You remember the first week or so of each grade in elementary school was always "review time?" Those easy A's for simply remembering the stuff you were supposed to have learned last year? That's how I still think of fall, a time of review and re-assessment of my writing, before moving forward. This year, however, my work didn't need review so much as my mind needed a good jumpstart.
My brain went on vacation sometime last spring, and I don't mean it was in a hammock somewhere in the Caribbeans, sipping Pina coladas. It's been jammed to the gills with more than usual day-to-day stuff, and the toxic mental environment of the country. My head felt like I'd eaten nothing but stale potato chips for months. Time to send the brain back to school...tuition free.
I've always secretly believed The Answer to Life is in books. I'm still looking for that particular book; it's out there somewhere. Meanwhile, there are my "old friends" books...the ones I return to over and over for their sane advice.
After Anne bolsters my spirit, I move on to What's Your Story: A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer. Marion was one of my mentors in the Vermont College MFA program, and this was her textbook. Don't let the title fool you. It's anybody's guide to writing fiction, regardless of age. If there is such a thing as a blueprint for story building, this is it. Again, I hear Marion's voice on every page, because in this case, I actually know how she sounds!
Marion and I have totally different writing styles; hers' spare, minimalist, not one word more of
Lastly, my oldest "friend" Julia Cameron. I've "known" her longer than the other two. We "met" when her book The Artist's Way came out in 1992, around the time I first began writing seriously. Julia taught me how to shake up my creativity, and to stop thinking so hard. I learned to observe more closely, use my mad eavesdropping "skills" for good not evil (!) and to find another creative outlet in addition to writing. I spent a lot of "artist dates" with my trusty old, pre-digital Canon camera.
Julia has spun the Artist's Way concept every which way she can into a multitude of books--for kids, for parents, for "older" people, for "transitioning" people (transitioning into becoming "older") and her latest...for dieters. Two of my favorite subjects in the same book--dieting and writing! The book boils down to a series of different kinds of journals for dieters. I hate diet journaling. And I've "regular" journaled my whole life. However, she came up with a new journal that helped vacuum out the toxic sludge that filled my brain...The Life Story Journal.
The Life Story Journal is not for publication, writing practice or even especially for generating writing ideas. I've fictionalized my own life and family in nearly everyone of my books. In doing so, I have sometimes forgotten what "the real story" is. Julia's idea is to go back as far as you can remember...and write down everything you can remember. For someone my age whose first memories start at age 3, that's pretty intimidating...and laborious. I also never write anything in sequence. So I've picked random years to write about. Not in any sort of prose...just images, flashes of events, people, descriptions....whatever flotsam and jetsam I find attached to 1957 or 64 or 2001. By consciously not looking for story ideas, they come easily from this no-strings attached method of recounting memory. Lots of junk there too...but lots of good stuff, too.
|1963--What do I remember? I'm the one in the maroon dress.|
Lastly, I read something new and challenging after a summer of reading adult fiction (which I rarely do) that all seemed alike to me, and formulaic children's stories. My choice, the latest book by an actual friend. An Na was in the Vermont College program the same time as I, so I was privileged to hear early version of her Printz Award winner, A Step from Heaven. Her style is so precise, her stories could've been written with a diamond pen....chiseled on to glass, each word exactly right. She is not a prolific writer, so when I learned her new book would arrive March 2018, I pre-ordered for my Kindle...and promptly forgot it was there. (I have an ungodly amount of stuff on my Kindle).
That's where the simple part ends...somewhere around page three. An Na takes the use of the unreliable narrator to a new level...or does she? Who is the narrator? Is there more than one? Where are we in time? Is it now, the past or a flashback dodging in and out of the present? I suspect that there are as many perceptions of what happens as there are readers. I have gone back and back, and with each reading, I find more subtle hints that all is not as it appears. How did I miss these the first time? Why? Because the author fools us into thinking this is a straightforward teen-missing-mom story until it is too late...the reader is already invested in Grace when we also begin to question her.
So having visited old friends for counsel, inspiration and example...it's back to work I go.
School is in!