My Writing Blog Process Tour
I am taking part in a blog tour of different writers' processes, and we are all answering the same four questions about how and what we write. The wonderful novelist Rene Steinke invited me to do this, and you can see her answers here:
My answers are below, and following me will be Peter Trachtenberg, Edie Meidav and Christopher Sorrentino--you can see their bios and links below. It's fun and has been really interesting to see how "the house of literature has many windows"
Here we go!
1) What are you working on right now?
Right now I am at the beginning stages of a new novel.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Each of my books has been very different from each other—a memoir about becoming a trapeze artist and running away to the circus; a contemporary coming of age novel taking place in New York City, and a novel set in the early part of the twentieth century in a New England mill town. The only thing they really have in common is a strong female protagonist, and a very specific time and place that person inhabits, but isn’t that true of many novels? I think that what is marks differences between writers is sometimes style of course, but voice and tone more than anything. Just as my personal DNA is different than another person’s, writer or non-writer, my tone is different as well. How do you describe tone? That’s hard because it’s like music—you can hear it better than you can describe it.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I think I am usually trying to answer some kind of question for myself—or maybe writing is a way of honing in on and refining the question. Then new questions occur. I also try to go toward something that frightens me. If I think of something and it frightens me to imagine it for one of my characters, or just makes my nervous system react in some way, then I get really interested in why that is. I am compelled to see what will happen in that situation, place or event.
4) How does your writing process work?
I walk a lot when I am writing. I’ll take a few short walks or one longer walk when I have a whole day to write. Perhaps more when I am at the beginning stages, like now, but also when I have something I’m trying to solve or refine in the later stages. I’m lucky that I live near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, though I am also happy to walk the city streets. I usually enjoy revising more than creating the very first draft, but there can be moments of exhilaration in that first stage of having only a very general sense of the shape of the book, when paths open up that I didn’t expect. Sometimes they’re dead ends, of course, but sometimes they reveal something that I wasn’t aware of. I also have a large blackboard made from a hollow core door painted with blackboard paint (easy to do!) and I like to draw on that with colored chalk or write things on it—though what I write would only make sense to me so it is sort of written in code. My next goal is to make a standing desk so I can stand up when I write.
Now I am passing the baton to the following wonderful writers:
Edie Meidav is the author of the novels LOLA,CALIFORNIA (FSG), CRAWL SPACE (FSG) , THE FAR FIELD: A NOVEL OF CEYLON (Houghton Mifflin), and the imminent DOGS OF CUBA. Her work has received a Lannan Award, a Howard Award, a Bard Fiction Prize, a Kafka Award for Best Novel by an American Woman and has been called an editorial pick by the N Y Times and other papers. She teaches in the MFA program at the University of Massachussetts in Amherst.
Peter Trachtenberg is the author of 7 Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh, The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning, and Another Insane Devotion, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. His honors include the Whiting Award, the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches in the creative writing program of the University of Pittsburgh and in the core faculty of the Bennington Writing Seminars.www.petertrachtenberg.com
Christopher Sorrentino is the author of Sound on Sound, Trance, and other books. His new novel, The Fugitives, will be published next year by Simon & Schuster. www.christophersorrentino.com/news
View from My Studio:
I have been invited to participate in a writer's blog about process and will be posting that soon, but in the meantime wanted to show a picture of WHERE I am writing at the moment: the Vermont Studio Center in beautiful Johnson, Vermont, where I am fortunate to have received a Grace Paley Fiction Fellowship for four weeks of time and quiet in a beautiful studio by the river. Thank you, Vermont Studio Center!
03 Indian Summer final 1
Al Maddy and I have been writing songs together since 2009. It all started with the film of "Capture the Flag" when we needed a song for the movie and someone suggested Al. He's been playing in rock n roll bands and writing songs all his life and I was lucky he was available and up for it. Lisanne Skyler, our director, wanted a sixties sound for a party scene, but we couldn't afford to buy the rights to the Rolling Stones song we really wanted. Al fooled around with some song ideas and finally said to me, "Hey Beka, you write lyrics. You know what this is all about. Why don't you write the lyrics and we'll see if it flies." We did. It flew. The song ended up in the movie and started a song writing jag that has been going on intermittently ever since. We've got a lot of songs now, and as an experiment, we're going to start a sort of open "notebook" of our work together: revisiting some of our existing material, writing new stuff, sharing our conversations, wild surmises and posting songs as they come along. Here's the first one, written for the movie of "Capture the Flag":
"Indian Summer" with Al singing vocals.
Like most people who grew up in New York, I've been fascinated by the dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History since I was a kid running around the museum every rainy afternoon. Unlike most people, I recently got a backstage tour of the process of creating these incredible works of art with the former project director, Steve Quinn, who recently retired after some thirty years at the museum. In his book, "Windows On Nature", Quinn explains that the landscapes we see painted behind the animals in the foreground are not random scenes of an environment where you will find these animals. They are in fact specific places where the museum sent the artists, along with scientists collecting plant specimens and hunters collecting the animals for the taxidermy. In fact, the museum STILL creates dioramas of a whole variety of places, and always sends the artists there to do field sketches. Now, before everyone gets upset about the taxidermy, I have to point out that the museum is dedicated to conservation as part of its mission, and OF COURSE there are no animals "collected" nowadays. But times were different at the turn of the century when many of these animals were collected. Back in the golden age of dioramas, during the first half of the Twentieth Century, the artists themselves were hunters and naturalists as well as explorers and geographers. Carl Akeley was perhaps the most famously adventurous of them all. He was nearly killed several times, once by an elephant and once by a leopard. He was also a sculptor and a visionary, and he came up with the technique that makes the creatures in the dioramas so lifelike--but you have to read the book to find out about that. Trust me, it is amazing. You don't have to know anything about the dioramas to know that they are magical, but when I read Quinn's book and had the experience of walking around the museum with him, I realized that these dioramas are a place where science, art and theatre meet. The museum and the artists are scrupulous about reproducing the setting and the landscape. Teams of foreground and background artists reproduce the flora and fauna with scientific precision because these dioramas are meant to show us something in nature that most of us will never see in our lifetimes. The place where the background painting and the three dimensional foreground meet is called the "tie in" and how these artists work together to make a seamless whole is where the illusion of theatre begins. A shadow from the actual lighting inside the box of the diorama is painted out on the floor so that the scene will remain true to where the shadows would be at dawn on the Libyan desert. As Quinn says, the dioramas capture a moment in time. An exact time of day but also a time that is lost in history. The backgrounds that were painted are often no longer there. A wetland has become a city, the smoke from village campfires in the distance, exactly reproduced by an artist in the 1930's, is now replaced by refugee camps when you stand looking from the same spot that was first chosen as the vantage point for a diorama--as Quinn and other museum artists have done. I came away from my day with Quinn even more impressed than when I arrived, armed only with his beautiful book. A time when artists were also field naturalists, explorers and geographers seems very long ago. And though it was certainly a boy's club, there were some fearless women there too. Rebels like Gertrude Sanford Legendre who led an expedition for the museum to Ethiopia in 1928 (because she paid for it!) and came home with the Nyalas displayed in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals and a fiancé, Sydney Legendre, one of her companions on the expedition. Carl Akeley's first and second wives were hunters, explorers and geographers in their own right. Every diorama has its own secret history, and here is a link to the book which you can order or buy at the museum bookshop after you wander the great halls. We all love the Squid and the Whale, but who knows where the Whitney Hall of Pacific Bird Life is now hidden?
The Cicadas are here, at least they were everywhere in the Hudson Valley this weekend. Every tree limb was lined with them, husks crunching underfoot and the electric buzz of winged procreation that never stopped. It was searingly hot, and I was thinking about the heat and time it took for all of these creatures to burst from the ground after seventeen years of gestation. Where were each of us seventeen years ago? Where will we be seventeen years from now? Will we be here at all? I know that I've been through more than one transformation in the last seventeen years. Apparently when the cicadas are larvae their wings are still liquid. A friend said this weekend, "that's like me, my wings are still liquid." I knew what she meant. I also thought a lot about slowing down. The heat slows you down, and when you think of waiting seventeen years for the next phase of metamorphosis, that slows you down. Stop and think about where you were seventeen years ago . . . that can slow you down for a minute. I saw another unusual nest last week outside the window of an apartment in Chinatown. This is the home of the lovely Silvia, who lives in an apartment painted all white, goes on tour with her boyfriend's band, and when she is home in New York she works as a hair stylist. You only find out about Silvia from other people who know about Silvia, and her building feels like old New York, which I guess that means the Seventies to me. A three story building where everyone knows each other, and the neighborhood is revealed though the lettering of the signs you pass: Chinese, Hebrew, Hipster Design (is that a language? I think it is). When you climb to the third floor, past the Paper Bag Players rehearsal space on the ground floor, you reach the landing outside Silvia's apartment, where you remove your shoes and are offered tea or water. Last spring, Silvia noticed that a pigeon or Rock Dove, as they are officially called, made a nest and hatched babies in the metal frame outside her window that is built to hold an air conditioner (you don't see these much anymore--nowadays we shove the AC out there with a few bricks underneath it and hope it won't crash to the sidewalk below--why don't more air conditioners fall out of windows at that terrifying moment when your super or your boyfriend, or you and your roommate are balancing it on the ledge before you close the window down to hold it? Better not think too much about that). This year, Silvia wove branches above and below into the metal frame, and put in a bird bath by filling a ceramic window box with water. The dove came back, and was now sitting on its second round of eggs. Silvia says the mother and father take turns sitting, and they never leave the eggs alone, though they don't seem disturbed by various humans leaning in for closer look (these are city birds after all). I am writing this from the reading room at the great New York Public Library, with the rain beating against the arched windows and a painted mural of blue sky and clouds framed by gold gilt on the ceiling. An image of nature framed by an ornate example of humanity. This room is filled with people gestating, hatching, transforming their thinking in seventeen seconds, seventeen minutes, seventeen years.
Here's the photo of my youngest at the Egyptian cafe, didn't seem to get posted on the last blogpost. More hipstomatic mania.
Also The Literary Review (TLR) will be publishing an excerpt of my new book, "Looking for Robinson Crusoe" in their upcoming issue, and there may be a secret archival Chace Photo in that issue as well, but more to come . . . Very VERY happy to be part of The Literary Review! I will post the link here when that issue comes out.
It's late May in Brooklyn and yesterday the weather changed from spring to summer. Cherry blossoms are gone from the Brooklyn Botanic, but the Wisteria and the lilacs remain . . . and as summer approaches (and classes end) the Beka Blog is back!
A few upcoming pieces to keep an eye out for: Postroad Magazine will be publishing a personal essay about my visit to Cairo in December, where I considered the Cairo of Naguib Mahfouz' "Cairo Trilogy" in contrast to today's Cairo of the revolution. This was a trip to visit my oldest daughter and budding journalist, Pesha Magid. Here is her picturet taken in Cairo (with sunglasses, incognito) and a picture of my youngest who came along as well, enjoying Egyptian cafe life. You can read about the trip in Postroad and I'll link it here when it comes out. We got a little carried away with the Hipstamatic, as you can see:
Also in Postroad will be a short piece on Primo Levi's "Periodic Table"--I'll post links to these when these issues come out, and Thank You Postroad!
I have been painting chairs this summer. It is my second summer visiting my boyfriend at his country house in the Catskills, though it’s not only my boyfriend’s house. The house belongs to him and his wife. I am here because his wife is dead. She passed away two and a half years ago, and her death sometimes feels as blunt and brutal as the undeniable fact that the phrase “passed away” is trying to soften. I didn’t know her, but she was a powerful woman who died too young and left behind an adolescent son and a husband of twenty years.
Loving someone who has such loyalty to the one who came before is not without complications. This house is filled with photos of his wife, the two of them with their son, aglow with the happiness of a good marriage. They had one child and the sense I get is that this boy completed their world. The three of them created a perfect geometry for each other. I also have adolescent children, but their father is alive. He and I were not the perfect geometry for each other, and there are no framed photos of my married life in my home anymore. (cont'd)
Listen to my essay on turning books into movies, which aired today on NPR's "All Things Considered" today. Here's the link - feel free to comment and share if you like!
I have another piece about sailing with my father on AOL if you are interested in more memories and reflections . . .
I have a piece on the Huffington Post for Father's Day, about sailing in Buzzard's Bay, the setting of the fictional "Rock Harbor" Check it out!
most independent bookstores as of July 18, 2010. Simon and Schuster has decided to
make the novel available in paperback to coincide with the release of Leaving Rock Harbor
and the film version of Capture the Flag, directed by Lisanne Skyler and adapted by
Lisanne Skyler and Rebecca Chace.
The short film stars Jane Stiles and Scott Cohen and will be screening next at the
Nantucket Film Festival, June 17-20, 2010.
Go to Capture the Flag Film to find out more!
Amazing turn out at 192 Books and so much fun at our "after party" as well. Thanks to all who came down, and especially to the wonderful Jack MacCrae who has made a real home for writers with his wonderful bookstore. Also thanks so much to Oblong Books in Rhinebeck! Great to be there, such a warm welcome and thank you to all who made it to the reading.
On to Baker Books, in Dartmouth, MA (near Fall River and New Bedford: the setting of the book) on June 16th, and then to the Nantucket Film Festival on June 17th for the screening of the short film of "Capture the Flag" (check out our link to the film here on the website) and also a book event on Nantucket as well!
I just wanted to share the bookseller quote that Indie Next is using on their shelftalkers:
“Tightly written, this is a novel full of love, rich New England history, and a vivid description of New England mill town's economic troubles in the wake of World War I. Frankie Ross, an independent, stubborn young woman tells us her story of loving two men, one of wealthy, upper middle class privilege and the other a Portuguese mill worker. An engaging read, and not just for New Englanders!”
--Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
We've completed production on the short film based on my first novel, Capture the Flag, which is premiering at the Aspen Short Film Festival on April 10th and will be shown at the Nantucket Film Festival June 17 - 20.
Hey, this good news just in! Very exciting . . .
LEAVING ROCK HARBOR has been chosen as a June Indie Notable Book, which means it will be featured on Bookweb.org & IndieBound.org, including a downloadable shelf talker with a quote from a bookseller who wrote in to nominate the book.
Check out the posting on the Powell's website for the book, plus the book trailer! I will have an essay in the June Powell's newsletter and I'm thrilled. I am a huge Fan of Powell's in Portland, a shrine for readers and writers.
Some really nice staff picks to be glad about . . .Thank you!
This one from the beloved Strand Bookstore here in old NYC
This just in, a wonderful quote from Richard Russo. Here's what he said:
"An irresistible read, in part because its protagonist, Frankie Ross, seduces us on the first page and never surrenders our affection, but also because fictional Rock Harbor, feels as real as she does."
-- Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls
Check out this early review on Braincandybook reviews . . . interview on same site to come.
Silvia's nesting dove, look carefully …
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