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.

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.

 

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.

 

Also Reading: The New Yorker, 8 September 2015

Self is reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article “The Avenger,” about the brother of a man killed in Lockerbie.

Lockerbie.

Self read in the Stanford Alumni Magazine, not too long ago, that the father of yet another victim, a lawyer, had died of cancer. The man was tireless in aiding the hunt for his daughter’s killers, even putting up reward money. As self would do too, if she were in his shoes.

Three years ago, self was in Hawthornden Writers Retreat, only 40 minutes by bus from Edinburgh. Every time she took the bus back, she saw the sign for Lockerbie.

Lockerbie, Lockerbie.

The New Yorker article is about Ken Dorstein, a sophomore at Brown whose brother David had been on the plane.

This is what he did:

He traveled to Scotland and spent several weeks in Lockerbie interviewing investigators and walking through the pastures where the plane had gone down. He read the transcript of the Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry, which exceeded fifteen-thousand pages, and he located the patch of grass where David’s body had landed.

Dorstein tells The New Yorker: “I had found a less painful way to miss my brother, by not missing him at all, just trying to document what happened to his body.”

He also married his brother’s ex-girlfriend. When he told his wife that he wanted to go to Libya to confront the “culprits who were still alive,” he invoked what they call in their marriage “the Lockerbie dispensation.” She could not refuse him.

Dorstein showed the New Yorker reporter a large map of Lockerbie, “with hundreds of colored pushpins indicating where the bodies had fallen.” In death, as in life, there were divisions: first-class passengers clustered in one place, economy passengers in another (But isn’t it interesting that they all ended up in the same place anyway: which is to say, dead)

Shhh, now.

Self has to finish reading the article.

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.

Cover Art: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s WordPress Daily Post Photo Challenge is COVER ART.  Say what? When self first saw the prompt, she had no idea what kinds of things to post.

The prompt reads, in part:

Post “examples of cover art that uses photography to convey a mood and to suggest what we might find in the work itself.  They have a quality that echoes a particular character . . . “

All right, then.  For the past few years, self has been writing a novel whose working title is The Vanquished.

It’s about the Philippines during World War II, and is set on Dear Departed Dad’s home island of Negros.

Since it’s still in progress, self is jumping way ahead of herself here, but she’ll just go ahead and scan photos that might serve as possible cover art.  Below are two.

The third photo reflects a theme of a short story she wrote called “The Freeze.”

The porch of the Gaston House, just before Manapla, Negros Occidental

The porch of the Gaston House, just before Manapla, Negros Occidental

Self found herself paying more attention to the interior of the Church of San Isidro Labrador (Lassi)

Interior of the Church of San Isidro Labrador, in the town of Lassi, on the Island of Siquijor

Self’s short story about the coming of a new Ice Age is called the Freeze.  It begins:

Redwood, Oak, Laurel, Manzanita, Pine.

Redwood, Oak, Laurel, Manzanita, Pine.

Redwood, Oak, Laurel, Manzanita, Pine.

The Grounds of Hawthornden, southern Scotland

A Wood in Southern Scotland

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Foreign Climes, Various Nighttimes: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Post # 3

Ca' San Toma.  Self barely saw any tourist wandering the neighbordhood.

Near self’s apartment in Ca’ San Toma, Venice. Self barely saw any tourist wandering the neighbordhood.

Taking the Vaporetto Home to San Toma

Venice, April 2013: Taking the Vaporetto Home to San Toma

Sunset, June 2012:  In southern Scotland, that means 10 p.m.

Sunset, June 2012: In southern Scotland, that means 10 p.m.

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