Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Headphones of A Muse

Invocation to Ingenuity

I am prepared to paint my door blue
or yellow to welcome you in.
I will not paint it red with the blood of children.
(I have my limits.)

Neither the smell of solder
nor the impression of a transistor on my sole
will make me banish you.
(I may yell out in the darkness, but I will love you still.)

Generosity you will find at my table,
Although the apples may be hidden
under the day’s junk mail.
(Use those envelopes to make your marks and draw your maps.)

Enter into us and make our hands
your hands.
Help us turn copper wire into spiders.
(Or at least robotic spiders.)

Nourish our aberrations
as we nourish you,
and lead us not into the neurotypical but to a new kingdom.
(

Unwind my stacks and my secrets.
Find me when I am lost,
but don’t assume I want to go home.
(I am not Ulysses. The world has never seen me before.)

Ignore commands; override
directives; move the plot along.
What we knew was almost always wrong anyway.
(Especially when we had faith in it.)

Translate me out.
Send me like a drawing and disk on Voyager
or the May 4th,  1957 broadcast of  Huntley and Brinkley.
(But please let me say “Good Night” before I wave goodbye,)

You know we are Nothing
and Nobody without you.

and with you--only a notion.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Montana Book Award


Tonight is the Montana Book Award Presentation and Reception.
It is going to be in the Billings Public Library*, which doesn't have the new rubbed off it yet. It's a beautiful building, purpose-made to connect books and readers. We are very proud of it.
The Montana Book Award recognizes literary or artistic excellence. Books for all ages are considered; nonfiction stands beside fiction.
This year's winner is Let Him Go by Larry Watson.
 The Honor books are The Lovebird by Natalie Brown.
And Opportunity, Montana by Brad Tyer. 

It blew my circuits when I heard Black Helicopters was among the honor titles—because David Quammen's book The Reluctant Mr. Darwin and Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  are the sort of books that get recognized. As for YA winners consider the caliber of these two previous picks...
...and you will know what a deep honor it is to have my book selected for recognition. 
 Hattie Big Sky won the year that David Quammen's book was honored...oh, and Newbery!
And The Miseducation of Cameron Post won in 2012—and Morris! 
This award makes my book a part of Montana's literary heritage. The thought freaks me out, as it should, but it also makes me proud of the book I wrote. 
* I was wrong about that. The reception was in the MSU Billings library. And it was a great venue. I went to the wrong library. Then I asked the librarian and got the help I needed. Naturally. Any excuse to visit the new libraryI will take. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Resilience: Part 1

Lucky in the End
It is just as the bamboos
which are suppressed by snow
begin to stand up again reviving 
in the spring season.

One who has drawn this lot will
enjoy long happiness, if he 
overcomes the difficulty he may
meet with.


Resilience has been in my thoughts a great deal recently. It was a message that Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary emphasized when she brought us together for the agency  retreat in Florida back in February. 

Then this fell out of my Talismania notebook. 

I've written about this message previously, almost four years ago--before my first book was published. The time I received this paper oracle was one of the happiest, least difficult passages in my life. 

There have been more difficult times. The Talismania notebook documents one of them, a span of several years (about 2001 to 2005). It was a time when I felt flayed, every nerve was exposed. My relationship with the physical world was difficult. My relationship with my own imagination was even worse. 

Reading those entries, I don't think they reveal my desperation. There are diagrams for preventing frost heave in foundations, process notes for several paintings I made and have since destroyed, my theories of indexing. Or maybe they do: how desperate does a person have to be to dwell upon frost heave at the foundation of imaginary houses? 

Most of the book, though, documents my troubled relationship with language. 

This is on the first page...

If you eat a fish
and you lift out the bone
in one delicate comb,
that's how it is to be a poet:

completely exposed,

but for the stray spine
found in the mouth
and rolled out by the tongue,
a monstrous discovery 
in the meat.

* * *

The stray bone
stops the talking
and then the word come
released.

I think we should all agree that the above is an embarrassment to me. Of course it is: I'm completely exposed in those words. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Apple Falls Close to the Tree

Communiqué from my Daughter on the Eve of Hitting Send on Novel Revision

Mom, I had a very vivid dream about 1910 and your writing through the edits...it's a fantastic book. And I love you and you're awesome. Oh, and there were cat bombs...this is why I don't trust my dreams. Mimi











Cat bombs: Tell me more. And why are you posting about baby poisonous snakes?*


Well, Kazoo** was being used as a weapon of (medieval) mass destruction. I had sewn her a tiny explosive vest. It was a bad idea. Oh, and there were a LOT of archer snipers, which is why we were resorting to this. You were diligently writing the edits...on a portable typewriter. Oh, and because it was a dream and dreams are the way they are














at one point we were enjoying a series of cascading hot spring pools and waterfalls that overlooked a cliff into the ocean...writhing with acrobatic orcas eating puffins.









* Of course she never did tell me about the snakes. She and a friend were congratulating one another on their snake spotting, snake flipping, and snake identifying skills. These are baby snakes that like to come up through the laundry drains. I'm vague on the details, clearly, but I disapprove. 

** Her malevolence is legendary. One time we came home to find a student film team recording her snarling with boom mikes. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

What Did You Learn While Writing Your Last Book?

Secretly, I hope this isn't my last book, but I admit there is a good chance this book might be the end of me.

I'm revising it, and it's a tough row to hoe. 

So I'm avoiding it.

By reading period newspapers.

And I'm learning lots of things-- like "Stamp Flirtation." 

I will never be able to afix a stamp without  pause. 

Surely, most stamps ought to mean nothing but "business." But what have I been saying in ignorance? 

I've put stamps on 
              upside down!
                     horizontally!   



I never was good at flirting.


Now I'm going to go and do some actual revision. 







Monday, February 17, 2014

I'm Not a "Born Writer"



The quiz* reports I should “Stop writing now before it is too late to turn back.” Good to know.

Here are some reasons why I’m not a “born writer”...

• I don’t rewrite commercials, movie endings, of television shows while watching them.
First, there is the honest fact that I don’t write endings anyway. Ask any person who has tried to edit me.
Second, the very idea sounds like a profound waste of time. Rewriting commercials?
Third—and most likely to lose me friends—“’shipping” is a stupid way to read.

• I didn’t decide to become a writer in my early teens. My life and my brain just weren't that organized.

• I don’t especially love the feel of a keyboard or a pen. I’m a very tactile person. I like touching my physical environment. Both typing and writing with a pen tend to be dull, repetitive experiences. I like writing with a brush, a sharp stick, or a dipped nib much better as far as tactile sensations go. They are not so useful when it comes to submitting novels to editors, however.

• I don’t find quotes about writers and writing especially compelling, although I do find a certain aphoristic sort of quote enjoyable...

Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” –Einstein
“The more you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people.” –Fossey

    • I can’t blame my bouts of crankiness on lacking time to write. I am frequently cranky for a multitude of reasons. And as far as the idea that “creative juices...not released...fester and create moodiness and anger” goes, I have a multitude of ways to create. I am constantly McGyvering the world. It’s what I do.

•    • Being a writer isn’t my fantasy job. The more I think about this, the less sense it makes to me. For one thing, I had different, unattainable childhood aspirations: astronaut, cowboy, Thor Heyerdahl. For another, I know enough writers to know that their lives are distinctly their own, as original as their books.

•    • I don’t find writers’ biographies and memoirs more interesting than those of other sorts of people. Personally, I like to read books about explorers and inventors and criminal lunatics. There is some overlap with “writers”—I’ll grant that.

•     • I  don’t wish I was watching a movie based on a book I’d written. I think film and books are very different ways of telling stories. Some of my favorite books defy being made into film because the language--the way sentences are made and words sound--resists being translated into scenes. If I wanted to tell a story in film, I’d learn how to write a screenplay and learn the grammar of cinematography.

•    • Having lived as myself for my whole life; I’ve had many opportunities to notice that the lives of others aren’t mine. I’ve met many intelligent or diligent people who haven’t been successful. Or maybe they were, by their own measures, which are the only measures that matter.

- - -

* Okay, we all know these quizzes are a waste of time, but bear with me. I do think this promulgates a number of wrongheaded ideas.
And I have no idea why blogger inserted extra bullet points. I probably told it to, but ?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dear Debuts and Other Bambi-Legged Writers

Here are links to the Morris interviews...

 Evan Roskos,

 Cat Winters,

 Carrie Mesrobian

Stephanie Keuhn

Elizabeth Ross 

I don't like to give advice to writers. I know I'm unqualified to give writing advice. I think there is too much of it flying around. I mean, just because some lunatic discovers that printing her novel out, hanging it on the clothesline and then looking at it from the bathroom window with binoculars gives her a new perspective and inspiration doesn't mean that will work for everyone. Or even anyone. Don't try it. Please. 

But I feel duty-bound to share this...




Welcome to a writer's life.



 Okay, so that's overstating it some. 



But this really is you, and you know it.



But on the flip-side?


Find your own lunacy. 

Master your own lunacy. 

Respect the lunacy of others. 

Like kitten. 


This post is lovingly dedicated to this year's YA debuts, like The Valentines and the Class of 2K14... and to this year's Morris nominees. 


Credit where credit is due: Shannon Saruwatashi owns this shirt and took these pictures.