--lies ahead. The letdown didn't last too long, though, because, after all, I wrote a whole novel, right to the end, something I've wanted to do for more than 40 years.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

New Year Refresh and Recharge

It may be a cliché to think of January as a time of fresh starts and new beginnings, but I'm okay with that, because I like the idea of taking time to reflect over the last year and look ahead to the next one, to recommit myself to big plans and goals, to reset my feet on the path that I want them to be taking, when they may have wandered off onto trails of less resistance or have even stopped altogether and settled at a resting spot.

I began the month with giving myself a word (or in this case words) of the year: pay attention. Last year my word was intention, and it had so little influence on how I went about 2022 that I didn't even remember what it was by the year's end. I figured that in order to understand better what I want my intentions to be in each day and action and scenario, I should maybe start with paying attention to what I do with my time and why, to how I feel, and to what's going on around me in the natural world and among the humans I'm in contact with.

Also this month, with my creativity group, I made a vision board. It has a lot of warm coral-orange-pinky colors and a lot of flight and upward movement and words like creativity, vitality, and joy. It's meant to serve as a reminder to bring those qualities to my writing and my daily living, to pay attention to those things. And I  made lists--lists of projects big and small, for writing, art, crafts, travel, and life; lists of all the things I want to incorporate into my days: writing, art, exercise, professional development. 

January began with a feeling of expansiveness. I didn't have much on the calendar, and the early days of the month felt long and luxurious with plenty of time in them to accommodate anything I could dream up. I thought I could accomplish everything on those daily lists. But, as it usually does, time often got away from me. I'd get to the end of my day with several boxes left unchecked. That's the trouble with an expansive feeling--everything expands to fill it. I didn't do any professional development, but I did luxuriate in reading two very long books, I didn't do any of the illustrations for Book #2, but I did knit a hat (which I need to re-knit because I cast on the wrong number of stitches), I didn't take up pilates, but I did more nature journaling than I've done in a long time.

Whether due to poor time management or my eyes being bigger than my stomach (metaphorically) or just getting plain tired before I got to everything, I had to let some of those list items go. But I stuck to the most important ones for me: writing every day on a novel (more on that next month), doing a short yoga routine every weekday morning, taking a long walk (or snowshoe) on our trail, jotting a quick recap of the day in my 5-year journal. On a day-to-day basis, I tended to focus on the the things I didn't get done and the time I wasted, but looking back, I'm happy with what I did get done.

As January nears its end, that expansive feeling is beginning to contract, as appointments appear on my calendar and I my focus turns away from reading big fat books and writing a novel just for fun and more toward work I need to do for or in conjunction with others. It's part of the natural rhythm of our days and months and years--expand, contract, expand, contract. And having spent a month exploring and luxuriating in expansiveness, I feel rested and ready to move into a time with more deadlines and obligations.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...