Beginning IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS, by Tim O’Brien

The recommendation is six years old, from a print-out she took home with her during her 2012 residency in Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers. We six writers in June 2012 did a lot of sharing of our favorite books. Someone decided to type them up. Self took the list home, and promptly lost it. She found it again, just a month ago, stuck in the back of a drawer of her writing desk in Redwood City. There, on p. 3, were two books by Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods.

Self began with The Things They Carried. She read it decades ago, taught it to classes. It’s held up. She liked most of the stories.

She decided not to do too much advance research on In the Lake of the Woods. She assumed it was another book about Vietnam.

She loves that O’Brien begins with descriptions of the lake. The lake is in his short stories, too — there is such a lyricism to his descriptions of it. She loves that In the Lake of the Woods is about a wounded candidate, a man who’s lost an election by a landslide.

Also, she loves (so far) the mystery.

  • Anthony L. (Tony) Carbo: Show me a politician, I’ll show you an unhappy childhood.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

What’s Available in The Only Bookstore in Redwood City, CA

Self is reviewing her reading list. Really, it’s become almost an obsession. She goes into the closest bookstore to her house, the Barnes & Noble in Sequoia Station, and out of a list of 22 book titles (novels published 2017), she found just these three:

  • As Lie Is to Grin, by Simeon Marsalis
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
  • Mikhail and Margarita, by Julie Lekstrom Himes

She doesn’t wish to knock her neighborhood Barnes & Noble because it really is a good store, with a better-than-average fiction section. Anyhoo, congratulations to authors Marsalis, Saunders and Himes for having their books in the store.

BTW, an island book which was recently published and which self highly recommends is Lillian Howan’s The Charm Buyers, set in Tahiti. She read it when it was first published last year and it is just the most luscious thing.

A week ago, self went back to her B & N, toting along a list of 60 titles, all recommended by her fellow Hawthornden writers in June 2012 (She found this list again just a few weeks ago; it was stuck in a drawer), and all she found in the store were these:

  • The Things They Carried and The Lake in the Woods, by Tim O’Brien
  • Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
  • The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michael Faber
  • Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Granted, the Hawthornden list is made up of books at least several years old.

When she was last in Mendocino, she took her list of Island Books to Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, and the salesperson, a very nice young man, told her: “With all due respect, these books are pretty old.” (I’d say! For example, these titles: To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, published 1927; The Fish Can Sing, by Halldor Laxness, published 1957; A House For Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul; published ___ decades ago?; Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown, published 1972)

She found Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey and when she was paying for it, she kept telling the bookstore person who rang up the sale: This is a very good book! Why do you only have one copy?

And the beleaguered staff person had to say: Well, we don’t normally have people come in from the street asking for The Odyssey.

Poor guy! Self didn’t mean to be so insistent but she is absolutely relentless in her quest for the Holy Grail — er, for the books on her list!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Adding to the Reading List: A Process

Self is back home in Redwood City, California. About a mile from her house is a Barnes & Noble (in the Sequoia Station shopping center). She spent about an hour in there today, updating her reading list (The list is her ne plus ultra, her be-all and end-all, her secret game plan, and her whole raison d’etre as a writer).

She’s newly arrived from Mendocino, California (which has a pretty fabulous bookstore: Gallery Bookshop on Main Street), and her first stop is, of course, a bookstore.

Gallery Bookshop had on hand: The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway); Lord of the Flies (William Golding); Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys); The Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey (Homer); Utopia (Thomas More); As Lie Is to Grin (Simeon Marsalis); Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders); Mikhail and Margarita (Julie Lekstrom Himes); and The Summer Book, by Finnish writer Tove Jansson.

This afternoon, in her Redwood City Barnes & Noble, self went in with a long list of about 20 authors who published novels in 2017. She found two of the 20. She moved on to her next list, the list of books recommended by her fellow writers in Hawthornden, Scotland, June 2012. She struck out on all the names on p. 1 (The list is three pages long, single-spaced), except for Tim O’Brien, all of whose books are available in-store. She was kinda hoping it wouldn’t be O’Brien because his books, though very well written, are depressing. Self asked if they had any of Tamar Yoseloff’s poetry collections, but they did not.

So that’s what her reading list looks like for the remainder of 2018. She doesn’t think anything can top Philip Pullman, though. She was such a mess yesterday that a fellow fan fiction writer had to reach out and say, about The Amber Spyglass: It is safe to read “mid-way on p. 419 to 420. Then put the book away forever.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Four Weeks In Hawthornden, Scotland, June 2012

The benefactress Drue Heinz passed away recently, and there was outpouring of sadness from all Hawthornden alums. The impact she had on writers around the world was amazing.

June 2012, self availed of one of Ms. Heinz’s enduring legacies: the Hawthornden Retreat for Writers, near Edinburgh (40 minutes by public bus from). Four wonderful weeks, with five other writers: Allison Amend, Richard Lemm, Jenny Lewis, Marylee McDonald, and Joan McGavin.

One of us volunteered to write down every book recommendation, every movie recommendation, every poem recommendation, every television series recommendation and every short story recommendation. Self completely forgot about this list, until today.

She’s going through her house in Redwood City, inch by inch. At the back of a drawer, she pulled out this list. She didn’t have time to look at it in Redwood City, which must be why she brought it with her to Mendocino. Here are some of the book recommendations (The list is three pages long, double-sided. Self has no time)

FANTASY

  • Guy Gavriel Kay: The Fionavar Tapestry

MEMOIR

  • John Steinbeck: Travels with Charlie

NONFICTION

  • Jim Rosenberger: High Steel

NOVELS

  • Bhira Backhaus: Under the Lemon Trees
  • John Banville: Doctor Copernicus
  • Andrea Barrett: The Voyage of the Narwhal
  • Joseph Boyden: Three Day Road
  • Michael Byers: Percival’s Planet
  • Sarah Shun-lien Bynum: The Ms. Hempel Chronicles
  • Michael Crummey: Galore
  • Richard Flanagan: Wanting and Death of a River Guide
  • Katherine Govier: Angel Walk
  • Eleanor Henderson: Ten Thousand Saints
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: Under Heaven
  • Larry McMurtry: Hud
  • Howard Norman: The Bird Artist
  • Marge Piercy: Gone to Soldiers
  • John Steffler: The Afterlife of George Cartwright
  • Elizabeth Strout: Abide With Me and Olive Kitteridge
  • Rosemary Sutcliffe: The Eagle of the Ninth
  • Adam Thorpe: Ulverton
  • Sigrid Undset: Kristin Lavransdatter

NOVELLAS

  • Josh Weil: The New Valley (3 novellas)

POETRY

  • Tamar Yoseloff: The City With Horns

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

  • Andrea Barrett: Ship Fever
  • Evgenia Citkowitz (Hawthornden Alum): Ether: Seven Stories and a Novella
  • Michael Faber: The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories and The Fahrenheit Twins
  • Tim O’Brien: Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, The Lake in the Woods
  • Tobias Wolff: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

#amwriting: A Story Begun in Hawthornden

Just to show you how mind-numbingly slow her mind is, there are stories she’s begun five, even 10 years ago, whose words sit in her MacBook, languishing.

Five years ago, while self was in Hawthornden, she met two British poets: Joan McGavin and Jenny Lewis.

After dinner, while we all gathered in the parlor, these two would talk. And if self did nothing in that whole month she was there (June 2012) except listen to the stories, she would count that month well spent.

She also remembers visiting the National Museum in Edinburgh, and seeing there a figure of Dolly the Sheep. And dreaming of a giant Dolly the Sheep looking in through the manor windows.

Dolly the Sheep was the first successfully cloned sheep. She was born on 5 July 1996 and died on 14 February 2003.

Self was channeling sheep apparently because she even began writing a Dolly the Sheep story, which began:

  • The ghost of Dolly the Sheep, and three dun-polled cows.

Hawthornden was the place where self worked on editing Magellan’s Mirror for J Journal. And that is quite a fantastical story (The Philippines populated by a race of giants).

Then she began going to Ireland and started writing dystopia.

Goal for today: Finish that Dolly the Sheep story!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

#amreading “Salt” from Joan McGavin’s PASSING ARCADIA CLOSE

Rivers fascinate self.

Here’s a poem about rivers from Joan McGavin’s second collection, Passing Arcadia Close (Oversteps Books 2017).

Self met Joan 2012, in Hawthornden.

SALT

by Joan McGavin

The changing taste of rivers
told me where I was heading.
How could I fail to swim faster?
I’d hugged the coast for hours,
kept the lap of landbound waves
to my right, where the tang of fresh water
mixed in with salt would flood
the roof of my mouth
at each estuary.

At night I dozed in the hammock between waves
or beached and slept away from houses
but within earshot of tides.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Selfie! Sylvain Landry Year 2 Theme 1

Sylvain Landry’s blog is a meeting place for photographers. Self loves participating in his photo challenges. The first of his Year 2 photo challenges is: SELFIE.

Self hates posing for pictures, but not when she’s taking a selfie. When she takes a selfie, the inner imp emerges and self’s smiles are always big as big. Thank you, Sylvain Landry, for the start of another great year of sharing!

This selfie is special for another reason: She bought the jacket from an Edinburgh department store, and the dress from a Tesco, the year she did a residency at Hawthornden. She was there June 2012. And that is where she met two British writers who ended up being fast friends: the poets Jenny Lewis and Joan McGavin.

photo-on-3-20-13-at-2-57-pm-2

Self wearing her Edinburgh jacket and a dress she bought from TESCO: 2012

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Ghosts, Spectres and What Not

From a WIP:

Our village was visited regularly by ghosts. Of these, the most horrifying were the small ones, the children. They simply sat on smooth boulders by the sea and stared, arms open wide as if imploring for comfort.

Self has a yen for the supernatural.

She can say that boldly now because even though she is alone in her apartment, for the past week, the theatre downstairs, directly beneath self’s unit, has been alive with voices belonging to the cast of the play Quills, which opens on Thursday.

So comforting.

In contrast, last year, in the same unit, self heard the most awful racket, late at night, a woman screaming on and on and on and on. And at first she debated whether she should call 911. But the woman might be DEAD by the time 911 sent troops. Instead, she flung open the door to her unit, and ventured to the (brightly lit, thank God) ceramics studio, and burst in the door, surprising (she thinks) three people, and told them: “For God’s sake, don’t you hear the screaming? Can’t somebody help her?” No one moved a muscle. Finally, one of the three artists there said, skeptically, “Are you sure you’re not hearing the play?”

Oh. My. God.

“But,” self flailed on, “I thought the play was Gaslight. I don’t recall a woman screaming that much (in the movie version).”

“Well,” said one of the artists, “they might be interpreting it different.”

Oh. My. God.

Could a black hole please open up and swallow self whole?

She also doesn’t know if she was influenced by watching too much of The Grudge and The Ring. Or by a conversation at Hawthornden, in which the English poet Jenny Lewis (who once dated Michael Palin) told self: “Ghost children are the worst.”

Or maybe it was the tour of Underground Edinburgh, in which there is a small room piled to the rafters with children’s toys, dolls and such, because people (tourists) keep bringing them specifically for the child ghosts who live there.

Whatever the reason, self does remember cowering in her room in Hawthornden because in one corner was a nook shut off from the rest of the room by curtains, and in self’s imagination, there was a wraith sitting there. Emerging from there. With spectral eyes.

And she has only belatedly realized that Sarah Waters’ novel, The Little Stranger, is next on her reading list, and it’s supposed to be about a haunted house. If so, then the “little stranger” of the title can only be referring to one thing: a child ghost.

YIIIIIIKES!!!!

Heavens NO!!!!!

Sorry, Sarah Waters. May skip you (even though self has read: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch, and has loved them all). There’s too many ghost children wandering around already in movies. She can’t take it, simply can’t take reading a big, fat novel that’s just going to end up scaring the bejesus out of her.

Stay tuned.

 

Stories About Magic and Science Fiction

Why is self so attracted to stories about magic?

Don’t really know.

Self’s first experience with angst came from fairy tales. She fell in love with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. She always cried at the end of The Little Mermaid.

Then, she read Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris while she was a grad student at Stanford. She found the idea of a sentient planet mind-blowing! Positively transcendent! The movie with George Clooney was terrible!

On to her reading of the afternoon:  the Preface by Maria Tatar to her The Annotated Brothers Grimm (Self has been reading it and stopping every other sentence. This is a problem. Possibly, she won’t finish it in this lifetime. Oh! She also downloaded the episode of Face/Off with Josh Hutcherson as a guest judge. The guy is just too adorable. Too. Too. Too!)

Back to Maria Tatar! Here’s a passage she just finished reading:

Danger lurks in every corner of the world, and the encounter with it has a fierce inevitability that becomes a rule of the genre. Villainy: this was the . . . function that fuels the plots of fairy tales.

It just occurs to self that she has a long list of horror stories she’s written. She’ll see if she can append them to this post — when she has a little more time. But, right off the top of her head, here are a few: Seeing in PANK 9.5, The Departure in Philippine Genre Stories. Ghosts really get to her. Ghosts and the Apocalypse.

The writers she met at Hawthornden (June 2012), Joan McGavin and Jenny Lewis, told the most excellent ghost stories. They fueled her imagination and sent it roaring out of the gate. We’d talk about everything from Dolly the Sheep (whose likeness is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh) to ghost children (Self recalls Jenny saying, “The worst ghosts are ghost children.” Wheeee! Couldn’t sleep after that because she kept thinking there was a ghost child lurking somewhere in her room).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

From Des Dillon’s SCUNNERED

Des Dillon is a Scottish writer and a stand-up comic. Self picked up a copy of his book, Scunnered: Slices of Scottish Life in Seventeen Gallus Syllables, when she was doing a residency at Hawthornden in 2012.

Here’s a piece called ATTITUDE:

Treating every time
Like it’s the very last time
feels like the first time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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