Old Moon

Sunday, April 27, 2008


After a lovely "tea" fund raiser for our local library featuring Ann B. Ross, we're reminded once again about how bereft the world would be without laughter. There are plenty of people who believe animals differ from us in that they have no sense of humor. Those are the people who think there aren't any dogs in heaven, I guess. Either way, it's a good thing there are Ann B. Rosses, Mark Twains, T. H. Whites, among a host of others to keep us laughing. I hope it proves to be enough, at the rate politics and global warming are going!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What's in the background

I got to thinking about the stories I grew up with, and why they were the ones we had read to us. (I have no siblings, but a younger cousin and I were with our grandmother almost daily until we went to school.) In our case, we were lucky to be with a woman whose erudition was amazing, considering that she was a small child during the Civil War, and must have had precious little formal education in Tennessee. But the mere fact that she was from Tennessee (as were our fathers) made an indelible impression.
I wonder whether, growing up in Manhattan as we did, we would ever have known B'rer Rabbit and B'rer Fox if it hadn't been for Grandmother. Similarly, would we have had Kenneth Graham from whom to learn mythology long before someone in a classroom put those stories before us in a context that might have robbed them of their drama?
It would be interesting to find out from other writers what unintended influences may (or may not) show up in their work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Good reading

We're fortunate that the Internet provides so many nuggets. If we spend a few minutes a day, we find our panning will yield gold. I found today's on the Persimmon Tree site. Even if you're a reader who's under 40, try it out.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The older I get...

...the less I know. Well, this is certainly not a new notion. The trouble is, it's like most cliches because it's too true to ignore or sneer at. There's a lot that's a question of starting too late to get the proper instruction, like all the hi-tech computer stuff, and there's the problem with what we used to call the generation gap, which probably just boils down to not being up on current slang. But the things that matter the most seldom come into the conversation, except in ways that remind me of the snags one had better be careful of when canoeing on a scenic river. If you hit one, the results can be quenching. What DO you say when writing a sympathy note? How do express your admiration for the kind of literature that actually makes your throat swell or makes you burst out laughing? I don't even know what a reviewer means who carps about a short story, saying it's been "workshopped to death." What on earth does that mean? Do you dare to express an opinion during a tirade from an acquaintance on religion, politics, or "kids today?"

An on-line acquaintance recently said her subject is aging. I retorted that mine isn't. Now I think I misspoke. It's getting to seem more and more that that's just what my subject is. I'm not satisfied with the wimpy, sentimental, over-explained "women's" books that cram the shelves these days. I resent being talked down to on paper. At the same time, I don't want to be subjected to the ax-grinding self-absorption of so many young writers. I love suspense, but eschew horror (too cowardly, I guess--or I have too much imagination). Even while I seek entertainment, I'm looking for something at least slightly thought-provoking. Furthermore, I know for a fact, my generation is growing daily in numbers, and when it comes to books and fiction in particular, publishers seem to be oblivious. So, I guess "aging" is my area of interest, after all.

But I'd like to shout out loud about the young writers who seem to me to be already wiser than I'll ever get, and whose artistry is astonishing: Sara Gruen, Khaled Hosseini, Laura Hillenbrand ... well you get the idea. What worries me is that these are the ones who've become known. How many more are out there that don't get promoted and/or recognized that we don't read because we don't know about them? How do we find the agents and publishers who will seek them out so we can read them?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hurry up and wait

I see now (you can tell I'm a slow study) that about 50% of the angst of trying to get read is learning how to wait. Wait for the right moment to make up your mind that you've found all the bugs and the piece is ready; wait to find someone who might not savage it or go to sleep if you let them read it; wait to find out if your query has struck a chord; wait to see the result if you've sold it; wait to see whether anyone wants to read it after all; and wait to find out how readers like or hate it.
This is a lesson best learned while in one's first two decades of life. For me, it's proving to be a special kind of torture as I look forward to beginning the eighth. And that leads to a comment on the second lesson, which is that no one but the writer gives a tinker's dam about any of that. Call me a cynic if you like, but to expect anything other than the bottom line to matter to those a writer has to depend on is sheer futility. It makes me yearn for the good old days, when a Wallace Stegner could actually pay the rent by submitting to The Atlantic.
Since misery is so fond of company, I keep hoping someone else in my shoes might respond to some of these comments, just to prove that networking (a) exists, and (b) does work.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who are you?

I've been thinking about the question of who's a North Carolina writer. This is a matter of interest to me because I have to consider that I am one. I have lived here for more than ten years. I'm here for the duration, whatever that may turn out to be. If I'm to be considered from anywhere, it's here.
My problem is that when I write, I think like most purveyors of fiction and many essayists and poets, I call on my past. That wasn't here, except in a very distant sense: my paternal great, great, great grandfather emigrated from Virginia to Vance County. Needless to say, I never knew him, not even after he proceeded to west Tennessee. I spent more than half my life in Fairfield County, Connecticut. My earliest years were spent on a single street on the lower east side of Manhattan, with sojourns to summer camps in Vermont and to my maternal grandfather's farm in central Ohio. I attended college in Minnesota.
So, how can I be a North Carolina writer? This is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Plea to Readers

Someone who read my last post was kind enough to respond with an offer of help. More encouraging than I can say. What's most encouraging is the sense that there's another mind out there that can respond to this one (mine), and doubtless to a great many others. Okay, that leads a writer to the conclusion that whatever we come up with that we feel is worthy of sharing could actually find sympathetic readers. If that's the case, what's the problem with finding help for our projects? Agents, after all, don't work for nothing, and we who need support and expertise to find publishers are happy to pay. If we knew how to do what the agents do, we wouldn't have to try to hire them.I'm not a statistician, but I can see what's happening around me. Older people are a rapidly growing segment of the population. Most older people have a marginal interest in horror, blood and gore all over the floor, soft porn, and dungeons and dragons. More like good sci fi with interesing characters to engage in the fantasy. Large numbers are fans of romance, thrillers, and mysteries. Most readers in the 65+ age range appreciate stories that resonate with their own experiences, their own memories of the way it was, remind them of what they admire and revere and hope for (still. They're readers of so-called "mainstream" and literary fiction. (I recognize that non-fiction is the way to fortune, but fiction has a deserved place in our lives. But that's another subject for another day.) With what they do know, why don't agents have the power to prove this to the publishers and take advantage of writing that might not make billions, but would be certain to produce good profits? If the mega corporations that control the big publishers are too greedy to care, where are the indendents? I gather they're feeling hamstrung by the inability to pay what good publicity costs, and therefore can't see their way to try anything without shock value to turn a quick buck. It's no accident the the term "midlist" has become an achaic term.Where am I going with this? I want to make a plea to readers who find one of those gems of fine writing, careful thinking, and artistry, probably by accident or through acquaintance with the author, to talk it up! Word of mouth might be the only way the author and publisher can make back the cost of production--never mind the time the author spent in creation! Don't just enjoy a good book and pass it on to the library or put it on your shelf. Tell a friend, and don't lend it to that friend. If books aren't bought, no one gains anything at all except from some righteous sense of work well done.
Labels: Talk it up

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Does anyone out there have suggestions on how to query an agent for a short story collection?

Is there anyone out there within 10 miles of Morganton who would like to be part of a critique group?

Anyone out there interested in how to write a generally interesting memoir?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Still on the hilltop

I got to thinking about how sometimes we find ourselves isolated from the people we most need to connect with. I'm speaking in the literal, geographical sense now. We live on a lovely hilltop with a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge. This is a small and wonderfully equipped town with facilities better and more numerous than any other place we've lived (except for me because I grew up in NYC). Still, as a writer, I find myself separated from the fertilizing influence of other writers.
This is, in part, a function of our situation in a retirement community with almost more to do than we had when we were young and working. We have one car. We don't often drive more than a few miles at night. And most important of all, we're transplants.
I'm a member of the North Carolina Writers Network, but most meetings and conferences are much too far away for me to get to if I can afford one. So...after more than ten years as a Tarheel by adoption, some of these notes address this. I wonder, for example, whether North Carolina writers are considered to be that because they write about North Carolina, or because they are North Carolina residents. If one is the latter (like me), is my writing that isn't about or set in North Carolina automatically excluded from the group I feel I ought to belong to?
Occasionally I feel called upon to explain that I'm only half a damn Yankee because my father was born in Memphis (TN, that is). I also remember my paternal grandmother trying to explain to me about a true superiority complex. She said it was what set a Southerner (NB capital letter) apart from the rest of the world. The Southerner, secure in the knowledge that s/he's better than anyone else, need not push, brag, or disrespect anyone. One of her favorite phrases (voiced in her east side apartment in Manhattan) was, "Noblesse oblige."
So you can see how sometimes the hilltop gets just a mite lonely, can't you?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hilltop Notes

This is number one of who knows how many? It comes from a hilltop in Morganton, NC, with the Blue Ridge as our backdrop. It also comes from a writer--I think--who is looking for like minds and adventurous spirits. Well, maybe not too adventurous.
I have a book to promote, and I hope a second in the near future, and short stories to get some critiques on with an eye to finding a publisher for a collection...all the usual writerly requirements. It seems necessary to find out who's out there who might be willing to form a support group around those of us who find ourselves without a formal geographical region to call our own. Foothills? Table Rock?
I have a novel, released last month, that got some compliments. See Book Buzz for particulars. Another is due out "soon." Does anyone know what a publisher means by this?
As a well-known comedienne used to say: can we talk?