At the Mercy of Books

The New Yorker cover for June 10 & 17, 2019 features a cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan, “Bedtime Stories.” A couple in their bed, horrified,  on each side of the bed a stack of books on the nightstand. The books reach high over their heads, daunting, frightening, ominous. I can relate.

When I moved from the East Coast to Colorado, I had divested myself of all my books, TADA! What freedom. I drove west with my dog and two suitcases. I had sold, given away, given back a solid wall of words. Life pared down to simplicity.

But … once I nestled in the shadow of the Rockies, the books crept back, bookish bipeds, and they arranged for the installation of shelving in my office and the delivery of two heirloom barrister bookcases. And they arranged to buy the rough-stone bookends on the shelf behind me where an olio of little books reside, saucy, smug. Then there are boxes of the books I’ve written. I can’t be blamed for keeping extra copies of my own work, now, can I? Well, maybe, but your sneers don’t scare me.

Yesterday my friend Cyndeth and I visited half a dozen or so “little libraries”–those urban sidewalk cupboards meant for the sharing of books. Take a book, leave a book. We left several in each box, took none. So now I have one last bag of books to deliver to the donation bin. Take that, you sneaky tomes, smug paperbacks, darling little anthologies. I’m through hoarding books. Yes, really … I am.

#BedtimeStories #BookHoarding

Poems Behave Like Feral Cats

If I dwell on my list of poem titles, I break out in a cold sweat. What am I going to do with all of these poems? Then I take a deep breath and the word SUBMIT appears over my head, a cartoon light bulb. If I believe that writers must share their gifts–and I do–then merely feeding fat three-ring binders on the shelf in my office is wrong. As I’ve been reminded often, no one will ring the doorbell and beg to read my work. More likely that bell tolls for Amazon, FedEx or UPS.

How then to share via the submission process? In our digital world I use a lot of sites/apps/devices. The cost of submitting digitally is about what it would cost in postage, paper copies and manilla  envelopes. And I know that the cloud is not a fluffy freebie. It‘s a huge bank of energy gobbling computers in some remote building, maybe a used missile silo. I don’t really know where my Dropbox is. To me it’s a cute little icon at the top of my screen. Also important to me are Duotrope, Submittable, Word 365, Numbers, my aging Mac Mini, Acer monitor, Logitech keyboard, and Epson printer. So much hardware and software to manage. But it must be doable because I do it.

Once I’ve written several drafts of a poem, it often goes to one of two critique groups, is revised and then added to a Dropbox file “Poems,” and a print copy tucked into a binder, alpha via title. The title alone appears on a six-page spreadsheet (yeah, that’s about 200 individual poems) that shows me if a particular piece is in submission or waiting to venture out. One column also tells me where a poem has already been rejected. No use annoying editors who have already wished me luck elsewhere. Then there’s the red submissions binder where I keep an alpha sort of markets that I routinely contact and a print copy of the spreadsheet (remember, my hardware is aging faster than I am and will one day fail). Once an editor says “HELL YEAH” I eliminate the data on the spreadsheet and note the acceptance on the paper copy in the binder! Whew, I’m tired just trying to explain this, but it works, mostly.

When I finished my MFA, a faculty advisor urged us all to apply for an NEA grant every year until we got one. When would I find time for that? More importantly, that sort of po-biz holds little interest for me. Over the years I’ve been happy to be part of a loosely connected community of writers and that is itself my preferred station in this literary life.

#WritingLife #SubmissionsManagement

Climate Fiction, aka Eco-Fiction

What follows is a tiny sample of fiction that addresses the effects of climate change. And the list grows daily, a reflection of concern among writers. For those who do not or will not read scientific and other non-fiction sources of information about what’s happening to our planet and the life that depends on it. Giving a particular name and face to those who suffer may just reach readers of the fiction persuasion.

Some of these writers have shelf space in my special collection, some are new to me. I welcome suggestions and responses.

Atwood, Margaret. Madd Addam–a writer who needs no introduction; but if you missed her (how could you?), get informed

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Wind Up Girl

Ballard, J. G. The Drowned World

Crichton, Michael. State of Fear

Douglass, Karen. Accidental Child; Providence–it’s me

Halvorssen, Anita. The Dirty Network–a debut novel by a devoted legal eagle

Hiaasen, Carl. Razor Girl –only one of many zany stories about what’s eating at Florida

Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior–butterflies go free

Kraub, Daniel. From Here

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road–very dramatic and downright scary

McEwan, Ian. Solar

Miller, Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz–a classic set in the far future

Rich, Nathaniel. Odds Against Tomorrow

For a more complete list, see Jim Dwyer’s Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010).

Reading the Climate

As some of you know I have published two climate-fiction novels, Accidental Child and Providence. While I write fiction as a way of thinking deeply about climate issues, I read lots of non-fiction. Here’s a partial list of books that have enhanced my understanding of climate issues. Some of these books scare me, and that’s a good thing. We should be scared of what we are doing to the only environment we have.

Non-fiction Climate-literature

Bloomberg, Michael and Carl Pope. Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet.

Weisman, Alan. The World Without Us.

Gelbspan, Ross.The Heat Is On.

Beg levy, Ed. Jr. Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life.

Gleick, Peter. The World’s Water, 1998-1999.

Posted, Sandra. Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last?

Barlow, Maude. Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever.

Schor, Juliet. Plenitude: Economics in an Age of Ecological Disaster.

Jones, Van. The Green Collar Economy.

Nordhous, Ted and Michael Shellenberger. Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.

Browser, Michael and Warren Leon. Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Terry, Beth. Plastic Free.

Rogers, Heather. Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage.

Beavan, Colin. No Impact Man.

Stover, Bill. Heat: Adventures in the World’s Fiery Places.

Hermès, Edward. Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash.

Barnett, Cynthia. Rain: a Natural and Cultural History.

Donne & Goldman, Eds. His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence.

Schwartz, Judith D. Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World.

I am happy to share this list and to hear from others who might recommend additional writers. Next blog post I intend to offer a list of climate-fiction reads, and there after a list of pertinent climate-related online selections. Let me know if this is useful.

A Novel Approach

Writing a novel is work; no news there. But it helps to gain perspective from other writers. I was feeling stuck about the plot line for my work in progress, hiking up a steep slope with no idea how to reach the summit. Not a good idea for a Coloradan. So, in desperation I checked out a how-to book from my wonderful Anythink Library–my walking stick, my water bottle, my sturdy backpack, most of what a writer needs when she’s on a long walkabout.

Reading James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure has set my feet (and my fingers) on the right path. It took a while, as I tiptoed my way through the three-act structure that has become important to novelists. Finally I focused on a page suggesting that the end, the blessed, welcome peak, might be reached in such a way that the lead character does not get what she wants but the result is still positive. Combine this with Bell’s advice to up the tension between the lead and the antagonist—voila! A vista to behold on a sunny day.

I have yet to write the scene, but driving to an appointment Friday morning, I decided on the exact setting for the decisive scene. And I’ve identified more clearly the two opposing characters who will make the scene memorable—I hope. So, my work can resume. I’ll go ahead and do all the little edits that I’ve scribbled into the “Yellow” copy (I print on colored paper until I’m pretty close to done.) And then add that all important scene before hitting save. Oddly enough, I already have the final sentence. Just have to hike that hill to where I can declare the first full version done, let it stew a while and then dig in for the final run.

What a Writer Needs

Packing for a roadtrip to Telluride CO for a poetry weekend. And I’m suffering my usual doubts and desires about packing. After many years of writing I know, sort of, what I need to get writing done. But traveling means that I can’t have it all. I cannot take along my office space or my favorite coffee shop despite my need for a place where I’m comfortable and not likely to be distracted or interrupted. So, scratch that for the next few days, although I’ll find a corner now and then. Being an early riser often means that I can write before fellow travelers are afoot.

Of course, I need my basic tools–plenty of paper and ink, a reliable, portable thing, in my case that’s an iPad and attached keyboard. Of course, I need time. When my children were young, writing time was late evening. Now my internal clock prefers early morning. I’ll just have to be flexible as a guest in someone’s home.

My real need is writing every day, yes, every day. And of course, I need readers and other writers. I need librarians. (This week, I tried to read The Library Book by Susan Orlean, an account of the horrific fire years ago at the Los Angeles Public Library. Had to set it aside before I finished because it’s just too hard to read with tears in my eyes.)

Every devoted writer needs what she needs–the sound of language, the sight of words lined up across the page, margin to margin, good ducklings after their mama. Most of all I need to keep writing, because as E. M. Forster said, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” Hope you all have a good week. See you after I get home.

All About Poets #5

Typically, my poet focus here is on poets I have known, face to face. Well, what was it Emerson said about consistency? “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds …” Who wants that? Not me. But today I’m thinking about W. S. Merwin. I’ve leaned on and learned from him the only way I could, by reading with great admiration his poems and essays. So, I took him along to a poetry open mic on Friday via a compilation of his work, Migration: New & Selected Poems. I read the last poem in the book, “To Impatience” and his “most famous poem,” (according to Dan Chiasson in The New Yorker, September 18, 2017), “For the Anniversary of My Death.”

Poets and poetry lovers meet in Longmont, Colorado, the last Friday of each month. This month, despite the promise of snow, two friends and I headed ten miles north to join the party. For one thing, the Longmont poets are a delight and the venue is gorgeous. The city of Longmont turned its abandoned firehouse into an arts center. Each month the displays change and the main room turns into a venue for poetry.

And thus the community of poets grows. As I read, those who knew Merwin’s work nodded and smiled. Those who didn’t know, scribbled his name on whatever was handy. So the work of the poet, the work of Copper Canyon Press, the Lannan Literary Fund, about twenty or so living, breathing human beings were united. No one paid us, no one charged us, there was no news flash about argument or deception. The evening was balm to a hurting world. I’d say a world less beautiful after Merwin’s departure, but he joins the vast, energizing cloud of those who keep me sane.