Old Moon

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inside a Notebook

Most of my adult life I've been a very intermittent journaler (not journalist, I think). In addition to notes I hoped I might make use of for stories either new or under way, I'd remark on current family events. It's a good thing too. I don't know anyone with a worse memory. Today I opened a fat notebook that reminded me of two years that in retrospect were so full of significant events for us, it amazes me to find I would remember nothing but the facts today if it weren't for that notebook.

My husband was in a career crisis; I was president of our public library association in the midst of fund-raising and beginning a major addition; our second son and his wife were leaving for four years while she pursued her doctorate; I was struggling with the first draft of my second novel while editing a museum publication...just for starters. Twenty-five years ago we were younger, of course. Still, thank goodness I recorded some of our feelings and reactions to what was overwhelming us. When I read what I wrote, I realize I had completely blocked those out. Now I wonder if any of the other players were aware of how events were shaking the two of us. Good example of how easy it is to forget the rest of the world when you have too much on your own plate.

If at any time a writer needs a prompt, there are always the family pictures and, with luck, the journal or commonplace book entries. For those with retentive and unflinching powers of recall, perhaps these aides memoire aren't necessary. For me, they're life savers. Sometimes I think I was oblivious; these jottings prove to me that I wasn't. I'm glad.

So when the day comes that as a writer of fiction or personal essays, or as a poet, you need something to push the Start button, turn to those records. At my age, of course, the past is ninety percent of what I can write about. As a character in a movie I watched last night said, "I'm eighty years old. My future is a short line as straight as an arrow..." Of course, he was talking about preserving something for as long as he had time left to enjoy it. In a sense, so am I, even if some is less enjoyable than instructive. And instructive is what a writer needs!

For many of us, it's a question of revisiting what happened on the road while it was still mostly in front of us and so full of twists and hills we had no idea of where it would lead. It's astonishing how much pain and pleasure and how many surprises and perhaps insights might be available for new sightseers, if we can find a way to tell them about it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Conditional Cheers for Hi-tech

For anyone with a yen to exchange conversation and work with other writers, the Internet is a life saver. My cyber pals are virtually the only connection I have with people interested in writing what I want to write. I met another yesterday. Thanks to a publisher who followed through forwarding a comment I made about a poem I read on the Net, she wrote to me and even added another poem. I have writing friends scattered now in three countries: the US (of course), but also in France and now England. In fact, in the spring issue of an English journal I'll see a new poem of mine. Check out The Lowestoft Chronicle.

You may notice the new picture to the right. It's the cover for another short story out on www.bookstogonow.com, also available for Kindle and Nook. Maybe we can't hold these things and hug them the way I often have done with print on paper, but it's better than not being read at all! One of these stories has been published in a literary magazine, the other only online.

Technology, however, makes me more certain than ever that I don't want to let hard copy go. Some tiny electrical malfunction is all it would take to wipe out ten years' work! Paperless is a fine idea for some things, but I guess I haven't much faith in its ability to last.

Word processing has made writing so much easier, I'm afraid of using too many most of the time because it's so easy to change them, improve on them, and I lose the sense of how difficult or easy it is to read them. I'd never have finished more than a couple of stories, let alone some books, if it hadn't been for the boon the computer is to the compulsive rewriter. Still, it's probably a good idea to try to remember some of what we were taught decades ago.

I know one thing: even if I had Jane Austen's talent, I could never have written at a 2'x 3' table with a quill pen and finished half a dozen wonderful novels!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Buy Poetry

Had a mild jolt yesterday when a friend reminded me about my promise to do a program for her book club. Needless to say, I'd spent time on it already, nervous about how and what to say. I had the date on my two calendars: Friday, the 18th. The jolt came when she said, "Wednesday, ten o'clock." Wednesday? If we hadn't met at the salad bar, would I have missed the whole meeting? She admitted she'd said the 18th. I'm not a member of this group, though once before I did a program for them. I didn't remember what day of the week they meet.

So what's the big deal? I hadn't yet arrived at the true stage-fright phase. (I'm pretty close to it now.) I had a feeling there was still plenty of time to decide which of the two fully written-out talks I'd try to give. I'd already marked the pages of the books from which I intended to read. It wasn't as if I'd waited till the last minute...but now that date seems to loom. I've fretted about trying to "give a program." In days gone by, I got used to knowing where I wanted a lesson to end up, but found much greater success winging it and taking advantage of spontaneous reactions in the classroom. Now I have to decide whether elderly ladies in a beautiful living room with porcelain cups in their hands want to be talked at, or might be expected to contribute. I really prefer letting the chips fall where they may. Well, I've done this before, but the truth is, this time I'm on a bit of a crusade.

With thousands (probably a conservative estimate) of people writing poetry all over this country, and scores writing really good stuff just in the state where I live, I'm wondering whether anybody over college age is reading it. There will be 15 or 16 people to hear this, and I want so much to make them think about leaving prose for at least a little time and buying poetry. Yes, BUYING poetry. I'm astonished that it's still possible to purchase nicely bound and produced books of poetry from even the mega presses, in paper and hard cover. Long live the poets! and they won't, unless someone buys what they write. So I want to shake these ladies up enough to hope one of them might go out and buy a book of poems. Who knows, even add one to next year's book list for the club!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What Right? We Must Write!

I just read an interesting discussion about whether or not a writer must always write from personal experience and knowledge. I had never considered any ethical facet of the question. It always seemed that if you can imagine it vividly and convincingly enough, of course it was all right to use fictional, imagined material and settings; for fiction it's necessary to use imaginary characters. The problems would be in the author's ability to make the imaginary sufficiently realistic.

It struck me that neither the questioner nor the author answering him even mentioned fantasy and sci fi -- two enormously popular genres. The question was whether an author might be perpetrating some kind of fraud on the reader by not having known and/or experienced what was in the story. Does the writer have an obligation the truth that would deny the honesty of fiction? The answer given was that of course, whatever a writer wants to write about is fine so long as s/he does it well enough to make it acceptable in its own context.

Certainly, there are many ethical (not to mention legal) problems with writing and publishing. The truth of fiction is not the same matter for consideration as the truth of reportage or criticism. I can't help feeling it would be beyond tragic if poets and novelists and playwrights had to consider their work primarily in the light of their actual knowledge and first-hand experience. Human beings are animals that can benefit from the experiences of others, after all.

If there is any justification to be found in literature, it must be in writers' ability to offer to better the world in which they write. From the first words, they seek to present work that provides insights, hopes, and recognition of the good -- not only that is with us now, but that readers may envision because of what they have read. That's what "classics" are: maps for the betterment of humanity though revelations, most of which have little to do with actual facts.