On Writing


I am a huge, slavering fan of Margaret Atwood’s work. I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, and it took the top of my head off. Thereafter, I read everything of hers I could get my hands on. The Double Voice, the poem she graciously permitted us to print in this issue, became a standout poem for me in those early years when I was grappling with what it meant to be a woman, and a creative woman at that. I grew up spending a lot of time in the wilderness. Our first house in the Blue Ridge Mountains was located down a one-lane dirt road in a holler, a mile away from our nearest neighbor, with two creek crossings (no bridge–we just drove right through). In the winter, we kept our vehicles at the top of the hill and first walked up there to drive to town, then brought our groceries back down by toboggan, usually once a month. (We bought a lot of powdered milk and pinto beans.) I’m sure it was a difficult existence, especially for the adults, but it was a magical time for me. I’ve read that Margaret Atwood spent many months in the Canadian wilderness as a child, and I can’t help but wonder if some of my affinity for her work is related to the similarities of our early experiences, although back then Canada seemed like a world away from Check, Virginia. Our first winter in that house was the winter of 1976, an especially snow-heavy winter all over the east coast. I missed school the entire month of January because of the excessive snow. I also remember watching the news after the freak snowstorm in Buffalo that year that left people climbing out of their second-story windows to get out of their houses. I distinctly remember thinking, “Who in their right mind would ever live in such a place??” And here I am now, going on 11 years in Suchaplace, NY. A southern girl at heart, I now live so far north that parts of Canada are actually south of me. Oh, irony. Anyway, this was meant to be a post about Margaret Atwood and her amazing work. I’ve heard her speak several times, once in Buffalo, once in Toronto for her clever, theatrical, and environmentally consciencious launch of Year of the Flood. For intellectual stimulation and wry wit, she never disappoints. In 2012, at the annual AWP conference in Chicago, she will be keynote speaker–a Do Not Miss event. Here is a video link of her brilliant talk at a tech conference in which she discusses The Publishing Pie...

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I am counting down. I have given myself a timetable and my end date is September 15th. One week to go. This is the date I have told myself I must be done. I’ve completed nine other revisions on this novel, but this last one is a biggie. New title, new ending, new character names, new motivations, more sex, and another death. I am almost there. But I still have one week to go. So… No matter how much I love you, don’t expect to hear from me. Unless you have the same number as the Hong Kong Buffet takeout place, I’m not likely to ring you up. On the other hand, I may contact you if you know anything about boats or sharks or the Windward Isles or what it means to be a Belonger. Or even if your area of expertise is 70s punk or panic attacks or Mormonism or stalking. If you call me, I am not likely to answer. If I do answer, expect me to sound confused, distant, and disoriented for the first five minutes of our conversation. (No, I have not been drinking…unless it’s after ten pm and I’m writing a sex scene.) When you have been diving in very deep waters, it takes time to resurface, unless, of course, you don’t mind if your head explodes. If you email me and my answer is shorter and more to the point than my usual emails, understand: brevity is where I live. For the next week, I won’t use two words where one will do. If I seem testy, don’t take it personally. It is only because I am spending my days looking for any spark of conflict and then cupping it in my hands and blowing on it. To my friend who has recently had a baby, I’m sorry I haven’t called. I’ve been up at night walking the floors with my own colicky manuscript. To my neighbor, whose son just left for college, I’m thinking of you, I really am. To my former sister-in-law who just lost her beloved uncle, I love you and I’m sorry for your pain. To my children, my mother-in-law, my co-author, my best friend, my editors at the journal, my book club, my sisters, my mother, my poor neglected husband, my cat, my garden, and my yoga mat, I’m sorry I love you all. Please just allow me one more week of being here but being absent. Just seven more days, I...

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At the r.kv.r.y. blog. Here’s an excerpt: MA: I’ve read that you feel one of your themes to be “the redemptive power of art.” I love that. It makes so much sense to me, but I’m wondering if you could extrapolate on that for our readers. DL: I’ll say this inadequately, as neither a scholar nor an artist. I’m an ex-newspaper reporter who spent thirteen years getting her first book of fiction out. Art requires so much discipline, and receptivity; and in return it connects you with humanity, and transcends what is mundane about humanity, too. This may sound crazy, but striving for all of that makes me feel forgiven, like I have a right to be here after all. Just the act of reading and writing, or answering your questions and looking up what Chekhov said about being cold, bonds me with other souls who care about story, books, language, a higher purpose. I need that. And I need to write about people who don’t yet realize what it means to be touched by that. Of course I may be producing absolute dreck while rereading Faulkner or Toni Morrison. But as long as I show up, I’m plugging into something larger and more vibrant than anything else I could probably manage to do. So I wish that for my characters. I see art—and science too; think of Andrea Barrett’s work—as a driving force for some of them, or as a real lack in their lives. Remember that art can be provocative, and artists troubled. The possibilities in fiction are...

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I’ve passed a good couple of weeks as a writer. The writing life (at least for me) most often involves alternating periods of boom-bust, feast-famine, mania-depression…choose your metaphor, but the fact is we writers often go through long periods of working away quietly at the desk with nothing from the outside world, followed by intense bursts of activity, publicity, and scrutiny. Summer was basically my “fallow” period and now things are ratcheting back up. I like both states, but I’ve had enough of being fallow for a while so the activity suits me. At the beginning of October, my co-author Andrew Bienkowski and I had a great book club meeting in Niagara Falls. Great food, great discussion, and some really engaged and astute readers. We also sold a lot of books, which always amazes me at book club events, because all the people attending have already purchased and read the book. So it means they liked it enough to buy copies to share with others. Truly, we are blessed to have such supportive and generous readers. Later that week I was on a panel at the Erie County Library discussing the influence of Poe on popular culture. Poe’s work influenced me a great deal, so it was wonderful to have a chance to talk about the man and his work. Oh, and we even received an honorarium from the library. A very nice surprise, that. I had to order more books this week, always a good sign. 🙂 A piece of historical fiction of mine (about a devastating forest fire in the Adirondacks in 1903) just went live at Lacuna: A Day for Burying. My short story Christmas in Phuket which Literary mama published earlier this year was nominated for Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2011, an honor, for sure. And especially heartening as it’s part of the marine ecology themed collection that I’m hoping to find a publisher for soon. I attended an amazing lecture by Her Deepness, Sylvia Earle, Ocean Ambassador. What a generous, expansive, clear-eyed speaker. And she spoke completely without notes. When I grow up, I want to be her. Okay, a cross between Margaret Atwood and her. That’s my plan, anyway. I had a story accepted for an ocean anthology, the proceeds of which will go to help fund the ocean studies of SCRIPPS–excellent, that. But amid all of these positive accomplishments, I find that I still have negative scripts perpetually running in the background of my brain. It’s all too easy to highlight the rejections and downplay the acceptances, the affirmations. And McKenna Donovan talks about this very tendency in a series of...

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First, let me say that I’ve had plenty of amazing audiences and great experiences reading. This isn’t about wallowing in the hard life of an author. I’m lucky, I know that. What I mean to do is share a few awkward reading stories in the spirit of fun. So here’s a recap of five of the more nightmarish ones, in no particular order: 1) The readings I gave with Bronchitis (in Texas) are right up there…I’ll lump them all together because the whole week was a blur, anyway. I was away from home, sick, and expected to socialize after it took everything I had to read without coughing, to force my battered voice to be loud (again!) without a microphone. That was also when I got viral induced asthma that made me think I was dying. Generally a whole big barrel of laughs. 2) The reading at a small feminist bookstore was sort of fun in an awful way–with all of two people in attendance and the Madonna of lesbian porn looking over my shoulder as I read. 3) There was that reading at a Polish conference where…well…not to overshare, but Aunt Flo made an unexpected visit and I had NOTHING in my purse, and so I’m desperately feeding quarters into a broken down machine that turned out to be empty, (while a line forms outside the door), and I’m wearing the absolutely wrong undergarments for this whole enterprise anyway…and well, that one was nightmare #3. 4) The reading to the “writers group” that told me only after I’d said yes that they meet at a Waffle House in Buffalo and so I had something like fried liver and onions and sat beside the only “published author” who had written and self-published the story of his mother’s cat (or some such) and we read while the waitresses all cleaned up around us, clanking dishes and walking in between us as we read, and not one person bought a book but everyone was crazy talking endlessly about themselves and their projects and standing too close while talking earnestly and rapidly, even talking while following me out to my car. 5) But today may have taken the cake. (Here’s a quirky preamble: I decided to run a quick mile on the treadmill before getting ready–take the edge off my nerves. As I’m running, I entertain this morbid fantasy about tripping and knocking my front teeth out and then giving a toothless reading. Haha, right?) So, I shower and try on ten different outfits before I settle on the right one, change shoes (and socks) four times, print out directions, and then...

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