Review: Between, Georgia

Just finished reading Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.  I liked it.  Don’t throw fried green tomatoes at me, but sometimes the whole quirky southern fiction thing wears a wee bit thin. (Stop it! Stop pelting me!  I went to school in the south!  I teach down there!) This book had quirkiness galore but the main character, Nonny, had a satisfying character arc with a lot of emotional change over the course of the book.

There were some problems with structure up front.  A lot, lota backstory told in exposition to get out of the way.  And one scene that had the potential to be highly dramatic was told entirely in exposition.  This puzzled me because Joshilyn Jackson is a master at writing scenes. 

A couple of her scenes are like set pieces–amazing gems.  The opening scene, in which Nonny’s birth is retold, and the second scene, in which a grown-up Nonny has sex with her soon-to-be-ex husband are both brilliant.

Bottom line is that its a good story.  Nobody but me and other writers are as picky about craft issues.  Sometimes I long for the days when I could just read–instead of read reading, the way I do now.

Writing Translation

Happy May Day.

My student, Ben Norwood, sent me a wonderful end-of-the-semester gift today–a copy of the The Republic of Letters, the journal begun by Saul Bellow.  Ben translated one of the stories in it, a piece called, “Xavier the Leper,” by Alberto Rangel, from Spanish.

I’m just in awe of this.

The story is dense and gorgeous and Ben says that some of the plant and animal names are Amazonian with no English equivalent yet.  This translation thing boggles my mind.  First of all, you have to get the meaning of the story right.  And then you have to worry about what it sounds like, the style, the voice, the tone.

Of course, now that I think about it, that’s what you have to do when writing fiction in general.  But translating adds a whole other layer to it.

Its pretty cool.  I’m so pleased Ben sent it to me.

Bad Writing Habits Follow Me Wherever I Go

I’ve been working on removing an excess of interiority from my novel.  Scenes which otherwise might clip along are bogged down by my protagonist, the beloved Emma Jean, thinking too damn much. 

We’ve been talking about this bad habit of mine in my weekly writing group, but I hadn’t internalized it until I started reading Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.

Today, on the treadmill again (though why I bothered since I ate pizza for dinner, I’m not sure), as I was reading and pondering Emma Jean, it hit me. 

What I need to do is to get Emma Jean out of her own head and into observing others.  Clearly, she does this already–part of the fun of the novel is her irreverent opinions of people, and life, and events.  But she also needs to get away from her damn navel gazing, especially when we’re in the middle of a scene.

Then, double whammy, another thought hit me (I guess this is why I go to the gym): In my late, lamented unfinished last novel, Language of Trees, I wrote in first person.  And the reason I decided to write in third person this time, was that writing my Trees protagonist in first person made her too much of a whiny baby navel gazer. 

And I’m still battling the same damn problem. 

The good news is that at least I’m figuring it out.

No Readers But Lots of Writers?

The other day I dragged myself to the gym.  (Yes, I do manage to accomplish that once in awhile.)  The man on the treadmill next to me, who later introduced himself as Richard, was reading a Michael Connelly novel and I was reading Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.

We were discussing the vagaries of putting books on hold at our local library.  The owner of the gym, George, stopped by and joined our conversation.  George has 4000 books at his house (I thought I had a lot) and related a story about a recent shopping trip to Powell’s.

Anyway, George contends that people don’t read books any longer.  Richard and I nodded our heads and commiserated with this statement, even though I’m not sure its true.  Is it true?  One does hear an awful lot about declining bookstore revenues and publishers consolidating.

But a week or so ago I was reading a book about blogging, and I’ve read so many lately I can’t remember which one.  The author made an interesting point–that all of a sudden, writing is important again.  He interviewed a blogger (I’ve got to go through my books and figure out where I got this) who talked about how when he was growing up it wasn’t hip to be a writer.  But now, suddenly, it is.

The number of blogs in existence doubles every six months or so.  Blogs are based on writing, duh.  Websites proliferate–and lord knows, those of us who write SEO copy are VERY aware of how much writing they require. 

So suddenly words are multiplying like crazy and yet there are no readers.  What gives?

In some ways it pains me to say this, but what gives is that we’re reading differently  Reading on the web on a coffee break instead of cracking open the novel or a magazine for a few minutes.  Reading the news on our yahoo home page because we’re at the computer anyway. 

What’s missing in all this is the good old fashioned book.  We even read those on the internet these days–witness the boom in e-books.

I maintain that computers will never replace the book.  There’s something so tactile and sensual about holding a book in your hands, feeling its heft, smelling the paper, seeing the words.  Like George, I love books and buy way too many of them.

And yet I spend untold hours a day at my computer, digesting words.  If I’m lucky, I spend half an hour reading a book. 

Go figure.

Rewriting Without Ruination

As a rule a man’s a fool,

When its hot he wants it cool,

When its cool he wants it hot,

Always wanting what is not.

(By the way, my sister managed to snag this plaque for her own office.  I’m not bitter about that or anything.)

Anyway, I finally got down to working on my novel this morning.  I’m walking a delicate line, trying to trim and edit the excesses of my protaganist’s voice without ruining what makes it charming.  Not at all sure I’ve figured out how to do this in a way that satisfies me yet.

But.  Now that I’ve actually worked on my novel for the first time in ages, its all I want to do.  I think this is the true reason why I resist writing–not because I don’t like it, but because I like it too much.  I’m afraid I’ll be so pulled into it that I’ll ignore eveything else, like paying assignments, for instance.

At this moment, none of that matters.  It only matters that I wrote.  All is right with the world again.

Writing Resistance

Today, I know all about Rosie’s decision to leave The View.  I know all about the storms that ravaged towns in Texas near the border to Mexico.  All about them.

Why?  Because I’m supposed to be writing.  This is my morning to work on my novel.  Its so much easier to look at stories on the internet which are. So. Urgent.

Another story I had to read was about how the governor of my state, Ted Kulongoski, is existing on food stamps for a month.  I had to read that story because my friend Leigh’s partner Jon works for the Oregon Food Bank and he dreamed up the idea.

Had to read it.  Couldn’t wait.

Now I’m going to go work on my novel, really I am.  Oh, except I probably ought to check email.  Just in case someone, anyone, someone please, wrote me….

Blog for Writing Information

I’ve just begun a companion blog to Word Strumpet.  Its a place to park longer articles and will more informational and less topical. 

You can find it here.

I just posted my article on story over there.

A Single-Spaced World

Suddenly, it is a single-spaced world. 

This thought just occurred to me as I was editing an article I am going to post on my new companion blog.  Last time I tried importing something from Word that was double-spaced I got everything all messed up, even after I’d figured out how to do it without making the Type Pad plain text formatting gods mad.  So I was putting this article into single space.

And that’s when it hit me.

All SEO copywriting, of which I have been doing a LOT, is single spaced. 

Blog posts are single spaced.

Isn’t it strange that after years of having the traditional format for writing be double-spaced, now in many applications that is no longer true?

I know double spacing is still the standard for print media and journalism.  But much of the internet is a single-space world.  What that says, to me, is that there’s just so damn much content in the world now, we don’t have room for double spacing any more.