Showing posts from February, 2011

Apt words

Working Titles

It's only five weeks until the release of Blood Clay, yet this morning I had another title ghost through my head. There's something about naming the child that is difficult, sometimes impossible - the right name has already been taken, is too close to another, too plain, too exotic. Just like in families. One aunt has a lovely name but an unfortunate history. The father loves Angela and the mother loves Helene and the great-aunt chooses - Zenobia?
Blood Clay started life with a working title of Feral, which links to the behavior of cats, dogs, people, and communities - but also conjures up images of horror movies.
I tried Birds Without Nests - maybe it was the negativity, but that didn't fly.
My publisher loved the book but hated the title, and there was a flurry of email as we tried various options. Finally, a recurrent image in the text provided a path.
But should it be Blood/Clay? Clay/Blood? Blood and Clay?
We settled, at last, on Blood Clay. And I like it.
You can run a tit…

Poetry Group

Last night's poetry group:
Two poems with the word "whorls."
Two poems with a science fictional feel.
News of a fine review by Brad Leithauser in which he chooses Sarah Lindsay and Greg Williamson as two of our finest contemporary poets flying under the radar.
"With her first book, Primate Behavior (1997), Lindsay might well have declared—were she not a poet who tempers her statements—that her subject was the world. Primate Behavior showed her continually sallying off to the planet’s outermost reaches: there were poems about arctic expeditions and jungles and crushing marine depths. She was likewise venturesome across history: there were poems about Constantinople and prehistoric cave-painters and various animals that vanished long before we humans could contribute to their extinction. From the outset of her career, Lindsay has employed a flexible free verse, and since her poems have often embraced evolutionary subjects (both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wal…


Hanging around Merriam-Webster online today, looking for some inspiration as I approach teaching "image" in my intro to creative writing class.

The dictionary reminds me that an image is
"a reproduction or imitation of the form of a person or thing" or its "optical counterpart" or "a visual representation of something" or "an exact likeness." Not much there...

Ah, but in the synonyms, following after carbon and clone and doppelganger...."fetch."

What a lovely word! To fetch, to bring back. A fetch in sailing, to reach a shore or mark, or that expanse of water across which wind can build and waves grow. A fetch, a likeness, an image, perhaps only familiar today in the expression "a fetching girl."

The image demands that we focus the attention and find the this in that, the identity that was trained in us as, waiting our turn in the dentist's chair, we looked for the differences between the drawings. The image is not …

The Careful Editor

I'm off to meet with my publisher this morning, going over the final edits for Blood Clay and looking at the cover.
It's worth noting that these edits mark about the fifth time I've been been through the MSS since it was accepted, approving changes and making a few more. Kevin, Sheryl, the "Saras", Alexandria, and the other interns - all have combed through the text, looking for consistency problems, awkward phrasing, repetitions, and more. Their work has been careful, thorough, and surprising - because as a longtime reporter and editor, I prided myself on "clean copy."
We don't see this kind of editing much any more in the publishing business. Things move too quickly, there aren't as many eyes on the text. Even expensive hardcover books from major writers and leading publishers can have eye-popping mistakes.
Check out this site for a look into the work of copy editors. And if you know one, send a thank you to these too-little-recognized keepers o…

Writers at Work

Cris Mazza stopped by North Carolina A&T today, a guest of the Creative Writing undergraduate program, to read from her latest novel, Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls. She's an intense woman with short-cropped hair who reads with a controlled passion - just right for the subject matter, young women exploited by men, sometimes because they lack power, and sometimes because their own psychological problems make it possible.

She answered probing questions from faculty about language and intent, and the direct questions of students who wanted to know if she had "actually experienced" any of the story.

"I was going to put on the cover that one-third of this book is true," she said, and then revealed the paths by which life experience is transmuted into fiction.

Writers are generous folk, and never more so than when they help young writers struggling with their first projects.

Thanks, Cris! We were happy to have you spend time with us in the Tarheel State.

Welcome Book Bloggers!

Thanks for stopping by!
I'm new to blogging, so I guess my tip is the Nike slogan, "Just Do It!" When you have those fleeting thoughts about something you're reading, get it down and post it.

Author Dates

I'm excited to be hosting Cris Mazza tomorrow at North Carolina A and T State University. She's on a book tour for Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, stopping most recently at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte, and UNC Chapel Hill.

We've never met except by way of social media, that potent new force that can bring down dictators, unite a nation, and on a smaller scale, bring together authors and readers who otherwise would never have met.

The writing world gets larger and larger, and the number of books swells every year, but the power of networks and searches lets us find similar souls across continents and oceans and centuries.

It's been fun to work with Cris, who like me has a history of successful angling for large and toothy fish! And it will be fun to see where connections take me this year as I launch my new novel.

Poems on Newshour site

Keep an eye on the PBS webpage - crews filmed poets at AWP for videos that will be posted each Monday. Here is today's.
I'll be among the poets coming up. Thanks, Tom & Co.!

Three books from Appalachia

I've just finished a review of Meredith Sue Willis'sOut of the Mountains, a new collection of stories about people from the heart of the mountains. I'd seen a couple of the stories already in her earlier collection, and felt comfortable and familiar in the new ones, recognizing a landscape we shared for many years. MSW grew up in the Shinnston area of northern West Virginia, though she moved to New Jersey in adulthood- I grew up in New York State but lived for many years near Farmington, WV, just down the highway. So we saw those mountains from similar angles.

This book follows close on another, Degrees of Elevation, a new anthology of stories about Appalachia today. I treasured that chorus of voices considering that familiar mountain landscape in unique ways, from Chris Offutt to Crystal Wilkinson to Ron Rash, and was pleased to be counted among their number.

And that followed a reading of Miracle Boy by Pinckney Benedict, a native son of Southern Appalachia who walks som…

Time and tense

Time to take a break from reading a student's novel-in-progress - great characters, interesting plot, crackling pace - but we have to have a heart-to-heart talk about maintaining tense.
Maybe it's a result of the fluidity of thought and flattening of time with Tivo and downloads, but seems like many young writers just fluctuate, not from chapter to chapter but from paragraph. And present tense seems to be favored overall - there was a bit of brouhaha last fall with the Man Booker Prize, and Philip Pullman called the use of present tense in three of the finalists a "silly affectation."


Yesterday in the Bog Garden, I came upon a single blossom of winter aconite. Amazing bright yellow, a gift - and just around the corner, in the sun, a burst of these earliest of flowers. A haiku: In the Bog Garden,
winter aconite sets flame
to last season's rags
At this time of year, I'm in search of firsts. The first killdeer calling, the first crocus, first peeper-frog, first red-and-yellow flowers of maples, first green leaves showing like mist in the treetops. I grew up where winter was long and dark and cold. I've been fleeing ever since, south and south, now in North Carolina (where it seems those NY winters won't leave me alone!) What gets you through February are those hints and clues, the land coming back to life.