Monday, July 06, 2015

200 on…Ego, “Desiderata,” and the Writing Life

Recently, I was struggling with ego’s seesaw. I explained to friends that writers are often private people—loners who tend towards isolation. That’s how we get the work done. But once the writing is done, we need to persuade people to back our work…either as publishers, promoters or as buyers. That requires ego.

Of course, everything requires ego to some degree. But promoting and receiving praise for my work engages my ego in a big way, and that can be dangerous for a recovering alcoholic like me.

There are clear connections between ego and my drinking: if someone offers me a drink and I take it, I’ll want the rest of the bottle (or wine box); if someone offers praise, I crave more…and more and more. I abstain from alcohol, but the success of my work doesn’t allow me to abstain from ego.

My pal, D, responded with a copy of “Desiderata” in which Ehrmann says, “enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

With ego, the healthy answer rests inside balance. But as with sobriety, the challenge is maintaining that balance.

(Image by Irene Shpak at

Monday, June 22, 2015

200...on choosing covers

Underground Voices, CA

Lovely emails the past two days from Underground Voices, my publisher. Cetywa sent me mock-ups to consider, and that’s rather magical in itself. Sometimes, the author doesn’t get that opportunity.

I get that though. The process COULD be a nightmare for all concerned. The author might get precious and pooh-pooh each option: it’s easy to be so invested with characters and settings that we already have an image in mind that won’t budge. Or the publisher might offer options the author feels run counter to narrative.

I have four to consider so far. One uses the wrap-round from front to back cover—an approach used on Scott Neuffer’s Scars of the New Order. But while the design is brilliantly stark and edgy, it’s too…coastal. Too American. The others feature girls—all adolescent and wonderfully complicated. We’re playing with a hybrid: the artwork from one and the layout from another.

Now that I’m not freaking about the actual artwork, I’m fussing about typography and resolution. What font takes the story and hands it over? Will the printing process render the type sharply on the card stock? Will I hate the non-matt stock (I have an odd thing about the lovely waxy feel of matt stock)?

Monday, June 15, 2015

200...on the lyric novel

When I hear the phrase lyric essay, I think creative nonfiction…Brenda Miller, Sue William Silverman, Amy Fuselman. But I've just finished Elizabeth Hardwick's lyrical, snappy 1970s novel Sleepless Nights and I'm thinking that this too, with its short sections, its dipping in and out, the sharp and acute focus on the moment, shares many features of the lyric. Its moments mimic thought: they are, on the surface, unconnected in the broad sense of the term, each finely wrought with the white space’s pause for reflection/disconnection. But together, they deliver a whole life.

Sleepess Nights makes me wonder. It feels like memoir. It has the flavor of Coatzee's Elizabeth Costello: not so much in terms of content but more in how the main character navigates the material.
Sometimes the universe pushes me where I don’t want to go. Lately, I’ve been writing poems that want to ramble, fiction that keeps showing me, Clockwork Orange style, photographs from my childhood. And I’m reading Sue William Silverman’s The Pat Boone Fan Club. All is pushing me to consider the lyric essay.

How the genre scares me.

(Sleepless Nights arrived in a box of Kitsch love from Charlotte Hall. How I love unbidden books.)

Sleepless NightsSleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not an easy read. It requires the reader to suspend the need for completion and that can be tough. Hardwick's narrator looks back on her life and examines her intereactions with others, moments, places, decisions. She alights upon each and looks closely and deeply. In many ways, this is a collection of flash fictions, of lyric essays. Once I got my head around that, I settled in and began to enjoy it. I could see this as cinema, albeit avant garde! It's the kind of book I would hope to return to, to reread. It's the kind of book I'd like to think I might try to write one day as memoir...a continual dipping into memory.

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