Monday, August 29, 2011

Women and the Word!

"Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death." Edna Ferber

Occasionally someone will ask me how long I've been writing, and I tell them it all began because I was a chatty child who was cursed with vivid dreams. One day my mother, who cherished a bit of silence, gave me a sharpened pencil and a little blue notebook. "Don't tell me your dream," she said. "Write it down." I was seven.

But the truth is I was a bit younger when my mother decided my wild stories could be easily translated with fingerpaints to large sheets of white paper on an easel. I was four (and extremely verbal).

Luckily enough, my family moved to a small town from a big city when I was seven, and the local library was within walking distance. I spent a lot of hours haunting that place, searching out every nook and cranny for the best places to spend an afternoon. (And I learned to be quiet!)

While I read a number of authors (Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Mark Twain, James Michener), my early favorites also included a number of women writers and their excellent works: Edna Ferber's So Big, Sue Grafton's Keziah Dane, Mary McCarthy's The Group, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and stories by Leigh Brackett, Flannery O'Connor, and Shirley Jackson.

It was Jackson's "The Lottery" that made me want to be a writer. Her story struck me with such emotion and stayed with me for days and days. I wanted to be able to do that: to strike a cord so strongly in another person that images and feelings would last and last.

Recently, after a run of rereading all of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels and enjoying a full dive into the previously unread writings of James W. Hall, Dennis Lehane, Joseph Finder, Jonathon King, and Michael Koryta, I wondered if I hadn't been short-changing my ink-slinging sisters. Of course, I'd read books by women authors: Margaret Atwood, Poppy Z. Brite, Chelsea Cain, Yvonne Navarro, P. D. Cacek, Laura Lippmann, Alafair Burke, Karen Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen, and Jean Rabe come quickly to mind, but...

Well, let me just put the blame on Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her name kept popping up all over. I finally caved and Googled her. Like me, she's a Hoosier. And she writes mysteries. Her Charley McNally series includes four books so far: Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time, and Drive Time. And each one is such a joy to read. Charley has spunk and attitude and deep doubts she'll mess up. Hank's style loosened me up and helped open my door wide to women writers I might never have considered. What a snob I've been. What an airhead.

In the past few weeks, I've consumed most of Barbara Samuel's backlist: Heart of a Knight, A Winter Ballad, A Bed of Spices, Lucien's Fall, In the Midnight Rain, The Black Angel, and Night of Fire. Who knew there were fantastic storytellers in Romance fiction? I didn't. And behind these titles are stories of hardscrabble survivors dealing with age, genre, class, religious, and race prejudices. Abuse. Abandonment. And of course, love. And what's the matter with that?

Writer Ferber said: "I think in order to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice -- they all make fine fuel."

Indeed they do! All parts of that crazy, mixed-up lover of mine: writing.

Next up: I rip my heart out as I admit my feelings for my Nook e-reader.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Readin', Writin', and More Readin'!

First, two quotes from Jorge Luis Borges:

"Besides, rereading, not reading, is what counts."

"Let others pride themselves about how many pages they have written; I'd rather boast about the ones I've read."

Since yesterday, August 24, was Jorge Luis Borges' 112th birthday, I had occasion to refresh my memory a bit about his work. It has been a while since I'd read any of his poems, and it was his poems that I'd loved so much in college. In fact, I had the honor of being in the audience when he visited Indiana University many moons ago.

During that period I also wrote, but more fiction than poetry. But the poets I favored included D.H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Stephen Crane. Fiction favorites ran the gamut from Ian Fleming to Harper Lee to Henry James. Hemingway. Faulkner. Bradbury.

I reread Twain's Huck Finn and Melville's Billy Budd over and over again because when I like a book, I tend to zip through it and need to read it again to appreciate the craft. The art.

Which brings me to this chunk of time post-Writers in Paradise Conference to now. Boy, I've read a lot! So much, I'm not sure where to start.

How about with Michael Koryta? He's a fellow Hoosier. I loved his Lincoln Perry mysteries, but The Ridge, Cypress House, and So Cold the River are wonderful reads, too. Then I found Joseph Finder. His new Nick Heller series (Vanished, Buried Secrets) is my kind of cake, and he has stand-alones that rocked my socks off. And speaking of socks... an extra couple of pair were needed to withstand the frigid Russian winter in David Benioff's City of Thieves. This was truly a spectacular story.

I read Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone before I saw the movie. Yes, the book was better. His Death of Sweet Mister is exceptional.

And I haven't even mentioned spending so much time with James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux. This was my favorite series read since John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series.

But then two things thing happened:

1. I discovered I was reading mostly male authors. Of course, I'd read novels by Jane Hamilton, Laura Lippman, and Ann Hood prior to attending WIP, but I really haven't given my sisters a fair shot. (Enter Hank Phillippi Ryan and her Charlie McNalley series, and, uhm, Romance writers.)

2. My family got me a Nook e-Reader for my birthday and two gift cards. Yikes!

Next time: Women and the Word, followed by Likin' de Nook-e