March 14, 2017 § 6 Comments
By Shuly Cawood
I’ve been listening lately to a new podcast, Book Cougars: Two Middle-Aged Women on the Hunt for a Good Read. I don’t know how in the world the hosts read the number of books they do, but they each read about ten books at the pace I read a measly one. This podcast is where I have learned about free audiobook resources. It’s the podcast where I learned about Roxane Gay pulling her book from Simon & Schuster. It’s the podcast where I can get someone else’s take on the book versus the movie. The two hosts are Chris and Emily, and they take listeners on a tour of their latest reads and biblio adventures, discuss cultural and political issues that come up in the books, provide information about resources at libraries, and share laughter when they find something funny.
It’s the laughter part I love—though don’t get me wrong, I like hearing about authors and new and old books, and just plain learning since I am an author myself. But it’s the laughter that gets me the most. There’s a reason for that, beyond just plain liking to hear joy in people’s voices.
But to explain, I have to tell you a story—well, actually two: one from my life, and one from someone else’s.
When I was in my 20s, I lived for almost two years in a quaint, picturesque college town. The emphasis is on “almost two years,” not picturesque or quaint. I was struggling with love and life and working too hard at a job at which—I heard through the office grapevine—the boss didn’t think I was putting in enough hours, though I was averaging 50-60 a week. To say I was unhappy is putting it lightly. I cried way too much, and I had to push myself to get through the day.
My unhappiness was not the fault of the town or my boss or my job or the apartment I lived in that felt lonely or any one thing but mostly everything all piled together—which means mostly me. At a little over the one-year mark, I wanted to get up and go, but I did not. I was afraid leaving my job would be failing. I realize now I stayed longer than I should have. Even when I had been sad before in my life, I had always been able to find beauty in the landscape—in a sunrise tinged with pink or the swaying of trees—but I remember one day feeling like I couldn’t see beauty anymore. It was winter, and even with the glitter of snow, beauty had vanished for me when I looked out at the world.
Finally, at just over the one-and-a-half-year mark, I got up the courage to give notice—six weeks, so that I would not leave my employer in a lurch. All these years later, I still remember the final day, when I drove with the last of my things on the two-lane then the highways and away from that cute little town that should have been perfect for me but instead, even now, is washed in sadness in my memories of it. They say you can’t escape by leaving. They say that sadness follows you, but mine didn’t. I remember thinking on that drive that the world looked beautiful again, and I had that same feeling the day after, and the next. What I’m trying to say is I know what it means to have to leave a place in order to survive.
I grew up with a friend who was always yearning to leave our hometown. And leave she did—she went to another state for college and then moved to the East Coast where she had her two kids. Then she came back. Not because she missed our hometown but because she knew it was a great place to raise her children. And it was. But, as her kids got older, she kept saying as soon as the youngest was out of high school, she was heading to the East Coast. Meanwhile, she was making friends, running her own business, parenting her (wonderful) children. The years went on. Her first kid graduated from high school, and three years later, her last one did. Still, she stayed put. I knew she was itching for a change, but those roots were deep. It isn’t easy to just drive away when you have a mortgage and a business and long-running friendships and a history. At the same time, my friend knew she had to go, that she just couldn’t live in our hometown anymore. Two years ago, she got rid of most of her belongings, rented out her house until it sold, and got in her car and drove away, landing on the East Coast.
Leaving took guts. If you meet this friend, what you’ll meet is loyalty, endurance, integrity, and strength. She has always been those things. But now she is also happiness—I hear it in her voice, and I can see it in her whole being. This friend loves books—has always loved books. And when she talked about starting a podcast about books with one of her friends, I heard joy in the telling. Yes, she is the Emily of the Book Cougars. So when I listen to the podcast, I hear great conversation, interesting book news, banter about the latest reads, but best of all, laughter.
Hearing her laugh is my favorite part.
March 2, 2017 § 4 Comments
David Naimon, host of “Between the Covers” on Portland, Oregon’s KBOO 90.7 FM, spoke recently with Ursula K. Le Guin about her collection of nonfiction, Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016.
“It is quite rare,” Naimon explains, “that Le Guin talks about her approach to writing nonfiction (essays, literary criticism, book reviews). We also talk about the risks and rewards of writing across difference (writing as a different race, gender, species), about the four strategies used to keep women writers out of the canon or diminished in the literary conversation, about America’s fear of the imagination, and of science, as well as talking about the work of Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Chang-rae Lee, and Jose Saramago.”
You can listen here:
December 28, 2016 § 1 Comment
Matt Tullis has hosted 49 episodes of Gangrey: The Podcast so far, focusing on literary journalism, and how it is reported, written, edited, and revised. In a recent installment, Tullis talks with Steven Kurutz, features reporter for the New York Times, about “Fruitland,” the story that launched Creative Nonfiction magazine’s new series, True Story.
“Fruitland” explores the story of Donnie and Joe Emerson, “two brothers … who as teenagers in the late 1970s self-recorded an album in a log-cabin studio their father built for them on the family farm. The album, Dreamin’ Wild, flopped upon its release but was rediscovered in a junk shop in 2008 and reissued by Light in the Attic records to critical and cult acclaim–but not without bringing out ghosts from the past and taking an emotional toll and the brothers and their family.”
Also joining the podcast on this episode is Hattie Fletcher. Fletcher is the managing editor of Creative Nonfiction, and is editing each installment of True Story.
Give it a listen.
December 12, 2016 § 1 Comment
It’s time once again for the Brevity Podcast! Listen right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.
Episode #3 features an interview with Rick Moody on form, function, life coaching and how to handle the part of depression that makes one want to walk in front of a bus, without losing access to one’s creative spirit. We also speak with Athena Dixon, editor-in-chief and founder of Linden Avenue Lit, about where and how to find new voices of color, and the evolution of her writing from R&B fan fic to establishing a strong new literary magazine.
Our episode sponsor is the recorded webinar, Developmental Editing for Fiction and Memoir – useful for authors and editors, and available at Editors Canada (note that the price is in CDN$).
Show Notes: Episode #3 People, Books and Places
Athena’s favorite poem, Euphoria by Major Jackson
Athena’s favorite Another Bad Creation song, Jealous Girl. (The band looks like they’re about 9 years old!)
Crossroads: the story of Robert Johnson and the Devil, on Radiolab
November 17, 2016 § 1 Comment
Understandably, we’ve all been a little distracted. But if you’re ready for a break from fighting the good fight, please enjoy the Brevity Podcast’s second episode, featuring interviews with Suzanne Roberts and Andre Dubus III. Some highlights:
- Suzanne reads her powerful piece from Brevity, The Essay Determines How It Will Begin, and talks about where writing is on her list of priorities (it’s not at the top! It’s not even second!).
- Andre discusses making a safe home for his kids in a violent world, and reads a section of his memoir, Townie. He also shares his thoughts on the value of writing about hard family moments, and how writing goes hand in hand with dealing with the actual problem.
- Political content: 0
Stream/download through most podcast apps.
And whether it’s listening to us, or to your children, or writing something messy, or lying on your back and watching the clouds, take a little time today for your writer self.
November 15, 2016 § 10 Comments
The hare finally woke from his nap. “Time to get going!” And off he went faster than he had ever run before! He dashed as quickly as anyone ever could to the finish line, where he met the tortoise, patiently awaiting his arrival.
An author I work with sent me another draft of a scene from a book she’s writing. I sent it back with more notes, for the third time. She wrote:
I love diving in deeper and hearing where things can get amped up. Am only worried it will take another year to edit the book if I do this for each scene 😉
She’s probably right. It may well take a year. Yes, some writers write much faster. But for most of us, polishing each element of our book–scene by scene, character by character, sentence by sentence–takes time. Time at the page. Time ruminating while walking, or gardening, or staring into space. Time away from the book and working on something else. Time at our day job, where one day someone says something in the break room that snaps a recalcitrant plotline into place. Time absorbing the world.
I wrote her back that yes, it’s time-consuming,
…but bear in mind that right now you’re also learning more about writing, and everything you learn will go much faster on the next round! Plus, material at the beginning of the book goes slower than the end, because things are being set up and you’re building the world. And as a human functioning in the real world, you’re probably already changing how you look at things and record details in your head, and being more aware of what makes a scene/character/world will speed up your process, too.
It’s worth remembering those things for my own work. Every time I write–whether a blog post, an essay, a memoir, a how-to book or a novel, I learn more about writing. The lessons from failed work, bad drafts and trashed sentences inform the next attempt. The end of a book may not be “fast” in terms of creative choices, but it’s definitely faster to finish typing a project than it is to start from an empty page. And certainly, as a human moving through the world, I’m noticing more of what physical situations and gestures trigger my judgment, so that I can “show instead of telling” on the page.
It’s OK if it takes ten years–or twenty!–to finish a book. Great work is often made with care. Right now, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) sees more than a million writers around the world tearing through a first draft. Agents dread December: it’s Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Inbox Hell, as enthusiastic writers skip the all-important revisions and multiple drafts in their eagerness to share their work with the world.
That doesn’t mean don’t finish a novel in a month, or “don’t write fast.” But if you are a slower writer, or have finished a first draft, allow yourself the patience to let your work blossom both from your tending and your absence. Trust that building a network of literary support also happens one meaningful interaction at a time. That being open to the world for inspiration also sometimes includes shutting down, putting up our shields, and listening to our inner voices for a while. In our most recent Brevity Podcast, Andre Dubus III says it takes him five years to write a book–during that time, he shows it to no-one.
I am over 40. I see round-up lists of exciting new (always young) authors and it hurts to know I have missed that window. It’s weird to be both proud of a published book and sad that it’s not the book I thought I’d publish first. I’m a tinkerer, and tend to move slowly through a draft, revising as I go, rather than tearing through to the end and then going back. It’s hard to see friends finishing November with 50,000 words and realize that I have some blog posts and most of another how-to book and five more pages of novel but nothing is done. But the difference between a parable and real life is that the tortoise and the hare can both win at their own speed. I’m tempted to say “I hope” after that, but finishing a book is not a hope. It’s something I can control, and the only choice is whether or not to be OK with the time it takes me.
See you at the finish line.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the host of the Brevity Podcast.