13 May 2012
I’ll be spending the next month at an artists’ colony – four much-needed weeks in the woods, mostly off-the-grid, before teaching again in July. So: I’ll see you all on the other side!
9 February 2012
So I am teaching myself to knit.
In this picture are three swatches — practice pieces for three different kinds of stitches. Hoorah! I can do three different kinds of stitches!
But that pile of yarn is the unraveled mess of a scarf I started. I was going along pretty good there for a while, maybe 1/4 of the way… then suddenly it all went wrong. I didn’t know what had happened or what had gone wrong, and the more I tried to figure it out, the worse it got. I’d unravel a section, then try to restart from that point forward, but then it became clear that I wasn’t restarting correctly, so the mess reiterated itself, and then I’d unravel a little more, etc. In other words, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to save what I’d done; I had to unravel the whole damn thing.
The writing analogy is a little frightening to consider.
That 1/4 scarf existed; I’m the only one who knows this, can verify it. Was it a “waste” of time? Well, at least I learned to slow down, and to pay attention. My next lesson will be teaching myself how to fix mistakes.
Unraveling takes seconds. The word is onomatopoetic, it slips off the tongue. When we make something, build something, stitch by stitch, word by word, it is definitely not raveling.
5 January 2010
“All being finished means is that you haven’t started yet.” –Aaron Sorkin
I have 335 pages of something. It has characters, setting, plot, thematic ideas, a beginning, middle, and end. Which is to say I am finished; which is to say I haven’t started yet. Novel is labor: it’s not all play, but neither is it all toil.
I haven’t told the story I want to tell, nor in the way it needs to be told. Now the real labor begins. Exhibit A: rough storyboarding, and a character map. I use stickies, because that’s how fluid it needs to be. (Pax is there for good cheer and good luck.)
Notice Don Delillo‘s Underworld in the foreground. Structurally, and in other ways, it’s an influence, and I’m re-studying it. If you’ve read it, or any of Delillo, you know we’re talking about a complex, heady work. I wrote in my journal today: If it’s not complex, and a little impossible, then why write it? Over the years, I’ve sometimes gotten the feedback that I’m “taking on too much.” So I might have written: If it’s not too much, then why write it?
If there was room in the frame, you’d also see that I’m back to hand writing on legal pads.
All being finished means is that you haven’t started yet.
3 December 2010
A very nice young woman came to see me the other day – a Korean student from Seoul, studying at another US college but visiting here for the semester. She’d read Long for This World and came to the faculty reading (where I read along side my colleagues) a couple of weeks ago.
She was generous and effusive with her praise. She is completely bilingual and writes fiction herself, in English at the moment. She had some good thoughts for me about awkward honorifics in Long for This World. Then she said: “This book should be published in Korea. Everyone in Korea should read this.”
I laughed, of course. Tell me about it, I wanted to say. We tried. Scribner tried. Korean publishers did not bite (yet?!).
But the interaction had me thinking about those of us who write stories of cultures with which we have an inside/outside relationship. A young Indian American woman who loves Jhumpa Lahiri‘s work told me that her parents and their friends don’t care for it. Last night a friend described Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s stories as firmly set in Pakistan, about Pakistani lives, but very much written “from the outside” (for outsiders).
Currently, I am working on a book that renders characters and worlds of which I am personally completely outside. Will readers who are inside the culture of the subjects resist/be indifferent to the work as Koreans are to Long for This World? Of course the reasons for non-publication in Korea must be multiple, and economically-driven in a way I don’t myself grasp. But all of this makes me think about why we write, why we write about what we write about, who we are in relation to what we write, for whom we write (if anyone)… You know. The Big Questions.
24 November 2010
I’m participating in a reading event next Thursday, Dec 2. The series is called SWEET: ACTORS READING WRITERS, curated by Shelly Oria and Annie Levy. Actors read our fiction, nonfiction, and poetry excerpts. Featured at the Dec 2 event:
Simon Feil reading BEATEN, SEARED, AND SAUCED by Jonathan Dixon
Scott Nogi reading LOVE CREEPS by Amanda Filipacchi
Joya Mia Italiano reading PERSONAL DAYS by Ed Park
Soneela Nankani reading BREAKING FORM and other poems by Maya Pindyck
And, Tonya Edmonds reading an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, SEBASTIAN & FREDERICK.
This will be the first public outing for S&F.
Join us! 7:30 at Three of Cups, First Avenue at 5th Street in the East Village.
4 September 2010
I enjoyed this piece from Inside Higher Ed by Terri Givens, an African American scholar, called “Why I Study Europe.” I came across it at Bookforum’s Omnivore, in a post called “Race and the Obama Era.“
The Givens piece caught my eye because I am someone who speaks French better than I speak Korean; and because the main character of my second novel is an African American Russophile.
The world is an interesting place.
17 February 2010
If I were to give one piece of advice to fiction writers aspiring to be published, or just now getting published, I would say, “You have to keep writing.” More than anything, I think that continuing to write consistently, in whatever routine works best for you, is the way to keep focused, and sane, and clear, and brave about your vocation and your commitment to the work.
And I’d say it’s especially important to keep writing when it’s hardest to keep writing. When life gets incredibly stressful or busy. I find that when I am in the work, everything is possible, and anxiety (about everything) subsides. Sarah Shu-Lien Bynum said in an interview with Charlie Rose a few years ago that, when you’re writing, the thing that fills your head is “how you’re going to get to the end of the sentence.” The poet Donald Hall calls this absorbedness, which he considers the root of contentment.
And so, through this time of anticipation and busy-ness before the March 2 release of Long for This World, I’m really making an effort to keep working on Sebastian and Frederick, and also a short story that is slated to be published at FiveChapters in April (the deadline is a good thing in this case). It seems so self-evident: writing is much more energizing than promoting; and yet it’s so much easier to fill your time with promoting. But promoting a book, so far, is a strange, out-of-bodyish experience at times, and can overrun you. My guess is that being overrun while on book tour is not a good thing. My goal is to keep writing even while traveling for book events (alone in a hotel room can be good for this, perhaps?); wish me luck.