Plug: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder

I still have about 25 pages to read, but I am officially plugging Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder. The book was sitting on my bedside table for weeks but didn’t excite me, probably because the cover is kind of nondescript and the title just didn’t evoke much–innocence, childhood, maybe science? Then a friend said she was reading a novel about a single woman who travels to the Amazon and I thought, perfect.

Thank you google images

Thank you google images

The book is just beautifully done. It has elements of magical realism, a la Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, but since I know that book annoyed a lot of people don’t take that as your main comparison. Perhaps I should say the book has elements of the otherworldly, and while it seems to be making a statement about primitivism–one might argue that it’s a bit reductive in its portrayal of Amazonian tribes of Indians–I am fascinated by the people that Dr. Marina Singh encounters on her journey. So much about it is surprising, unexpected. I realized about 50 pages ago that I had no idea what was going to happen, and as we all know, if you can’t wait to find out, that makes for a page-turner!

You may recall I mentioned Patchett’s Truth and Beauty as one of my Must-Read Memoirs way back when.

Well, folks, it’s the last day to vote in the Medium Short Fiction Contest, where my story “Shunyata” is an entry. As my sister in law said, I do wish it weren’t a popularity contest, but there you have it. I have been pretty popular; my story, about love lost and spirituality found, hit the #2 slot on Saturday but this morning is back around #5. Top three get read and judged by an agent and the prize is $2,012. Every vote really does count, and today is the last day to vote, and if you haven’t and you’re so inclined…well, I’m very grateful.

Here’s to reading in the new year!

Also:

http://bit.ly/WVC0eC

http://nyti.ms/VeKqg3

Oh to be third…

Well, at last check my story is fifth in Medium’s Fiction Contest. To be read by an agent, and judged, and possibly win $2,012, it needs to be in the top three.

I’d say I’m disappointed, and I am–it’s doubtful I can jump two places in two days–but honestly, this is the story of my writing life (no pun intended!). My poetry manuscript was a finalist in two or three contests, but never got published. I’ve gotten great rejection notes from top places. I’ve had so many near misses I’ve come to expect my writing career to be like this.

Actually, it occurs to me, this is probably the story of most writers. Unless you’re just kissed by fairy dust, most of us struggle and come close and have disappointments and failures and some of them are because we aren’t, yet, good enough and some are because we’re unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just plain not ready.

I hold onto this theory, because if I didn’t I might get very, very discouraged.

So! One last plea, readers: if you haven’t read it yet, please do. And if you feel inclined to share it, even better. Maybe with your help, I’ll be in the right place at the right time on this one.

#MediumFiction

Solstice

I looked for a piece of writing about the Solstice to post today, darkest day of the year. When we lived in Norway, the Solstice was a big deal; the pinnacle, or the nadir, depending how you see it, of the mørketid (the dark time). I remember then both feeling a festive sort of connection and relief that from then on, the days would get slightly less cold and dark. I was pregnant, morning sick, and homesick, and it wasn’t the happiest Solstice, then in 2008.

This year, I’m with family, appreciating my gifts, appreciating the dark.

So here, since I can’t post a Solstice-y bit, I decided to post an excerpt from my memoir. It’s just a little piece about Christmas, and I hope you enjoy. (Context: B and I are traveling in Peru in 2004 with his dad and stepmom, whose names I have abbreviated below to T and S.)

Incidentally–you know that fiction contest? My story is in the top handful. If you still can and want to vote for it using your Twitter account, I hope you will–and share with anyone you think might be interested.

Happy Solstice, everyone.

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We got back to Cusco just before Christmas. I was a little weepy and sad to be so far from home during the holidays, but we kept busy. We dragged T and S on a ten-hour bus ride to the famous Colca Canyon and joined a tourist trip there. A combi drove us into the canyon to visit the spot where you can watch the condors soar. I didn’t see any condors. But we did get to spend the night in an ancient stone posada halfway down the canyon. The air hung heavily, laced with frost. In a stone room with a large fireplace, our hosts fed us omelets, alpaca steaks, and an unusual quinoa soup with milk as its base and chunks of queso fresco and fresh herbs. They brought wizened, tart little apples for dessert. The table was one long slab of wood, a farmer’s table with benches on either side.

The next night was Christmas Eve, and back in the city of Arequipa we shared a holiday meal—roast turkey, red wine, salad, and chocolate mousse, this last the offering of the Belgian woman who was there—with the Peruvian family who ran our hotel and had booked our trip to the canyon. I gave my three companions a gift each: Hiram Bingham’s book about Macchu Picchu for T, a pair of earrings for S, and a handmade journal for B.

Christmas day, on a dare, B ordered guinea pig in the one restaurant that was open in Arequipa. The cuy came fully intact, its little legs pulled up, its eyes wide open. B pulled his lettuce garnish over the cuy’s head so it didn’t stare at him too much as he ate. “Mascotas?” I could hear Veronica saying, in my head.

“It tastes like chicken,” he announced finally, and I leaned over to try a bite.

Yeah—stringy, greasy, flavorless chicken, with a lettuce-leaf hat, beady eyes, and ratty little teeth. I was eating ceviche, perhaps a gastric risk in an inland city, but it was delicious. I thought the Peruvians had gotten that one right.

We returned to Cusco the next day, said goodbye to T and S several days later, and spent the next week traveling around the Sacred Valley together and hanging out.

The ten days between B’s parents leaving and us getting to Bolivia were some of our nicest times in South America, and I didn’t much feel like leaving Peru. I loved being in Cusco, living in an apartment with hand-me-down furniture from travelers long gone. I loved to wake up in the morning and make coca tea and look out over the backyard of the cattycorner house, where the woman in the apron was collecting eggs and feeding her chickens. One day I saw her groping after one with one hand, machete in the other, but the chicken ran away, and then I did too before I saw her catch and kill it.

The sky was enormous in the Sacred Valley, and most mornings were clear. The romanticism of the place made me feel pregnant with longing and very far from home, but as though I could stay away forever. The evidence of gringos who’d stayed was all over Cusco: in San Blas, the arty, chic part of town, ex-pats ran restaurants that served delights like quiche and salad and chilled chardonnay. There were bars and places to hear music, and a café where one day I sat with my coffee and journal all morning and heard nothing but English. That was strange. We planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Cusco. Then, on the second or third of January, we would catch the bus to Puno, the big city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, and pass into Bolivia.

When Blogging Feels Frivolous

The title of this post made me chuckle, because I happen to know a large group of people for whom blogging is always frivolous. But I mean frivolous in the wake of what happened on Friday in Connecticut. Writing about writing, reading, giving–it all feels a bit extraneous and irrelevant.

I dreamed about blogging last night. In my sleep, I tried to work out how I might tie a school shooting to a blog that’s mostly about writing. I came up with something in the night that seemed to make sense, only when I woke up, it made no sense. I kept thinking/dreaming about how it only took my son, L., three years to learn what a gun is. Over the summer sometime he started referring to “shooter things.” Last night, watching a nature documentary, a man with a rifle appeared onscreen. “Do you know what that man is holding?” I asked. “A gun,” he said.

Did I think I could shield him from guns forever? Silly me. I keep sneaking listens on the radio, but turning it off when he comes in the room. L. has been known to hear a brief snippet on NPR and repeat it back to me, verbatim. I guess I just don’t want him to hear that five year olds were shot, because I think it might actually mean something to him.

In my dream, “gun” was a word L. had learned, and the fact that it was a word tied it to this blog in some way. Right: in daylight, it doesn’t make sense.

But then, none of it does, and I guess that’s the point.

Literary Giving

I had such fun coming up with the 2012 Literary Gift Guide, but it made me think about how this season is not just for giving gifts to your favorite writer but also about giving to those who are less fortunate. I have been thinking of my own charitable giving for the Christmas season and deciding what form it will take. Food drive? Coat drive? A donation to an aid organization? Hurricane relief? I am open to suggestions, readers, so please feel free to share your thoughts.

In the meantime, I thought I’d make a list of five literary places that need your support this season.

1. Poetry Daily has a notice up on its site this morning: they’re $18,000 shy of their fundraising goal. I plan to send them $20, since they have given me my daily dose of poetry for going on twelve years.

2. Your local library can always use a little extra support.

3. 826 Valencia, which is “dedicated to supporting students 6–18 with their writing skills,” among other things, could always use your money. I like how, on their donate page, they give you concrete examples of what your money could buy.

4. A literacy organization. I’d like to plug A Chance through Literacy,  founded by my friend Jennifer Wilson, who was killed a little over a year ago. Luckily, her organization continues to do its good work in the field of literacy. And there are many others that need donations, too.

5. Write Around Portland. I’d forgotten about this great organization until today. If you’d rather give locally, look for an organization in your area that helps under-served populations using the power of writing.

And what a power it is!

Susie

2012 Literary Gift Guide

DSCI0632

Wreath. Pretty festive, eh?

I know it’s cliché, and that the holiday has become little more than a period of greed, commercialism, and obligatory giving—but I love Christmas. I always have. I love drinking spiked eggnog, eating bourbon balls, and gazing at the Christmas tree. I love to light candles and listen to “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” I love being with my family when we’re all feeling easy and rested. And I love giving gifts. I admit it.

 

And so all morning I have been thinking about my 2012 Literary Gift Guide.

1. I can’t decide how I feel about Kindles and other e-readers, but there’s no denying that the reader on your list would probably love a portable e-reading device. And while I have complained about Audible.com in the past, I wouldn’t say no to an Audible gift certificate (3 months for $45).

2. What about a subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine? A few weeks ago, I got an email asking me to become one of “200 new friends by December 31st.” You can give a $35, $50, or up to $200 donation, and you get a year’s subscription. Great gift. In recent years, because of the Internet, P&W’s classifieds have become a little less relevant and important, but they have good articles about publishing, plus profiles and interviews with wonderful writers.

Thank you google images and pw

Thank you google images and pw

3. If it’s cold hard books you want to give, check out Tara Conklin’s popcorn post My Top Five Books for Fall. I haven’t read any of these yet, though the Zadie Smith and Junot Diaz are on my to-read list as well.

4. Or let your reader choose for herself: give a gift certificate to your local bookstore! This article in The Billfold says the independent bookstore is not dead; I hope not. This time of year especially, I really try to support my local bookstore.

5. Every writer needs a great notebook or journal. I thought this one was pretty cool, especially for a man who participated in MOvember. And apparently the maker of this one didn’t hear that unicorns are alive and well in North Korea. faith-meserve

6. Well, I couldn’t post this guide without a self-plug. Give the gift of Faith! I’ll sign it for you. You can buy it directly from Finishing Line Press, on Amazon, or directly from me—my price is $12, plus shipping. Email me at susiemeserve@yahoo.com if you’re interested.

7. A subscription to a literary journal is always a good present. I like to support my friend Mike Dockins’s journal Redactions, based out of Spokane, Washington. And there are so many others…

8. Typewriter key cufflinks, anyone? Or earrings? 

I gave these to the Hubs last year.

I gave these to the Hubs last year.

9. A room of one’s own. Offer to babysit for your favorite writer who is also a parent. Or buy them some time at a local coworking space like Citizen Space.

10. Give the gift of support. No, I don’t mean bankroll your favorite writer for a year (though that would be a very, very nice gift). Tell her you love what she does and take her out for a pick-me-up when she needs it!

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Also check out:

20 Best Gifts for Writers

The Literary Gift Guide Part 2

Identity Politics

As I mentioned last week, a short story of mine is in this fiction contest and I’d be so pleased if you’d read it. If you like it, you can click “recommend.”

Interestingly, several people have commented to me on the fact that the narrator of the story is a guy. My father in law, for example, told me I had guys all wrong.

“How so?” I asked.

“You know that part where he does all that stuff he doesn’t want to do, all so he can get the girl?”

“Yesss,” I said, hesitant (I don’t entirely see Steve’s motives that way).

“Well, we don’t really act like that.”

(Later he told me he was just giving me a hard time.)

And my friend An Honest Mom told me she thought it was very “brave” to write in a guy’s voice, that it surprised her.

Is it naive that the identity of my narrator—him being a man, me being a woman—never even occurred to me? This has really gotten me thinking.

That story was an example of one that just kind of happened. It was based on a few real-life events; my husband’s stepmom had just died of cancer more quickly than any of us expected her to. I am from Boston, and a few of the Boston references were real. And I was reading Buddhism at the time. And I just love any story, song, or poem about a breakup, because it may be the one human experience we can all relate to: being dumped, or dumping, and the grief and conflict that go with it.

So yeah, I wrote from a guy’s perspective. Who knew?

I have only had three takers for Faith. Come on, people! Free book!

Happy Monday,

Susie