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Deeper Magic from the Dawn of Time

This was the book that made me a reader. Or, more precisely, Miss Smithy reading the book aloud to our class is what turned me from reluctant to insatiable.

Reading aloud always took place in the last half-hour of school, when the humiliation of multiplication, the savagery of recess, and the cattiness of the cloakroom were all done for the day. The words slipped over our heads like our old crib blankets.

We liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. American schoolchildren in the '60s, we weren't completely sure what a wardrobe was, of course, or if Turkish Delight was like saltwater taffy, or if a sledge was the same thing as a sleigh. No matter, we loved the story and followed Lucy through the wardrobe time after time, watched Edmund form his alliance with the White Witch, slogged through the snow to the Beavers' lodge.

Then, on a Friday, came the chapter where the Witch wins. Aslan the Lion keeps his sacrificial bargain with her and Lucy and Susan hide and watch as he is bound and tormented and finally killed:

They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table, some pulling, some pushing. He was so huge that even when they got him there it took all their efforts to hoist him on to the surface of it. Then there was more tying and tightening of cords.

"The cowards! The cowards!" sobbed Susan. "Are they still afraid of him, even now?"

...Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table. The Witch bared her arms... Then she began to whet her knife.
The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn't bear to look and covered their eyes.

—p. 152

Miss Smithy stopped there. It was time to go home and the weekend stretched very long before us.

I couldn't stand it. Aslan couldn't really be dead. I made my mother take me to the public library and I found The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and I picked up the story where Miss Smithy had left off:

As soon as the wood was silent again Susan and Lucy crept out onto the open hill-top. The moon was getting low and thin clouds were passing across her, but still they could see the shape of the great Lion lying dead in his bonds.


They cry over him and work hard to take off his muzzle:

And when they saw his face without it they burst out crying again and kissed it and fondled it and wiped away the blood and the foam as well as they could.

—p. 155

And wiped away the blood and the foam as well as they could. Well, that made it quite real. Aslan was dead.

I kept reading. I didn't stop at the end of the chapter, joyful as that turned out to be, but finished the book and went back to the library and took out the next one in the series. On Monday I was the only one in our class who knew what was going to happen. I didn't tell, of course.

June 29, 2003 in good reads, influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Not Being a Prodigy can be a Good Thing

"...Precocity is not maturity, and may in fact impede maturity."

— Joyce Carol Oates,
in a review of Sylvia Plath's Unabridged Journals,

New York Times Book Review, Nov. 5, 2000.

June 23, 2003 in if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Windy Preamble

This is likely to be the first in a series that will lie alongside "Maybe She Takes After..." (which so far stands as a collection of one, but nevermind).

Just as I keep finding evidence of my forebears in everything I do: I blog experience like Grandpa Paul, I proofread like my mother, I find much to be curious about in the natural world, as does my sister and as did my Grandma Trudy, I like to take long walks and look at buildings, like my architect father, I liked Latin/I married a Latin teacher; it goes on and on and I'll probably write about every connection I can, eventually.

Anyway, just like this sort of influence, another exists. This sort are my written ancestors, rather than my cellular ones. There are certain books I find I must keep by me, even if I do not re-read them very often. These are the ones that made such a strong impression on me the first time around that I need to see their faces (or at least their raggedy spines). Each one made the top of my head fly off in some fashion or another, and, collectively, they've become twisted up in the DNA of my writing practice and obsessions.

The list (which only includes a scant half-dozen of what I stumbed upon before college) includes the following:

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Earliest English Poems

Much Ado About Nothing

Til We Have Faces

The Norman Conquests

The Golden Notebook

(I'll explain why in future posts about each of these.)

June 21, 2003 in good reads, influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Blogspotted Again

06/20/03: Weblog Central

"Lisa Firke in Wallingford, Conn., highlights a quote blog called 'If...' This is the first I’ve seen of its kind, and the layout is novel as well."

True 'nough, and that site called 'Wild Keys' aint bad either.

June 20, 2003 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Postcard from the Black Bass

—June 19, 1982


A honeymoon is one occasion when decorum begs me not to write, "Wish you were here."

Behind this Inn, however, a greensward ribbon cleaves river and canal and you'd have liked the man we met today.

Imagine this—four Borzoi hounds careen toward us; a man behind strains to hold them two per hand. When their leashes snarl he lets them go.

All veer for the canal, plunge in, then double back, arcing up the bank.

Their profiles wet are lean as weathervanes.

And though he doesn't say so in these words, we guess tending the amber herd along this slender pasture is his work and family both.

Just setting out, we've no idea what lies ahead—what beauties, distances, what patient lengths.

June 19, 2003 in dailiness, snippets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Apropos of not much

There's something to say about forgiving ourselves for what we were or have been. There's a tendency (in youth, she says sagely) to draw hard lines between our present and past selves. A little further along it becomes easier to feel affection for the silly, earnest people we have been. And to admit, grudgingly, that our present selves will come to seem equally faulty.

June 12, 2003 in dailiness | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


left bookendBookends

I have two characters acting up in one of my WIPs, a novel called The Doe's Heart. They began as minor characters, really on the periphery of the story.

I always knew they had a value, in that their perspective as outsiders meant they could comment on the details of this world most naturally.

What I didn't expect was for them to take over as the POV characters and to positively relish my confusion at this development. "Neither one of you has a doe's heart," I remind them. "No, but we're both looking for one," they retort.

right bookendThey range themselves on either side of the row of binders that hold the novel-in-draft, fold their arms across their chests, and look smug. Never mind that one is a near-giant and the other a near-Lilliput. They are a pair of bullying bookends.

June 9, 2003 in work in progress | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Titles in Search of Compositions

  • Angel with a Cellphone
  • The Charm Street B&B
  • The Clairvoyant's Only Child
  • The Doe's Heart
  • Thought Foxes
  • The Trouble in Belle Prairie

June 7, 2003 in indices, works-in-progress | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

At home on the web

I've found, with Wild Keys, that I enjoy composing directly in html in my site interface (in Dreamweaver?) — how do I mean to put this? I enjoy composing within a format that seems "real." When I was a little girl, I tried to make my books-in-manuscript as real as possible, with covers, front matter, initial caps, and other flourishes. I suspect wanting to compose directly within my web pages is more of the same impulse.

This runs counter to a lot of writing advice, which basically states, "find the plainest text editor you can find and damn the appearance of the words." This is, often, very good advice, right up there with "shitty first drafts."

Plain text is at the heart of the reforms underway throughout the web, for separating content from style, which I happen to agree with. However, style can and does influence content, which is why contemporary writers often switch fonts when proofing or editing their drafts. Changing the style allows a new window on the work, permits seeing things — typos, repetitions, themes, nuance — that have become obscured by the commonplace of the original format. I think.

[edited, 06/07/03]

June 7, 2003 in methods | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Beginning without knowing what...

After an evening of listening to prepared words, I come to the keyboard to find it's time to write something, without knowing what that something will be.

This is often the hardest thing. I believe William Stafford called it, "starting a car on ice."

With the chilly, wet spring we've had, the metaphor almost fits but I find myself looking for a better one, more fitting for June, even if this June itseslf isn't fit to be called June.

It — the metaphor I'm looking for, because if in doubt a writer should a) quote, which I've already done, and b) produce a metaphor — the metaphor would have to be something about insects pressed up against screens, buzzing against the resistence. When this happens, as I'm sure you've noticed, the insects don't just bumble and bash against the screen, they actually grind off pieces of themselves. They leave their dust behind.

What gets through the interstices of the screen, finally, is not bug or even essence of bug. And this metaphor is both depressing and getting a bit silly. I'm sloughing off some undesirable bits, sure, perhaps hoping that if I keep milling, some better stuff will come through.

And it will, eventually, but there's always the question of how long people are willing to be dragged along, waiting for the interesting remarks to start.

Now would be a good time. Or now.

June 6, 2003 in blockbusters | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


A Few Words with the McCourts

"Welcome to Ireland," Frank McCourt said wryly to the assembled company at the Choate Rosemary Hall 2003 Commencement. (To say it was pouring would be sissifying the rain that lashed away at us.) "I can't even see you. All I can see is the prairie of umbrellas."

"This is good," he added in conspiratorial whisper to the graduates, "You need a little adversity in your lives after the luxury of the past four years."

Of course, McCourt, famous for the miserable childhood he chronicled in Angela's Ashes, appreciates the value of adversity. And, as expected, his entertaining remarks lessened the discomfort of his sodden audience.

The night before, a small group of Choate faculty shared dinner and drink with McCourt and his wife, Ellen. I had attended with the mild hope that I could pick Frank's brains about his writerly experiences. I gleaned that he is working on a new book, "about teaching," that even established writers feel a pinch of envy at the abilities of their fellows (McCourt admires William Trevor), and that the youngest McCourt brother, who owns a pub in California, has said he will only write a book, "when you fuckers [meaning Malachy and Frank] are all dead."

Mostly, though, I talked with Ellen McCourt about our dogs and their training (both of us agreeing that Animal Planet is a great source of information), about the McCourt's neighborhood of writers in Roxbury (William Trevor, William Styron, and others live there), and just generally aborbed what a companionable, interesting life it must be with this sharp, funny Californian who is more than able to hold her own even in the face of Frank's enormous Irish charm.

June 3, 2003 in narrative designs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack