Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni on Creating Suspense, Multiple POVs, and More: An Interview with the Author of Oleander Girl

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Simon & Schuster ~ 289 pages

Interview by Debby DeRosa

How much of our identity is decided by our background, and how much can we choose?  18-year-old orphan Korobi Roy must find out for herself during the course of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel, Oleander Girl.Sheltered by her traditional grandfather, Korobi has grown up knowing little about her parents.  Her only tie to them is a letter her mother wrote to her father, which causes her to long for a love like theirs.  She meets Rajat, a handsome playboy from a wealthy family, and she thinks she has found what she desires.  Then, on the night of her engagement party, her grandfather dies from a heart attack, and she discovers a dark family mystery.  Putting her relationship in jeopardy, she travels from India to the United States to discover who she really is. Told from four points of view, Korobi’s captivating story explores the challenges of navigating a world filled with differences. 
Busy on her book tour, Divakaruni spares some time to share her techniques and intentions in writing Oleander Girl.
The oleander is a prevalent image in your book.  Could you talk a little about the importance of this image in your story and why you chose this particular flower?
The oleander seemed to be the perfect symbol for the book on many levels. It is ambiguous, both positive and negative, beautiful and dangerous --and hardy, capable of protecting itself. It is central to the mystery of the protagonist Korobi’s mother Anu, because Anu (dying at childbirth) chooses to name her daughter after this complicated flower. A question that drives the novel is why Anu chooses to name Korobi after this flower. Why not Rose or Jasmine or Lily, as is more common? It is also a flower that grows in both India and America, connecting the two worlds through which the novel and our protagonist travels.
As the quotes on the cover describe, your story was a “page turner.”I found the book to be incredibly suspenseful because of the family mystery and way you switched points of view.  Could you talk a little about your process of creating suspense?
I think carefully about what to reveal and when. A secret is what propels the action of Oleander Girl, so I had to plan it carefully. I examined literary novels that I have enjoyed which depend for their effect on secrets and mysteries, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I tried to make sure the suspense came as much out of character as out of event, and that its effects upon character were also seen clearly. I tried to plant enough foreshadowing so that the reader never felt tricked. I am glad it worked for you!
Even though you change points of view in the story, Korobi is the main character and heroine.  How did you decide to use multiple points of view?  What challenges and opportunities did this choice create for you when writing the book?
The book has four major narrators. Korobi, the 18-year-old heiress of a distinguished if dilapidated old Kolkata family, is engaged to Rajat, whose family is newly rich and very posh. (He’s actually quite the bad boy, partying hard until he meets Korobi.)She gets a first person narrative as this is largely her story. I decided on first person for her because I want the readers to experience her emotions and bewilderment and conflicts close-up, particularly when she discovers a huge secret that her grandfather has kept from her all her life. The other three—Rajat, her grandmother, and Rajat’s family chauffeur—all get a third person point of view, as I wanted some distance, some irony, in their understanding of their situations. I chose four very distinct characters from different generations andsocial and religious backgrounds so that their vision and understanding of what’s happening, what’s right, and what’s their duty would rub against each other, creating irony and tension.
Place is an important element inthe story.  The action of the story happens in India, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, often at the same time.  On top of that, Korobi speaks with people from Arizona and Georgia in her quest.  Why did you choose to include many places in your story, and how did you achieve the movement between places so seamlessly?
Oleander Girl is based on a mythic structure, the hero’s journey. (Though I’ve partly turned that structure on its head because unlike in the epics or myths like the Iliad where the male hero travels and the wife/sweetheart stays back home, here Korobi is the one who must undertake a dangerous journey alone and Rajat is left in India to feel anxiety, jealousy and some insecurity as he wonders if she will return to him or not.) This is why so many places are necessary in this novel. Place is always important to me. I feel it stamps itself upon character. I’m glad the movements work for you—they were a challenge, particularly as in half the world of the book it is night while in the other half it is daytime, and communication between the characters becomes increasingly difficult.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like people to know about your book?
This book grew out of my urgent belief that, as Auden says so beautifully"We must love one another or die."  How, in this increasingly multicultural world fraught with violence, are we to coexist in peace with people whose religions, beliefs, ideologies and customs are all different and maybe even opposed to ours?  In Oleander Girl, I pose this question, and I hope that by the end of the novel the reader comes up with a satisfying answer.  
Buy the book on Amazon or through independent bookstore Politics & Prose.
More information about Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, including upcoming events. 

Note:  On May 9, Chitra Divakaruni will be in the DC area, reading from Oleander Girl, along with DC writer Manil Suri (who will read from his latest novel, City of Devi):  
7 pm ~ One More Page Books ~ 2200 N. Westmoreland Street, #101 ~ Arlington, VA

About the interviewer:  Debby DeRosa holds a BA in English from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College.  She is scheduled to graduate in June.  She works as a Marketing Manager for Five Star Plumbing Heating Cooling in Greer, SC, and she freelances as a copywriter and content developer.  She and her husband, Joe, have one daughter, Aimee, and they are expecting their second child in August.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Moby-Dick" Opera to Come to Kennedy Center!

I’m absurdly excited that the Washington National Opera will be putting on a production of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick” next year at the Kennedy Center!  By no means am I any kind of opera expert or super-fan, but I’ve always been enthralled by every opera I’ve ever seen; it’s perhaps the only art form where I become so utterly immersed that the irritating armrest-fighter next to me and the germy cougher across the aisle both melt away, leaving only me and the performance.

“Moby-Dick” is a natural for an operatic production, of course:  a epic story with larger than life characters, life and death, man vs. nature, tragedy, whales thrashing about, and a peg-leg!  The only thing missing as far as I can tell is, um, a soprano!  The cast photo shows one woman…not sure who she’ll turn out to be, but I’m looking forward to finding out.  (Research shows that she plays the cabin boy.)

Here’s the link for more info, though individual tickets aren’t available yet (go ahead…subscribe to the whole season!).

Here’s a Washington Post review of the original production in Dallas.  Anne Midgette writes:

“Moby-Dick,” though not perfect, turned out to be one of the most satisfying new operas I’ve seen premiered. And while new work is often seen by audiences as more a duty than a pleasure, the opening-night crowd in Dallas broke into spontaneous applause three times during the first half, and screamed and yelled its approval at the curtain calls. It was a wonderful and rare reminder that new opera truly can excite people if it’s done right.
While I don’t usually read paragraphs marked “spoiler alert”—I did in this Post article, assuming I know the end of the book so what could be spoiled?—but…I didn’t know the end of this opera; and when I read the ending, I got chills down my spine immediately.  I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS OPERA!!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Free Minds Book Club: Formerly Incarcerated Youth Share Their Lives through Poetry

This sounds like an event that will surely be thought-provoking and moving:

Join PEN/Faulkner for an evening of poetry and community dialogue brought to you by Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, PEN/Faulkner's Writers in Schools program, and Hill Center. Come hear formerly incarcerated youth share their experiences at the DC Jail and in federal prison and express their personal stories of change through poetry. A moderated discussion on the root causes of youth incarceration and community solutions will follow. 

While this event is free and open to the public, guests should register for the event with Hill Center here

ON THE SAME PAGE: Voices of Incarcerated Youth
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 
7—9 p.m.
Hill Center
921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20003

Friday, March 22, 2013

Follow-Up on Revision Strategies

Yesterday I wrote about some ideas I read on Facebook about tricks to aid in revising manuscripts.  I put several into action yesterday, and thought I’d report back:

--I did not like retyping!  I mean, I don’t like typing in general, but I found that as I was retyping, my brain sort of shut off and I was just typing the words as quickly as possible.  Perhaps I wasn’t working hard enough to stay out of the mindless zone—for example, perhaps I should have typed a sentence, then paused to stare at it.  I think I was sort of mentally hoping I wouldn’t like this strategy because I really dislike the idea of having to retype a whole book manuscript! I may have biased myself against it.

--I also think the retyping wasn’t working for me because I don’t usually like thinking ONLY about one sentence.  I like thinking about the surrounding sentences…after all, why change “ran” to “hurried” if “hurried” is being used two sentences away?

--As you can guess, I ditched the retyping pretty quickly!  (Plus, what about those new typos that started showing up!?!)

--However, I absolutely loved the giant font strategy.  Within seconds, the story didn’t seem like mine anymore, and I was able to approach it dispassionately.  The words looked different on the screen, as did sentences and paragraphs.  Changing a dash to a comma was a huge deal in 22 font! Each word got my full attention.

--I’ll note that what I was working on was a very short, lyrical piece with basically one scene, so this intense focus was exactly right.  I might feel differently if I were working on something longer, thinking about plot and larger developments, as here I did go a little crazy from time to time when I was looking at a few paragraphs where the story stepped back and I wanted to see more sentences at once.  But really, it was shocking at the end of the day to put the story back into 12 point.  I know that I found changes that I wouldn’t have noticed in regular font, even on paper.  I’m definitely a fan of the giant font.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Strategies for Revision

I was interested by a thread on Facebook, started by writer Matt Bell,* who asked what tricks and strategies the hive mind of Facebook might recommend when it comes to making that switch from draft writing to revision and line editing.

Mindful that I’m swiping a whole bunch of ideas from a whole bunch of smart people (thank you!), I’m going to summarize some of the ideas that resonated with me.

First, my own contributions were mentioned by several people:

--I can do major, big-picture editing on the computer, but when it comes time for the sentence/paragraph level, I always print out the document and work with a red pen.  This doesn’t mean that major, big-picture editing ideas don’t occur to me at this point! But there’s something about seeing the words on the paper that make them look different.

--In that effort to make things seem different, I also go somewhere else to do my paper revising.  Away from my writing desk, with my red pen in hand, my mind snaps into a different focus…no more drifty, first draft, “anything goes” thinking.  Instead, it’s a mind focused on re-ordering a list of three items, or deciding between “said” and “told.” In the ideal world, I’m sitting outside on my deck when I revise. Being away from the internet is helpful.

--I also read out loud at a certain point, usually after I’ve inputted all the red pen revisions.  It’s rare that I’d see a major, big-picture edit at this point, but I definitely see repeated words, boring words, too many words, and typos.  I’ve also made deletions and reworked sentences, especially the last line.  I’ve read entire novels out loud, so I really recommend this step.

Here are some other ideas that emerged:

--Print out your manuscript in a different font.  Again, the idea is to try to make your mind see it fresh, not the same old thing you’ve been sweating over for a month (or longer!).

--Keep it on the computer, but put it in a HUGE font so that the sentences are shaped oddly on the page, appearing to your eye in a new way, slowing you down as you evaluate. 

--There are programs that will read text out loud: use one and see how your work sounds when someone else reads it. Ideally, I suppose it would be James Earl Jones reading your words, but I still think it would be informative to have a robotic computer voice going at it.

--Retype your manuscript. Yes, even if it’s a whole novel!  This one surprised and intrigued me…and, honestly, scared me.  I can definitely see how slowing down in this way would be helpful.  But for me, the physical act of straight typing can become a bit painful, so I would have to weigh that reality against the benefits.  Or perhaps I should look buying into a more ergonomic desk/desk chair!  But I’ve been working on a very short piece, so I think I’m going to try this retyping trick to see what happens.

--Figure out a chart that works for you of where characters are and where moments of tension are.  I have a Venn diagram system for short stories that works for me when I’m thinking about plot/end in that big picture way.

--Write out key points on cards and thumbtack around the room or arrange on a table or whatever works with your set-up.

--Take the scissors to the whole thing:  mix up scenes, sentences, paragraphs.

--Worried about deleting those perfect phrases that you might want later in another draft?  Save them in their own file so you can always go back to them (if needed).  I actually keep every previous draft, in its entirety, which makes for a crowded computer, and also a calmer mind.  How many times have I returned to one of those early drafts to get something from it?  Maybe .01 percent of the time…but I was very happy that I could!

The main point is always to find out what works for you and do that.  These aren’t magic spells—just suggestions.  What works is what works for you.

*I’m definitely intrigued by Matt’s forthcoming book, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods: 

“In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: A Retelling of Wuthering Heights; Abide with Me by Sabin Willet

Abide with Me by Sabin Willett
Simon & Schuster ~ 384 pages

Review by Kasey Ray-Stokes

What happens to love when its only sustenance is its memory? In Abide with Me, Sabin Willett’s first departure from crime dramas, the townsfolk in the small Vermont town of Hoosick Bridgetry to answer that question as they discuss the unlikely romance between the oldest daughter of the town’s most respectable family, Emma Herrick, and the boy from the trailer park across town, Roy Murphy. Left with few options after coming out of the state’s juvenile criminal system, Roy joins the military and leaves Emma behind after spending a whirlwind summer with her.

“It was a natural attraction. It was easy. That was the thing – they meshed so easily. There was no need of talk. But already, during the briefest separations that summer, matters of a day only, the waves of restlessness came, an unquiet that grew with the length of his absence, and subsided when he was near. He had become a kind of addiction for her.”

Determined to do the right thing by her family, Emma tries to forget about Roy and begins her Ivy League schooling but, in the remote deserts of Afghanistan, Roy’s memories of that summer are all he has, and he is determined to return to her.

Willett’s novel is a modern-day retelling of Wuthering Heights – Emma’s sisters are Anna and Charlie, and the family calls their house “The Heights” – but Willett does not stick too closely to the plot of the original Bronte masterpiece. The retelling is in the theme, which is the darker, possessive side of love.

Prior to putting pen to paper, Willett spent a significant amount of time talking to soldiers in Guantanamo Bay, and it is clear in the novel that he did his research for the scenes in Afghanistan. However, what’s interesting to me is the way he captures the emotions of a soldier with PTSD. Like most Americans, the townspeople of Hoosick Bridge seem divided on how to care for veterans suffering from PTSD, but Willett does not shy away from showing what PTSD looks like through the eyes of Roy Murphy.

That being said, this is not a heavily political novel about veteran’s rights. At its core, it’s a tragic love story that is hard to stop reading once you’ve started. After the initial few chapters that set up the world in which Roy and Emma live, the novel picks up the pace and moves along nicely for the remainder of the story. While romance may not be at the forefront of Willett’s novel, the story captivates the reader with authentic characters whose humanity radiates through their personal triumphs and tragedies.

More information:  Sabin Willet website
Purchase book online: Amazon or Indiebound

About the reviewer:  Kasey Ray-Stokes holds a B.A. in English Communications from Armstrong Atlantic State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. Kasey's micro-nonfiction piece, "Hearth," was recently published as part of a collection of flash writing in the 6S Love Book. She also writes and produces independent films through her production company, Still Starr Productions, which she co-founded with her business partner and husband, Mark Ezra Stokes. They reside in Savannah, Georgia, with their son, Benjamin.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite AWP13 Things…

I should feel more organized, having arrived home from Boston and the excitement surrounding a gathering of 11,000 writers three (or is it four?) days ago, but…well, I don’t!  There are too many memorable moments, bolts of inspiration, slack-jawed awe, crazy frustrations, and excellent meals to get them all down here, but I shall try to get a number of them (especially the meals!):

--Metropolis, in the South End.  Guided by Steve’s cousin and wife, we snagged a cute table by the window and were treated to a fabulous beet and goat cheese salad that puts all other beet and goat cheese salads to shame, followed by an amazing, perfectly cooked sole under garlicky crumbs with a fennely broth that got me going double-time with a spoon AND the incredible bread.  Walking back to the hotel, the night took an interesting turn with a dramatic police chase—“I wonder why those guys are running so fast…and why those cars are driving 50 miles an hour in a residential neighborhood…the wrong way down the one-way street!—and a glimpse of recent Top Chef winner Kristen, peering out the door of Stir, where she works, to catch the police chase.  Yes, she’s as beautiful in person as she is on TV!

--Back to the South End for lunch at B&G Oysters, one of those long, lingering, late lunches complete with a bottle of white wine.  We each had half a dozen oysters (from places I didn’t know oysters came from—Marionport, MA! Watch Hill, RI!—and then we shared a plate of fried clams (best I’ve had!) and a lush lobster roll.  I believe we shared dessert, though it was so good we should have had our own:  a “chocolate tablet” with smoked caramel sauce I could have slurped by the glassful.  Oh, you don’t believe me, endlessly going on about how “fabulous” meals are?  Well, Kristen walked in for an even later lunch just as we were about to leave…yes, I’d say that anyplace that’s good enough for a Top Chef is probably pretty dang fabulous!  (Yes, I did wonder if she was stalking ME….)

--The Back Bay and South End areas of Boston are stunningly gorgeous, with scads of Victorian houses and brownstones and expensive shops, including a wonderful chocolate shop, L.A. Burdick, where we bought some amazing caramels (notice a theme?) and some chocolate mice! (If only we’d had the time to have a cup of hot chocolate.) We also liked Siena Farms, a cute little food market with an interesting array of spices, veggies, and delectables, and then, yes, we chatted with the chef doing prep work in Kristen’s restaurant, Stir, which, as it turns out, has a great collection of cookbooks for sale.  (Oops, who’s stalking whom??) And how friendly everyone is:  at Stir, we got the scoop on our evening destination, Drink, a craft cocktail bar that was noisier and more chaotic than those places tend to be, but the drinks were mighty fine.    Plus, it’s not every day you get to watch a bartender saw a clear block of ice the size of a gallon of milk into perfect two-inch squares.  (Yes, he still had all his fingers as we left.)

--Poor Steve had to leave the next day as the blizzard began. He probably ate something at the airport, but I received no reports.

--But the blizzard was actually lovely, especially from my room on the 30th floor of the Westin, overlooking the Charles River, and also especially since the convention center was attached to three hotels through a well-trudged pathway over skywalks and through malls.  You think writers don’t suffer…try walking past Barney’s and Nieman Marcus day after day after day, knowing you’d be lucky to get the price of one cute dress there as payment for your collection of finely-wrought linked story collection!! (I must note the presence of Teavana, a mall tea shop with a 16-page menu of tea. Recommended!)

--The blizzard was slightly less lovely on Thursday night, walking through it for three blocks to the Red Lantern, an Asian restaurant.  Within those three blocks, we were nearly knocked down by wind twice, could not step forward against the powerful wind, caught a couple pockets of “oh, this isn’t soooo bad,” and then had our cheeks slashed to ribbons by the icy snow attacking us horizontally. Truly, this is not an exaggeration.  How happy to see through the storm a red lantern at the end of the block, indicating we would survive the journey!  And how happy to order a gigantic bowl of spicy noodles—all the carbs needed for the walk home.

--While the blizzard had subsided somewhat the next night, it seemed foolhardy to travel too far. (I mean, Pa Ingalls had enough sense to stay put in a snowbank in The Banks of Plum Creek, so didn’t it make sense to stick around a giant mall complex?) So off to Lucca, a dim and vast Italian restaurant one block, many puddles, and much slush away.  Worth the trip for the softball-size flourish of fluffy white bean spread, whipped with olive oil and garlic, that I could have eaten with a spoon, though the idea was to spread it on bread.  Sautéed calamari!  Gnocchi!  Scallops the size of a baby’s fist, beautifully seared!  It makes me sick now to think that I had to pass up dessert…what I wouldn’t give to check out that tiramisu right this very minute…!

--And the last meal:  The Elephant Walk, elegant French-Cambodian food beyond Fenway Park, with a great prix-fixe three-course menu.  I chose spring rolls—so crisp!  And a nice arugula-beet salad (not sure that’s Cambodian at all, but it was exciting to eat vegetables), and a dish called lo-lac (lac-lo?) which was composed of marinated, slightly caramelized beef and a lovely mound of white rice as soft as a down blanket. I love the healthy brown rice that I generally eat, but this white rice was so spectacular, it could have been dessert.

--As for the conference itself, the best candy at the book fair was at Vermont College of Fine Arts: maple sugar maple leaves!  I shamelessly ate three of them, maybe four, and possibly five—but I was having a wonderful discussion with one of their graduates who told me about the benefits of learning how to tell a story by attempting to write a picture book manuscript, so I felt entitled.

--Yes, there was more than food, of course.  While my favorite part of the AWP is always seeing dear friends and catching up with Writers From My Past, I do make a point to attend a couple of panels and/or readings each day.  Nothing I went to was a total dud, and some of the events were genuinely exciting, so here’s a quick taste of what I saw and learned:

--I went to several panels about the blurred lines of late between fiction and memoir and whether we’re in a post-genre world (though as someone pointed out, “Only people at this conference care about that. Readers just want a good story.” Or even know what the word “genre” is, I suppose.).  The bottom line seemed to be to write your story and, of course, don’t out-and-out lie with intention if you’re calling it a memoir, but to remember that genre is a publishing category as much as anything. Be an artist. On this topic, I was especially impressed by the “Genre in the 21st Century” panelists: Stephen Elliott, Nick Flynn, Kazim Ali, Kelly Groome, and moderator Lacy Johnson.  In fact, a number of the panels actually featured a true moderator, who asked thoughtful questions of the panelists; I’m not sure if this is a new thing, or I lucked into panels with this format, but it was a welcome relief from the 20-minute papers of the past.  The point of memoir is about the deeper mysteries, not people caring about your life, someone noted, and “we (as artists) create what people are ready for,” which means don’t be afraid of new ways of expression and new forms. 

--Another great panel on this subject of fiction/memoir included Michael Thomas, Lily King, and Jeanette Winterson, who I had never seen speak before but now would drive through a raging snowstorm to see again.  She was so smart and so inspiring!  You could simply feel everyone in the room falling utterly in love with her.  Accept that you will be misunderstood as an artist, she said, “don’t be a writer if you can’t cope with that kind of misunderstanding.”  With regard to writing about family and such, Michael Thomas helpfully added, “It’s going to be a shitstorm no matter what.”  Jeanette Winterson added, “Live with the questions…live with the difficulty and discomfort [of writing]— in a joyful way.”

--I was so excited to attend a panel about J.D. Salinger that I wasn’t deterred by its 9AM start time.  The stated topic was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction, but the conversation roamed around Salinger’s life and his influence on contemporary writers.  The panel was smart and included Joanna Smith Rakoff, who’s coming out with a book about the year she spent answering Salinger’s fan mail when she worked for his agent (and, apparently, never snooped around in the manuscript boxes sitting around that may have contained HIS WORK!!) and Thomas Beller, who is writing (or wrote?) a biography of Salinger, and some other smart writers:  Jess Row, Elisa Albert, and Gabriel Brownstein.  I cannot express enough how happy this conversation made me…the impact of Salinger’s war experiences, the attacks on his from his contemporaries in the reviews, mysticism, self-loathing, the fact that Salinger loved watching TV in his later years, and so much more!  It was like a combination of juicy gossip, armchair psychology, fascinating insights, and secrets being spilled.

--I also really enjoyed the reading sponsored by VIDA (who does such good work on tallying the shocking and dismaying disparity between how men and women’s work is reviewed and published in the big journals/magazines).  Elissa Schappell and Meg Wolitzer were smart and bold, their writing powerful and supple.  Cheryl Strayed offered gracious and personal introductions and led a thoughtful discussion of gender issues in publishing.  The perfect finale for my conference!

--And then it was back home, loaded like a pack mule with literary journals and books from the bookfair, words spinning, ideas swirling, plans taking shape…ready to take on the blank screen once again.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Margot Livesey on How to Create Vivid Characters

I’ll be leaving for AWP tomorrow, so no more blogging for the rest of the week.  But luckily, Redux has published a fantastic essay by writer Margot Livesey about creating characters, so I can leave off by urging you to read this smart and elegant piece:

Anyone who has read Margot Livesey’s books (which include Eva Moves the Furniture Homework, and The Flight of Gemma Hardy,) will find this hard to believe, but Livesey claims, “I am character handicapped.”  She writes,

“This essay grows out of my efforts to understand why the process of creating characters in fiction often seems so elusive and what we can do to make it less so.  To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor’s famous remark about story, everyone knows what a character is, until they sit down to create one.”
Through a close consideration of memorable characters, she comes up with valuable insights that will aid writers at any point in their writing career, reaching back to Aristotle, E.M. Forster, William Gass, and following up with her own observations, making a compelling case for one quality particularly necessary for successful character development:

 This seems to me the key to creating vivid and memorable characters.  It is also, I think, the reason why doing so can prove such a tricky task.  No amount of detail – eyes, teeth, hair, jobs, dreams, relationship to mother, history of dog ownership, bank balance – will avail unless it conveys attitude. 
There’s much more!  Read on.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Best List of Colonies, Ever! (and more)

DC poet and mover&shaker Kim Roberts has redesigned the website for Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and the resources available for writers are impressively stunning.  The focus is on the DMV (oh, come on…that still sounds like a government agency to me, not a geographical area), but writers everywhere will be interested in the comprehensive list of colonies and residencies and information about area reading series.

Here are some of the categories:

National artist residencies, divided by geographic area
Local journals
Reading series
Small presses

Go to the main website and look for the “resources” button at the upper right.  So much info! And if you want your group/event listed, you can find submission info here.

You’ll also find news about and for area poets, including upcoming readings and forthcoming books.  Thank you, Kim, for what is clearly a true LABOR and a true LOVE of the local writing scene.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.