Meeting old friends and getting ready for the Hands On literary festival.
Archives for 2014
I’ve been working, on and off, for the past several months, on making a book. Now, at last, I can show it to you.
Can I introduce you to Siren Song, by the wonderful poet and novelist, Tawni Waters?
Siren Song is the first book released by Burlesque Press, and it’s Tawni’s second: earlier this year, she published the novel Beauty of the Broken with Simon and Schuster. Tawni has built up a large following in her many essays and poems published on the Burlesque Press Variety Show, as well as with her regularly inspirational meditations on Facebook.
This collection is close to my heart for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the first book I’ve ever designed (I am the unpaid book editor / intern at Burlesque Press.) To create it, I’ve had become much better at cover layout, typography, Adobe InDesign, and publishing with Lightning Source. I recently had a conversation with the Customer Service representative at Lightning Source where we struggled to clarify which of the four possible versions of the colour black she wanted me to use.
Previously, I had always thought that there was only one black–not so in book printing. There are (at least) four, and two are very bad to use.
It’s a great feeling to finally hold the physical proof in my hand.
Secondly, I’ve come to deeply enjoy these poems. Editing a collection is a chance to be the work’s best reader, to become someone who knows the lines almost as well as the writer herself: it’s a great privilege.
I’m going to write a more substantial introduction to the book soon, and link to an NPR interview that Tawni has done on the book and her writing process, but if you’re curious, here’s one of the poems that Burlesque Press previously published online, a love poem, spoken by Mary Magdalene, after death, to the dying, crucified Christ.
This poem is a good introduction to the collection, which ranges over several different religions and mythologies, writing about Persephone and Judas, Isis and Osiris, as well as charting the poet’s own development as an independent, powerful voice, and her travels through Mexico and elsewhere.
The book will be available on Amazon soon. You can pre-order a signed copy on the Burlesque Press GoFundMe, as well as (for a higher fee) earn some very interesting rewards from the press and its writers. I’ll also be introducing the book at the Burlesque Press Literary Festival, where Tawni will be signing copies.
Best wishes to all your creative projects,
My friend and MFA colleague, Matthew Blasi, published this strange, violent, darkly funny story in Drunken Boat magazine, about conquistadors, possums, and herbal drugs. They nominated it for a Push Cart award, Mat’s second.
Every night Francisco meant to call the men together, the hundred soldiers, and explain. Yes, they were to wait for de Soto. No, they were not to plunge into barbarism. God was watching, looking down from His holy throne and judging. But he never called the meeting. Every night at dusk it seemed too heavy a burden.
When de Soto comes, Francisco thought, he will set them straight. Marvelous, meticulous Hernando de Soto with his black curls, his oiled beard. He looked very fine in his painting—the one in Francisco’s tent: sleek and powerful in his shining breastplate. Ready to command. Ready to conquer. Francisco would be there on the shore when de Soto finally arrived, down on one knee, to welcome such a man properly. They had laid up plenty of beard oil, good smells. The winter would be mild.
Does anyone else use an iPad for serious, lengthy writing? I do.
In fact, I’ve got so used to using the iPad as my writing device, that, after many years without a desktop computer, now I’m actually back to working from one, it’s a bit of a mental challenge to get into a composing mood.
When the iPad first came out, I thought it looked stupid. In fact, I felt disgusted. A computer without a keyboard? It seemed to me a portent of society’s disturbing descent from active creation to passive observation, a regression to cultural childhood. The screen, not the user, would be in control; mankind’s imaginative freedom would be lost.
Additionally, the stripped down nature of iOS seemed a joke. You could only do one thing at a time. You couldn’t even upload files to websites.
But the iPad continued to get better, and its programs kept looking more enticing. And eventually, when my last laptop broke, I didn’t have much money, and the iPad’s lower price started to make more sense. That was two and a half years ago, and I’m since written, taught from, and read a whole lot of books on that same iPad 3. Now, when I leave for campus, it’s completely natural to put my iPad in a bag along with a wireless (bluetooth) keyboard.
In fact, when I have to carry around a laptop, that’s when I feel uneasy, worried I’m going to break it, constantly checking how it’s sitting in my bag.
Recently, iPad sales have slowed rather drastically, prompting some pundits to predict the device’s demise. But if I’m any guide, one reason for this decline in sales is the thing’s essential durability. Like I mentioned, I’ve owned my iPad for two and a half years, and it basically works as good as new; in that same time period, I’ve seen laptops slow down and become erratic; I’ve watched phones become useless as their batteries die. The iPad, in contrast, shrugs off the passage of time. Perhaps around November 2015, when iOS 9 comes out, I’ll need to upgrade, but by then, I’ll have been using it for a good three and a half years.
I’ve dropped my iPad on the floor and cracked the glass in one corner: it continues to work, unfazed.
And the tablet nature of the iPad has grown on me. It’s a very conducive framework for writing: one screen, one window, one application. What you look at is what you are working on. These days, when I’ve been using a “real” computer for a while, I find myself annoyed by how many windows have piled up on the screen like scattered notes across a messy desk, how it takes a moment’s effort to spot the exposed corner of the program you were just using.
I regularly use three different writing apps on the iPad. Does that sound crazy? It works for me. I use the amazing Drafts app for general note-taking and casual writing; Byword for longer, serious work, and Word to produce the finished product.
In theory, I could start a single piece of writing in Drafts as an idea or outline, export those notes into Byword for drafting, and then finish it in Word to get paragraph indents and page numbers.
Drafts is an amazing application. The idea is that you start with text, not with its destination. You write something on your iPad in Drafts, and when you’re done, you swipe from the right side of the screen and out pops the right-hand sidebar, containing all the possible “actions” you’ve set up, any number of options for publishing or exporting the data. You might design an action, “Email to my brother,” or “Tweet and post to Facebook,” or “publish to blog by email.” With one click, Drafts will carry it out.
There’s so much more to the app: the review in MacStories may make your head explode.
So far, I’m not quite enamoured of Byword: I use it simply because I need a writing-focused, minimal program that syncs with Dropbox, and the other options in the app store haven’t worked for me.
However, I do plan to buy Byword for the desktop Mac, thus putting my writing in sync across my devices, at which point the love affair may begin.
Word for iOS is pretty great. It’s much better than Apple’s own Pages. I still don’t enjoy creating in it, though. It would feel like cooking dinner in a suit. All those unnecessary buttons and toolbars, none of which have anything to do with the flow of words.
Do you write on your iPad? What program do you use?
Yesterday I promised a few posts about things I was happy about, and things I was not happy about, nothing major.
The “nothing major” part wasn’t entirely accurate. This first post describes something very big that happened to me–over Thanksgiving weekend.
Are you ready for a story?
Here goes. The other week, I posted some pictures of a journey I took to North Carolina. Many readers seemed to like the smoky white skies, the dark roads.
All the pictures in that post were from the road between Knoxville, here in Tennessee, and Asheville, but our actual destination was deeper in the North Carolina high country, a winery in the small town of Banner Elk. You may possibly remember a few pictures I posted back in the summer, when Jeni and I had visited that winery the first time. We had been very happy then.
But now it was late November, and snow storms were forecast on the mountains. All the week leading up to that day, we had been checking Ray’s weather warnings, working out how we might safely leave Knoxville, get to Asheville, and then on to Banner Elk. We drove to Asheville with no snow in sight and spent Wednesday evening there; on Thursday we had a simple Thanksgiving lunch in Whole Foods, watching through the window the dustings of snow come and go. Snow in Asheville was no big deal: snow in Banner Elk might be a problem.
Fortunately, when we were ready to leave Asheville, the sun was bright.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned how much, over the last two and a bit years living in this part of the US, I’ve come to love the North Carolina high country: the area around Banner Elk, Boone, and Blowing Rock, in particular. To me, there has always seemed something deeply peaceful and vivid about that area; the Blue Ridge Parkway, from there to Asheville, is an epic range of valleys and peaks stretching on for hours. (This fondness of mine is the result of several weekend trips; I know very little about the area’s actual life, only what it makes me feel.)
We weren’t in search of scenery on Thanksgiving, however–just to arrive on time. As we got closer to Banner Elk, the snow got closer, too. The picture below was taken, at most, an hour after the one above.
By the time we arrived at the winery, snow was falling fast, cars were crawling forward on the un-salted stretches, and the whole area was being covered over. We parked on the flat ground beside the winery, had a quick tasting, and then clambered through several inches of snow to the villa where we were staying.
In the morning, as the sun came up, the whole area looked, well, spectacular.
Back in the summer, when Jeni and I had been to the winery the first time, we had both noticed a flier for a wedding service. We hadn’t talked about it, then, but when, a couple of months later, we had decided to elope–to get married in a private ceremony–we both loved the idea of coming here. It seemed a great middle path, between a wedding we couldn’t really afford and a courthouse ceremony. Our parents were kind enough to help out with the cost of the “elopement package,” for which I am very grateful. They were also kind enough to respect the “elopement” part, leaving us to get married alone.
It was now the morning of Black Friday: we would be married that evening.
The winery had a few locations available for the ceremony. One was the winery tasting room itself, but this, once the evening arrived, was quite crowded with casual drinkers. It seemed silly to have come all this way, just the two of us, and to get married in front of a bunch of random types. But it was far too cold to stand outdoors. The winery, we learned, also had an “enchanted barn,” a building they had locked up with the passing of the warmer weather. We decided: we wanted the barn. A bit of organisational work, and the barn was cleaned up and some heating repaired.
Would you like to see some wedding photographs?
Looking at these pictures now makes me smile.
We spent the rest of the weekend at the winery, with the snow slowly fading away.
Jeni, by the way, is the director of the small press and literary events company, Burlesque Press, and a great fiction writer, too.
She runs the wonderful Hands On literary festival, in New Orleans, every new year’s eve–without any outside funding or external support, creating the whole the thing from her own hard work and the excellence of the writing community in the city. It’s remarkable what she’s able to do.
You should probably expect to see a lot of photos of that festival, too, in the early days of the coming year.
Thank you for reading my wedding story — I hope it was okay to share.
It’s nearly the end of the year and, sadly, I’ve been finding it harder than usual to write this blog. I haven’t posted that many pieces in a while.
Partly this is just that late-semester-feeling, the effort to get my students’ papers marked. Partly it’s the aftermath of my PhD Comprehensive exams, which, although in the grand scheme of things were not that bad, not that grueling, and which, on paper, I did very well on, were at the same time pretty exhausting. Even, in an intellectual sense, somewhat traumatic.
I finished the reading and preparation for those exams in a buoyant, fertile state of mind, grateful for having my perspectives broadened. But I finished the month of the exams themselves in a much less positive mood. I’ll say more about this in a later post, but, in short, it was a bit like being taken to the doorway of the temple’s inner chamber only to find, as in the tarot card of the High Priestess, that the chamber remains covered by a veil. An enchanting, fascinating veil, but a veil, nonetheless. At the end of the quest, the original purpose of the journey seems opaque.
However, the exams weren’t that bad. Other people, I’m sure, have had far worse experiences with their comprehensive exams than mine (if you’d like to share in the comments, I will happily read!). There’s a third reason for my reticence, one I find trickier to talk about–but maybe when I describe it, you’ll recognise it, too. I call this feeling “Blog Disconnect.”
All writing issues out of a specific persona. Each piece of writing, even though they all bear the same physical’s author name, issues from a specific voice, a controlling vision, with a particular imagined reader. I write one way for my students (I use a lot of short, declarative sentences) and another way in my current novel. I use yet another language and stance in my short fiction.
And, increasingly, I’ve felt disconnected from the voice that writes this blog. There are more things I’d like to talk about than my blog persona knows how, and the result, to an extent, has been silence.
Now, compared to the disconnect many writers experience on a daily basis, mine is hardly anything at all. Other people have much bigger concerns, and face far greater risks expressing themselves — I think of a writer like Roxane Gay, who routinely speaks on subjects that bring hateful trolls screaming from the woodwork. She is brave in a way I can, at this stage, only admire. And more than that. The voice she writes with feels, on a very deep level, to be her. That when you are reading Gay, you are reading someone who has taught herself to be careless for everything but her words.
I often think, too, of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ great declaration: “I am a writer.”
I think now, four years after watching that video, and having read A History of White People, that I am a writer. And that is not a hustle. And this is not my “in” to get on Meet The Press, to become an activist, to get my life-coach game on. I don’t need anymore platforms. I am here to see things as clearly as I can, and then name them.
Similarly, if you read Andrew Sullivan’s blog, one reason The Dish has become so successful is that Sullivan’s voice feels so him, so multifaceted and deep-welled, so equal to all occasions. There are few subjects where Sullivan’s voice seems awkward with its grip on the pen–rather, it is like hearing someone for whom every event, every rebuke and embarrassing error produces the response: “More! More!”
Now, for myself and this blog, I’m thinking of something almost trivial (it feels absurd to invoke such great essayists in relation to myself.) I’m planning to write about only small-scale, local things: a short series of posts, here on this blog, which will be a step more personal than I’ve lately been. No enormous confessions, I think — rather it will be about glowing screens and distractions, different writing software, the wonders of Asheville’s restaurants, frustrations with academia. All very minor.
Things I’m Grateful For and Things I’m Not Grateful For — that’s the series. It starts tomorrow.
Let’s see how it helps to clear up this feeling of “blog disconnect.”