Write On

Tips, tricks, and ideas to get your write on.

Writing Away

Summer is officially upon us which for many means vacation time. I have been fortunate enough to have had travel as a continued opportunity in my life. My first international trip was to Greece when I was 9-months old; the most recent to China in 2007. In college I was able to participate in study abroad in England and Spain. One thing that all this travel has instilled in me is a love travel journals. I always keep a travel journal, even on domestic trips, because I like to capture those moments in ink and paper.

Even if you are not a  natural writer, travel journals are a way to remember beyond photographs what the experience felt, smelled, and tasted like. For those interested in starting to journal your travels, I highly recommend Writing Away by Livinia Spalding. It is an inspirational text that works as a wonderful guide for finding your voice. In the coming weeks I will be posting excerpts from my own travel journals.

If you find yourself taking a stay-cation and want to explore the world through other writers’ experiences, I can recommend the following travel literature (both fiction and non-fiction):

The Odyssey Homer

Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift

Thomas Jefferson Travels Thomas Jefferson

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland Samuel Johnston

Empire of the Czar Marquis de Custine

Roughing It Mark Twain

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes Robert Louis Stevenson

Bitter Lemons Lawrence Durrell

Travels Michael Crichton

Under the Tuscan Sun Frances Mayes

The Motorcycle Diaries Che Guevara

Slow Boat to China Gavin Young

On the Road Jack Kerouac

And I’ll end this list with a little plug for The Best Women’s Travel Writing series. All the books in the series are wonderful; check out Vol. 8 or the forthcoming 9 for offerings from yours truly.

Happy reading!

XO

A

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Cowboys and Elephants

Today marks the publication of the sixth and final post on Literary Cowboys for Ploughshares . I talk Star Wars, Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, and much more.

“The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 6: Save a Horse, Write a (Space) Cowboy”

In the coming months I’ll continue to write for Ploughshares on all things lovely and literary.

 

sidebar-summer2013

Also out this week is the summer 2013 issue of Brain, Child featuring my essay, “The Elephant Maker.” It’s available on some news stands and online here.

 

XO

A

Categories: Get Smart, Objects de Art, The Little People and Furry Friends, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Published! BlogHer’s Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us

There is something uniquely thrilling about the day a piece of your work is published. Today is such a day for me as BlogHer and Open Road Media release the ebook culinary anthology Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us. From the Open Road Media website:

A BlogHer anthology about food—and the warmth, nostalgia, and sense of belonging it inspires in all of us

Roots is a love story about food—an exploration of its rich interconnectedness with culture, memory, and discovery, penned by over forty authors and personalities from the culinary blogosphere. The anthology’s deeply personal essays serve up family history, local lore, and tantalizing stories of worlds newly discovered through food, accompanied by original photography and a collection of recipes that, no matter how far flung, taste like home.

My story, “The Saffron Rabbit” is about learning to cook in Madrid. For those interested in reading the 35 essays featured from culinary bloggers (and me), check out any of the following links:

BlogHer is also featuring a mini-site where readers can further enjoy the experience. On my end, I’ll be reading along, exploring the other journeys I’m lucky enough to be featured with. Stop by this coming Thursday for another addition to Valentina’s Cocina.

 

Categories: Feed the Belly, Write On | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Atwood on Audience

With two days until my Atwood experience, I am basking in her wisdom.

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Five Things that Rocked May 19-25

  1. I’ve been looking a great deal at blog design for inspiration and come across a number of fab destinations. My current obsession is with A Beautiful MessSo many fantastic ideas.
  2. Lucky me was published twice on Cinefilles this week. Check out my review of Star Trek Into Darkness and my retrospective on Cleopatra.
  3. Next week, aside from basking the glory of Margaret Atwood, I’m getting my second tattoo. While looking for the perfect font, I found this fantastic piece about why a mother got a tattoo with her daughter.
  4. It was also my week on The Baraza where I share my favorite graduation themed pop culture moments.
  5. On The Review Review, this article on Twitter Fiction had me thinking and working on my brevity.

XO

A

Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things that Rocked May 12-18

1. I wrote this post about The Blind Assassin. I got this tweet in reply. Swoon.

2. My Wromance (writing romance) A.J. Kandathil wrote about the Five Pillars of Place using Park and Rec on Ploughshares. ‘Cause that’s how she rolls ( awesome, that’s how she rolls).

3. While you are on the  Ploughshares blog, take a gander at the piece I wrote about Cowboy Poetry. You should read it. It’s okay, you can click now. This list will wait.

4. The Office aired its final episode. I cried. I’ll write about it next week. In the meantime, rewatch The Office or watch it for the first time. Either way, win-win-win. In the meantime, enjoy this:

5. Two of my favorite shows growing up were Designing Women and The Golden Girls. This article reminds me why I loved Dorothy and may be like her in about thirty years.

XO

A

Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Guide to Cowboy Poetry

The fifth part in my series on Literary Cowboys is live on Ploughshares today. Mosey on over and give it a look-see.

“The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 5: Cowboy Poetry”

Categories: Get Smart, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

My Love Affair with The Blind Assassin

Before I fell in love with Margaret Atwood, I fell in love, as readers often do, with one of her books.

Perhaps as an American female writer I should be more enamored with Joyce Carol Oates, but I just can’t help myself. Our (one-sided) romance took root in the autumn of 2000. Newly graduated from college, I meandered into a Santa Monica bookstore in one of those rare moods where I had no purpose other than to wander through the world of literature, seeing what caught my eye. At the front of the store was the display of New Releases. There were other works there, but the cover art of this particular book called to me.

Perhaps it was because the image reminded me of LA Confidential, one of my favorite films. Or it might have been the title–The Blind Assassin. Already so intriguing, particularly juxtaposed with an image that seemed completely disconnected. The book found its way into my hands. Rather than reading the jacket, I flipped to the first page:

The bridge

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

I shut the book and bought it. In that single sentence, she had me. Although I knew Atwood’s name from The Hand Maid’s Tale, I had never read the book and knew almost nothing about her. I bought a non-discounted hardcover book based on three things: the title, the chapter title, and the first sentence.

While the title is intriguing (how does one become a sightless political murderer?), the other two were what harkened to my wallet. Here was a decidedly adult text that used chapter headings instead of numbers. It automatically gave the text, to me, an almost fairytale quality. It reminded me of books I had read as a kid that were completely engaging, so much so that I lost track of hours and weeks because I was captivated by this world. There again was that promise.

The first sentence is, without question, simple. In that is the beauty. We have a simple subject (Laura) and a simple verb (drove). Atwood establishes a rough time period (sometime around a modern war–one might guess World War II at the earliest), a point of view, and a mystery. Notice that Laura’s car did not drive off the bridge. It did not swerve or fall. She “drove” it. That indicates intent. Did Laura drive off of a bridge on purpose? Is the time period, ten days after the conclusion of a war, significant?

The answer to both is yes. The why to both takes roughly 500 beautifully rendered pages to fully grasp.

The Blind Assassin is on that short list I mentioned last week of life changing books. It is as if Atwood took everything I love, shattered it into pieces, and constructed a narrative mosaic that displays flashes of the familiar in ways I could never have imagined. The use of newspaper entries, flashback, nesting, and somehow even science fiction to tell a historical romance should not work. And yet it does. After reading more of her work, the themes and style are decidedly Atwood; I’m rereading Cat’s Eye right now and feel bits of Iris in Elaine, even though they are different characters.

Beyond the beauty of the prose and the stellar storytelling, the novel has sentimental ties. It is one of the last books my grandfather read before his sight was too far gone. Although set in Canada, coming from Michigan, he responded to the time period and sense of place. After reading it he couldn’t wait to sit down at our weekly dinner to discuss it with me. But it was more than just the WWII period that engaged him: I think he felt connected to Iris as he counted down the years of his life. I remember him needing his handkerchief to dab at the tears as he recounted in gasping chuckles one of his favorite sections–Iris reading graffiti in bathroom stalls. He never admitted that he did it himself, but his reaction tells me he did.

One of my grandfather’s habits that I have acquired is signing the front of books. When he finished a book, be it the Bible or Harry Potter, he would initial (or sign) and date the inside cover. It was his mark, his way of remember what he read. For me it has been a way to connect with him after he died. Many of his books came to my keeping. When I  begin them, I can see those letter and numbers telling me when he held the pages. Eventually, I sign my name under his. For all that I love technology, I doubt I can ever completely give up the actual book, if just because it would mean giving up my books as documents of those I’ve known and loved and the books we’ve shared. (It’s a rule, by the way, that if you borrow a book from me, you have to sign and date inside the front cover. Don’t like it? Don’t borrow my books.)

When I teach Atwood in my classroom, I usually do “Happy Endings” because it is in our textbook, although recently we also looked at “Backdropp Addresses Cowboy” as part of post-colonialism. “Happy Endings” concludes with this thought: “True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with. That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try How and Why.” Atwood addresses our fixations on beginnings and endings without focusing on the meat of the subject. My favorite line from The Blind Assassin mirrors this thought in even more poetic terms:

“The living bird is not its labeled bones.”

As a writer, I try to keep that in mind. The skeleton of the story can be the same as ten thousand others. It is the living bird that we strive to capture with our words if only to show that it not just brittle remains with labels.

Thus, I take no hesitation in naming The Blind Assassin as my favorite book. That copy I bought out of college (that I couldn’t really afford) with my grandfather’s signature is priceless to me, as priceless as the story inside.

Categories: Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Five Things that Rocked May 5-11

  1. A blog I’ve just discovered, interesting literature, wrote a thoughtful post on Fitzgerald and the underrated This Side of Paradise. Aside from a brief outline of the writer, it is full of fun tidbits, like he was the first person to use wicked with a positive connotation. Learn something new every day, right?
  2. Ashley Wells is doing a fantastic series on women and horses. Topics have included warrior women, Betty Draper and horses, and an interview with the author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls.
  3. Aaron Gilbreath launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming book, Crowded, about life in confined spaces. It’s worth checking out just for the insightful reading material he provides. Find the link to the campaign the blog post linked above.
  4. On The Baraza, Katie Shaw gave some songs to motivate students through those long hours of studying for finals. I provided a companion piece for professors to sustain them through the long hours of grading.
  5. Finally, in honor of Mother’s Day, take a gander at Book Riot’s “Fictional Mother Whose Parenting Books Would Rock.” I’d preorder all three. What about you?

XO

A

Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Gatsby Illusion

When I list books that changed my life, The Great Gatsby tops the list. By the time I read it in high school, I already knew I wanted to be a writer and had since third grade when I tried to write my first novel (it was about horses because my best friend drew crazy good horses). But I remember the exact line in Fitzgerald’s novel when I fell in love with words in a different way:

“The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean.”

It’s a simple sentence, yet so much happens: simile and metaphor, color symbolism, and his implied time element (isn’t the story, after all, about what can happen for just a moment?). It’s a glorious piece of writing.

And so it is with great trepidation that I anticipate Baz Luhrmann’s anachronistic adaptation. I admit I have not seen the movie and I am trying to refrain from judging before I do; that being said, I have a feeling they picked the wrong guy to bring this once more to the screen.

A few years ago I was reading an interview with Jack Nicholson where they asked him what role he missed out on that he regretted. His answer was losing out on Jay Gatsby to Robert Redford. Just reading the sentence, I cringed. Nicholson as Gatsby? Granted this was before he became a caricature of himself, back when he was doing Reds and China Town. Still–Nicholson? Then I read his reasoning. He explained that the problem with Redford was that he was Jay Gatsby, but he was not James Gatz. Robert Redford represented the illusion of what Jay Gatsby should be without being the man James Gatz actually was. He saw himself as James Gatz.

I’d never thought about it that way, but for some reason the idea resonated with me. The book is about illusion, deceit, and identity. Based on the previews, Luhrmann has taken the illusion part of the story to eleven. My concern is that as a director he is one who favors style over substance. His movies explode visually in a chaos of color and sound; however, he seems to fear silence and stillness. Flappers swirling on trapezes, a Jay-Z soundtrack, fireworks–this is the illusion of Gatsby. Does Luhrmann have the self-control and temperance to tell the story behind the illusion without making the film about the very things Fitzgerald attempted to critique? I’m not sure.

On one hand I’m excited for the visual escapism of it; on the other, I have a feeling that I should not view the film as a representation of the spirit of the book lest I be disappointed. But isn’t that usually the rule with adaptations?

XO

A

Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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