Post Script on "After Life" by Rhian Ellis

I finished reading After Life by Rhian Ellis (see previous post). The ending was disappointing. It felt tacked on and I thought the character's actions didn't really fit with her personality or add anything to the story. And it seemed hurried, as if the author wrote "and then I woke up and realized it was all a dream. The End." She didn't, but you know what I mean, right? I've also changed my mind about the book being an example of magical realism. Although there were some elements of it, they were never fully developed or explored in the writing. Overall, though, I still liked the book a lot.

If anyone out there has read "After Life"
I'd love to hear what you think.
Just click on the "comment" link below.

"After Life" by Rhian Ellis (book review)

So I've been waiting for an order from Amazon, which includes the final book in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. In the meantime, I'm reading After Life by Rhian Ellis. Absolutely gorgeous writing and a compelling story as well. I found it while browsing the shelves at the library. It's nice when that happens, when you discover a really great book by accident.

Here's a passage from the book, which is about a woman who has a secret and lives in a town populated by mediums and spiritualists, one of whom is her mother.

When I was a child, I believed in everything, without even trying. But in the years after my grandmother died, I found faith to be a trickier thing, something that could wriggle away the minute I had my hands around it, like a wild animal. It wasn't a sudden transformation. I gradually grew embarrassed of my mother and her clothes and her exotic mediumship.
The writing is deceptively simple and carefully crafted, with lovely images and phrases. The genre is magical realism but it is a little more subtle in that aspect than, say, some of Isabel Allende's work. The writing reminds me a little of Margaret Atwood's later books, such as Alias Grace or Blind Assassin.

I'm pretty sure it was Annie Dillard who said "Be careful what you read, for that is what you will write." Well, this book is a joy to read and anyone would do well to let Ellis' writing influence their own.

Do you agree that good reading
makes for good writing?
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Life, Imitated

What Happens When You're Not Paying Attention

Two days ago I posted this poem about losing touch with old friends. Wrote it very quickly and felt a need to post it right away, even though I'm not completely happy with it. And then today I got a letter in the mail from a friend of mine. Someone I've neglected, in fact, like in the poem.

I recognized my friend's handwriting on the envelope. But not the last name above her return address. Inside the envelope, her beautiful happy face. Roses. And lilacs? Elegant long white dress. Standing next to a man who is wearing glasses and a dark suit and a flower in his lapel. He looks beautifully happy, too.

It was my turn to write to her. The letter I sent her today was three months overdue. I even wrote a poem about it, for crying out loud. I guess I just wasn't paying close enough attention. Karma or fate or whatever you want to call it decided to give me a little rap on the head.

Different jobs, different states, different states of mind ... And then time catches up, finally, and you are surprised and thrilled but also a little sad to discover how much has happened, how much has changed, how much you missed while you weren't paying attention.

Letter to an Old Friend (poem)

Hey you,
I broke the last of those wine glasses you gave me
And dreamed that you were dead
And that I gave the eulogy at your funeral
And that basically I said
I still loved you
Even though I no longer knew
Who you were anymore

Nahant Beach Photographs

I'm pleased with the two Nahant Beach photos I took last week. The last picture, which I posted today, has good composition, depth, and color. I like the way the light picks out the sea grass in the foreground. The light hitting the houses in this picture, which I posted on Friday, is nice, too. The composition on that one could have been better, though. It is a little cock-eyed, and there should be a smidge more sky at the top of the picture and a smidge less grass at the bottom. I might even have gotten closer to the water and the tipped-over chair. But again, I like the colors and the depth of field--the way the picture's layers make the photo seem multi-dimensional. I think there's definitely a mood that comes through in both of the pictures. And it's actually the mood that I felt at the time I took them. So that's cool.

A technical note: I've been using Picasa (yet another Google product) to post my digital photographs to this site (and to Gienna Rants as well). I like the program. It is easy to use. But the last few times I've used it I've noticed that the image that ends up on the site is not nearly as clear as the "original" in my computer. The two Nahant Beach photos, for example, look very fuzzy. Viewed on my computer, using a different photo software program, the pictures have much more detail--you can see every blade of grass, for example. So when I have half a minute I'll see if I can figure out what's wrong and maybe try to repost them.

End of Summer, Nahant Beach 2 (digital photo)

So Speaking of Joy's Failure to Pay the Bills...

A quick note: I am going to try putting a few ads on the site and over at Gienna Rants, too. Nothing crazy. Just a few little boxes along the side where there's white space now, maybe a banner at the bottom of the page. So if you visit either site in the next day or so you might see me working on this little project. Want to learn more about Google's AdSense program? Read this article by the very talented writer Biz Stone. (Did you see how I snuck in the writing reference?) Feel free to let me know if you think this is a horrible way to support my writing habit. Just click on that little "comment(s)" link below.

End of Summer (prose poem)

We walked along the shore, from the Swampscott border all the way to the far end of Nahant Beach, floating and bobbing like we were in a wooden boat, our fingers trailing the water, making a wake that spread out behind us like the summer. Suddenly we understood that we were walking the sun home. The light dimmed, our legs ached, but still we pressed on, not wanting to say goodbye so soon. We sat, finally, on one of the cement benches along the beach, let the dog play with a piece of seaweed, black and dry and dead, watched the sun cast a golden glow on the spit of land that is Nahant, that foreign body left behind by glacial ice that reached the end of its journey a million years ago. The tall wooden lifeguard stand lay tipped over in the sand. We righted ourselves as dusk gathered around. And then we started back, the beach behind us, the crisp, cool, dark of the night ahead.

Joy Doesn't Pay the Bills

What a nice comment on this post from someone who was kind enough to compliment my writing and my photographs. He also said he didn't think that one has to write every day to be good at it. I don't know that I agree, but this week I sure hope it's true. I have gotten absolutely no creative writing done lately. But I'm not complaining. Well, not this week, anyway. My creative energy is being spent by writing that actually pays in U.S. dollars. As opposed to personal satisfaction, pure joy, and a few compliments.

Satisfaction, joy, and compliments--as lovely as they are--don't pay the bills. Too bad.

I recently told my mum that I wish I could have a wealthy patron, like the great writers had at one time in history. "Artists used to have them, too," she said.

"The world has changed."

Crosshatching (link to photo)

Very nice photograph here at a blog called CROSSHATCHING.

Although I swear this morning it was called crosshatcher.

The Tricky Thing About Writing

What I said here applies to writing, too.

Draw, Antonio, Draw (quote)

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something will arise for later, something better. These things fill in from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

"After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: 'Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.'"

The Missouri Review (website review)

The Missouri Review is an excellent literary magazine, of course; turns out their website is fantastic, as well. It has quite a lot of free online content: including fiction, poetry, and interviews with writers, including some of my favorites, like Rick Moody and Jamaica Kincaid.

The Missouri Review is definitely a prestige market. Their acceptance rate is less than 1%. They have a healthy subscription base and pay fair rates at $30 per printed page. They give additional support to their writers with publicity, bonuses, and prize money. For example, right now they're paying a $1,000 premium for essays. And each year, they award the William Peden Prize of $1,000 to the best piece of fiction to have appeared in the previous volume.

The Missouri Review Editors’ Prize Contest, with fiction, poetry, and essay categories, is one of the better-paying ones. Winners in each category get $2,000. And the $15 submission fee includes a one-year subscription to the magazine. That's a good deal. The deadline is coming up. Get the complete guidelines here. And here's a nice bonus: The magazine is now accepting electronic submissions.

"This is the kind of short story I love to read. The kind I want to write."

OK, today's assignment. Read the short story, "The Rememberer," by Aimee Bender, online in The Missouri Review.

Bender completely blew my mind. This is the kind of short story I love to read. The kind I want to write. The language is so clear, the writing deceptively simple. But the concept is complex, arresting. The story flows so beautifully and the details are so perfect that you are hardly aware you are reading. And, when you are finished reading, you can't stop thinking about it.

Want more? Visit Aimee Bender's website, which is sort of under construction but has some cool drawings, a few short stories and excerpts from her books.

Care to comment on this post or any other? Have a suggestion for a writing site to review? Click on the word "comments" here or below.


Critical Cuts (on writing)

After my last post, I sat down and had a mind-blowing writing day. I added 1,500 new words to my short story "Asleep, Awake." Which is good, because I cut about 500. Not a bad net gain. In the 2004 edition of the Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, there's an interview with Alice Sebold, author of the memoir Lucky and the wonderful novel The Lovely Bones. She says: "You have to be ready, willing and able to cut things as soon as you sense they're going in a bad direction. You have an inner critic who knows when something is going off."

"I fall in love with something [in my writing] and I think that cutting it will be like
cutting the leg off a table."

That's always been hard for me, especially with short stories and essays. I fall in love with something and I think that cutting it will be like cutting the leg off a table. It's usually the beginning of a story, or the part that contains the word, the phrase, or the idea that sparked the writing in the first place. Even as I begin to see that it no longer works with the rest of the piece, I imagine that it is an integral part of the whole and that if I cut it out the writing will be all wobbly and weak. But the truth is that making the critical cut is like sanding off a layer of wood to better reveal the grain beneath.

You know what? I just cut two paragraphs out of this post. My inner critic told me they were going off in a bad direction. You want to speak to her about that? Click on the word "comments," below. If you want to spam your friends with links to this post, click on the little envelope. Oh, they'll love you for it. I promise.