Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nom Nom Nom, Chomp

Writing with a puppy on my lap, attached to the desk, and a retriever circling for attention. I have a scrape running for about 8 inches down my neck and collarbone, running the course of the necklace that the puppy was attached to previously. Heat and humidity prevent open windows, but the books are still open.

Lately, I've been doing lots of reading about reading and writing (and puppies), but my favorite so far has been Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer." Her writing is conversational in the sense that she reads more deeply than I do and comes up with insights and understanding like a good friend waving from the middle of a pond with an interesting new find from the bottom. Even if you're not as strong a swimmer, you're still happy to sit on the dock and listen to her talk about what she's found below.

I've discovered that my favorite "how-to" books share this sense of enthusiasm, this acceptance of the crafting and submersion in the same that certain books on writing ignore. These books shout at the reader--you can write a bestseller!! Cut to the chase!! Ignore everything but the action!! These are the same writers who fail to understand the difference in the experience of reading and the experience of playing a videogame or watching a movie. Oddly enough, I'm not sure that the suggestions are very different, but the understanding is.

I believe the puppy just learned that chewing on an unbalanced object, like chewing on the retirever, is a mistake. Sometimes the gate you're chewing on falls on you with a clatter. He moves like a ballet dancer enpointe when he's trying to get past the secure puppy gate. I'm sure that soon his ability to leap will surpass the gate's ability to stretch. At this point, the retreiver won't be able to snooze by the gate and watch the show without risking the show jumping straight upon his head.

The next book on my list is "Words Overflow by Stars," in between "Spindle's End" and two Tolkien books, one discussion of his use of light imagery and one a series of essays by authors whose experience of the LOTR trilogy brought them to writing or to SciFi & fantasy. Again, it's a conversational and quick book, something that one doesn't necessarily admits to reading, but does for the reassurance that Actual WritersTM worry about measuring up but that they fling themselves upon the barricades willingly and without fear. Kinda like Merlin and the puppy gate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Top Five

I've been reading lots of writing books lately, seeing similar examples of well-judged writing over and over, most of which are excerpted from works I haven't yet read. Touchstone fiction, the examples that you turn to when you're looking for an example in a conversation or when you're looking for something to review to remember what lured you into reading and then writing and then, possibly, teaching. Having taking a different path, my top five, the books that I turn to when I'm sick or anxious or want to take a vacation back into their certainities, don't appear in the examples.

How did I get here? To this stew of writing and working and caring for the dichotomous dogs of attention and sleep? The signposts at which I turned are:

1. The Hobbit. My dad kept a stash of books in a chipped white chest of drawers in the laundry room--the Xanth novels, the Hoka novels--books that were not for the kids to read. There was a barrel-riding hobbit in the middle of grey river on the cover of this one, and it was the first one that he let me read.

2. The Lord of the Rings. Afternoon, morning, weekend, on and on, resting on my bed under my window and trying to osmose the loyalty, faith, and inborn nobility of the characters, not to mention learn how to be as creative and unworldly as the elves. Again, it was the pale covers and the archaic world that entranced me initially.

3. Gaudy Night. Mom gave me this fascination with the British detective novel. Although some of them became series in which repetive descriptions dulled the experience, Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey books didn't. I've purchased more than one copy of this book as the re-reading gradually results in missing covers and pages missing triangles from their upper corners.

4. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Lucy's tea in the middle of a winter forest was just as entrancing to a Texas girl as the story itself.

5. This last space is reserved for a book that I read as a child, but the name of which I've forgotten. I remember the story had a moon-faced witch who's cat was lost and the witch and a girl looked for the cat underground, in the tunnels of gnomes and in, I believe, pirate galleys. When they found the cat, she had slipped away to have kittens, one of which the girl was able to have to care for. The illustrations, washes of color that seemed as if the book itself dreamed them, are the reason that it takes this place. That and the prosaic need of the cat as contrasted to the vivid fantasy of the search for her.

What signposts beguiled you?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


An Open Window and An Open Book is the best way to spend the cool, transitional seasons for a reader living close enough to the Texas coast to have a hurricane plan. After the dogs and I have a had a chance to go run off the work week or the energy of a few extra slices of bread, we're ready for napping, reading, and contemplational sleep. :)

Instead of letting it filter out and away in the normal course of the day, I'm going to bring the ideas and challenges that I find in the books that I'm reading to this blog. One day, I would love to open a bookstore called The Cave, carrying only sci-fi/fantasy books on wooden shelves like an old library, with chairs in alcoves and blind book alleys and conversation murmuring indiscretely from the debates regarding magic systems, fantastic creatures, and the logic behind leaving the fields we know, losing ourselves in the cool afternoon, just having opened that window.

Come along, come along.