Thus the tender introvert

This week, while thousands of writers descended upon Tampa, FL, for the annual AWP conference, I remained snug in my own town, following the elation (meeting other writers, giving panels and readings) and exhaustion via Twitter. I went to AWP in 2013, and made the classic mistakes of going to too many panels and parties. I couldn't talk by the end of the conference (and for a day or two after), I was so worn out. (Thus the tender introvert.) After, I swore I would never attend another, but the next one is in Portland, OR, (so close!) and I would see my VCFA peeps and meet some of the writers who have inspired me so much, plus soak up all that literary magic. Do I dare?

As far as reading goes this week, I chipped away at The Gentleman in Moscow (I find it charming, but perhaps too charming?) and dipped into a couple of book reviews at the New York Times. But what I really want to mention is my long-standing habit of reading advice columns. Certain advice columns. I've read Dear Prudence and Carolyn Hax for years. In the early days, I was in search of how to handle life's stickier points (I was a gentle soul, easily pushed over), but now I read for a front row seat on humanity--and story ideas. Holy cow, are these columns a rich resource! You're welcome.

Writing was a bust this week. I wrestled with the start of my novel, at first tweaking words (this is a nervous habit in a first draft, like biting nails or picking at split-ends) and then realizing that those first paragraphs are nothing but summary, g-d it. On a long walk yesterday, listening to writerly podcasts, I came up with another, more intriguing angle. I need to stop fussing over details and just write.

Usually I get a lot of my writing and reading in on Friday night (such is my social life), but this week I was glued to online news and Twitter as a hostage situation in Yountville proved the worst possible outcome. The Napa community lost three stars. I lost someone I knew, and the people closest to these amazing women have suffered life-altering devastation. None of us can believe this happened.


Reading and writing: Week of February 25

This week, more reading than writing happened. I read:

The Likeness by Tana French - Aside from wanting to edit great swaths of dialog at the beginning of the novel, the book crooked it's finger and I became fully absorbed this past weekend, to the detriment of other things like chores and taxes. (Someday I'll pay someone else to get at my taxes.) The protagonist also doesn't gel for me until she's undercover and "playing" another character--intentional? And if intentional could the author have given me, the reader, a wink to show that she knew that I knew that she knew? (I think about these things: how do I let my reader know that this thing I'm doing that might not work on the surface is actually intended?)

Rough Drafts: Writers at Work at the Millay Colony - What writer hasn't dreamed of pushing pause on their day-to-day life and focusing on their creative work at a writers' colony? This new series from Lit Hub satisfies both the residency and seeing works in progress curiosities.

She Didn't Own a Birth Certificate or Go to School. Yet She Went on to Get Her PhD - (Review of Tara Westover's memoir, Educated) This story fascinates and horrifies me--I definitely want to read the book. It is amazing that this woman has escaped her background, but I also wonder what of that background lingers in her life, and whether she addresses this at all in her book. (Pair with Westover's interview on Fresh Air.)

Sherman Alexie Called Out for Sexual Misconduct for over a Twenty-Year Period - Of all the recent news about men in high places using their position to harass and inflict pain, this one saddens and angers me the most.

The Slade House by David Mitchell - Totally creepy, and, like The Bone Clocks, there's something I can't quite put my finger on that didn't click for me.

In Praise of Anita Brookner - Not only did she publish her first (of 23!) novels at age 53, her novels are about women's lives, human complications. I'll definitely check out her work.

Just started: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - I loved Rules of Civility.

I recently banged a short story into shape and sent it off for it's first round of rejections. It's a story I've been working on for literal years. One of the reasons it took me so long is that while I'm a great admirer of the short story form I did not, in fact, know how to write one. At all. So I've been working on it through heavy revision and angst, and, finally, I think the piece is in respectable shape. It's not perfect, but it may be as perfect as it's going to be. I was starting to fear I would tinker this thing to death and never send it out to greet its public.

There are two novels vying for my attention. I realized one needs considerable research to understand what's been done in the genre (sorry/not sorry I can't be more specific) so I don't unwittingly replicate all that's been done before, so I can break the mold in some way. (If that's even possible--nothing new under the sun, and all that.)

I'm searching for an entry point to the other novel. I should just forge ahead and worry about entry points later. I want to write something seductively lush that isn't overwrought--again, something to worry about later. 

Gah. There are about four short stories in want of editing and polishing and maybe that's where I should turn my attention. Save the novels for later.

How to live a literary life

That's what I'm trying to figure out here: how to live a literary life. Chances are, I won't have a wealthy, distant uncle who passes peacefully (in his sleep) and bequeaths a fortune to me. I won't win the lottery. I won't make enough to retire early (or ever, here in California). If I'm going to live the literary life I dream of living, I have to live it now. I have to squeeze it in among everything else.

What to I mean by "literary life" anyway? The phrase is dangerously unspecific. 

On the weekends, on my long walks through the Napa hills, I listen to podcasts where established authors describe their writing lives. They talk about their consistency and doggedness, and I admire that. I want it. And I can have it, too, I just have to weave it among the hours spent at the winery and time at the gym, shopping for food, cooking. For me, a literary life is one that is focused, primarily, on the business of writing and reading.

The fact that I work for a winery is enough to send most people into a daydream, imagining what it must be like to work at a place that makes and sells wine. The making and selling of wine is a very different business than opening a bottle of wine over dinner. But it's a great job, as jobs go: I have learned a ton, and if I were to have any requirement for work it would be exactly that--the opportunity to learn and keep learning.

I have purposefully steered my day job towards something analytical and logistical. I analyze online sales; I tend to our POS and ecommerce platform; I manage our email service provider. This leaves my creative brain open and hungry.

So this is what I'm doing now to live the literary life:

  • I write: I've polished and submitted a story to a few publications, and I'm working on my novel.
  • I read: All kinds of things (more to come on this)
  • I support the local creative community: this is a harder one. Stay tuned.

How do you live your literary life?