Tracey Jones’ Diary Actually (???)

Yes, I’m still obsessing about my novel, trying to figure out where I’m going to take the main story lines.  I blogged the other day about the dreams I’ve been having my ex, which has caused me to reconsider the “romantic” story line.  The novel starts out with the protagonist being several months out from her last relationship, but there are still interactions with the ex because they are students in the same English department.  I’m considering there being a current love interest. Originally it was going to be a same-sex love interest, but I don’t want the novel to be a crisis in sexuality novel.  I think that’s would be another book.

I might, might, might have the protagonist and her ex get back together at the end of the novel and give her a double happy ending (the

other part being her coming to peace with what she wants out of a career).  I tend to shun happy endings; my sensibilities lean toward bittersweet ones because that is so often how life turns out.

I’m pretty sure this would be Rushdie’s reaction to my giving him an introduction at a book launch, too. I’m about as smooth as Bridget Jones.

I just don’t want my novel to be a romantic comedy, a la Bridget Jones Diary.  Okay, so I kind of love that movie, and in my dream world the movie adaptation of my novel would have a cameo by Salman Rushdie (a writer who I hold in the highest esteem, and who I was lucky enough to have met when he spoke at the University of Arkansas when I was in grad school).  It’s just, well, I’m not that kind of writer, the kind that if she wrote a screenplay, it would be like Love Actually (which I also love). OR AM I?

IDENTITY CRISIS COMMENCE.

Okay, not really.  But even though I’m cynical when it comes to my love life, I suppose I could give my character the happiness she deserves.  So we’ll see.  Does Jane deserve a happy ending, or just a sort of happy ending where she realizes the relationship wasn’t meant to be?

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

I got a notification for a comment on my blog, and as always, I immediately opened it up to see who was leaving a few words for me, and what their reactions were to my rambling, aka my blog posts.

I was thrilled to see that a fellow blogger, Julie at cheekydiva.wordpress.com, nominated me for a Reader Appreciation Award.

So, to accept the nomination, I’m filling this blog post with the entry requirements, which I luuurrrve.

 

If I choose to accept this nomination, (which I do, gladly) I must follow the rules, which are-

-Announce the nomination and the nominator, with a pic of the award on my latest greatest post. Thanks again, Julie!

-Tell 7 little known things about myself -

1-I have a weakness for terrible pop songs. You’ll often find me jamming in my car to Britney Spears or some such when I need a lift. I mean, who doesn’t feel better when car seat dancing to “Toxic”?

2-I am afraid of heights and confined spaces.  I have a hard time with those school bleachers where the steps don’t have backs – so unnerving.

3- In my mind, I’m a world traveler.  In reality, I’ve never had the money to take vacations much. I did make it to NYC a couple of times and felt like I’d come home.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have moved there after college. I’d also have studied abroad while in college.

4-I worked at McDonald’s in high school and college, and I actually had a lot of fun there.  There are worse jobs, as it turns out.

5- I can rationalize pretty much anything, especially when it comes to buying shoes, handbags, and books.

6- I have the best parents in the world.

7- Despite what seems to be a trend, I don’t want to be single my entire life.

 

Nominate 5 to 10 fellow bloggers as well- Here are my nominees, all of whom are on WordPress.  I look forward to reading their posts, and I hope you do too.

CheekyDiva – I love her musings about her daily life and her memories – especially the Notes from Mom post.

A Century of Nerve – Emma Bolden, writer extraordinaire, writes a great blog about writing, teaching, kidney stones, and the Real Housewives.  I love that she includes lots of pictures that she’s taken through the week to go with her overview.

The Crunk Feminist Collective – a blog written by an association of black female scholars who break down what’s happening.  Their posts are thoughtful and I guarantee will open your eyes.  They were recently featured in Essence Magazine!

Lisa Medley – an aspiring young adult paranormal romance writer, Lisa writes about her writing and reading with gusto!

Schmidt Photography – Sabine Schmidt’s blog that features her beautiful photos. She has a unique point of view, finding beauty in everyday, found scenes and objects.

-Notify these deserving bloggers of the nod.-Right after this message!

I’m honored to be nominated, and I’m glad to know that someone out there appreciates what I write.

Tracey

 

A Not-So-Novel Idea

 

I recently revised four stories and have submitted them for publication – except one, for some reason I’m holding back.  I don’t think it’s not ready, and I don’t think it’s the weakest of the bunch.  I just need to send it off.

I’ve spent the last week or so doing character sketches, freewriting, starting a few stories then abandoning them because I wasn’t feeling it.  The characters weren’t engaging me, and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to happen to them.  Maybe I’ll come back to them later, after (hopefully) the ideas solidify a bit more.  Ideas always have to percolate in my head for a while; I have to walk around with them and let the stories come to me.

Out of frustration yesterday, I returned to the novel I’d started. Well, more than started, since I have 18,000 words.  Three of the stories I just revised were back story pieces for the main character, and I think now I have a better understanding of who she is.  I’d decided not to write that novel because I just didn’t want to write about academia.  I have such mixed feelings about my profession, and I thought I’d given up on it for a while.  Living in that world again, expressing my feelings about it all, just seemed too overwhelming and like a plunge into a sort of darkness that I didn’t need to be in again.

I thought I’d work on my revision skills, at least, to sharpen my prose and maybe come up with a new idea or two.  I didn’t intend to continue writing the novel, but I realized that I have a good foundation to build from, that I have a lot to say, and I don’t dread the subject matter like I did.  I figured out a few changes I need to make in what I have, and I brainstormed on scenes and plot points to add.

I do need to figure out how I want to portray the main character’s most recent past relationship – why it ended, and how, and exactly who that ex-boyfriend is.  Unfortunately, considering this means I keep drifting back to my own last relationship.  I’m not NOT NOT NOT basing the ex-boyfriend character on that guy; he’s going to be a mix of lots of guys I’ve known.  It’s hard not to think of THAT GUY, though, the one who keeps coming to me in memories and to my dreams.  I’ve dreamed about him almost every night this week, and it’s obvious to me that I’m still searching for closure because the dreams all involve trying to communicate with him while we are still in a relationship. I’m trying to fight for that relationship in those dreams, and I wake up wishing I could just let it go.  I know he is out of my life permanently. Maybe I’m just wishing for contact for that closure.  I have to be careful not to let this seep too literally into the novel.

Maybe this is the real reason I’ve been avoiding writing this novel – by writing the ex-boyfriend as a completely different person, I’ll be thinking about my real ex, and it’s still painful.  I need a session at Lacuna, the clinic in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  I know, of course, that with or without my memories, I’d still make the same mistakes again.  I never mean to, but I do.

I’d like to think I could write my way out of this, that I’d exorcise some demons and really change and start over, but even when I try, I never seem to be able to quite make that mental shift.  I guess I can try, though.

I’m going to print out this picture and post it in front of my desk, to remind me to get beyond my past and to remind me to WRITE, BITCH, WRITE!

Get busy, Tracey!

 

5 Gs: Good God, Get a Grip Girl

Yesterday was any other Sunday morning. I leisurely drank my coffee on the porch, caught up on Facebook and Twitter, read the news, and allowed myself to be still for a few minutes. I also perused Pinterest, focusing on the Art, Humor, and Books, Movies and Television categories. I scrolled through the All category and, as has been my habit lately, ignored the women’s outfit and makeup pins. And then I caught myself, thinking “Wait a minute. Why am I just skimming over these?”  In the words of one of my favorite drag queens from RuPaul‘s Drag Race, Latrice Royale:  “Good God, Get a Grip Girl.”

Some background: I have always been style-crazy, obsessed with shoes and purses and cute clothes since I was a little kid. I wrote about my first handbag here, my beloved mustard yellow garage sale purse. I’ve always been interested in fashion and makeup from a creative standpoint, and also, well, just to look nice.  To be fierce and fabulous.

I’m sort of a Gemini (June 21st, on the cusp, so also sort of a Cancer), so I have that Gemini twin thing going on, and I’ve always felt it as important – no, more important – to feed my mind.  I write and read voraciously (I have a PhD in English, so no lie, I read A LOT), I stay fairly aware of what’s going on in the world, and I’m curious about pretty much everything (except sports and this Higson Boson particle thing, which I DO NOT UNDERSTAND, though I tried).

There’s been a shift, though, one that I wasn’t really aware of – I’ve been in a rut. It’s the closest I’ve come to giving up on being Fierce and Fabulous.  I’ve been in a financial mess since April when I unexpectedly lost my job, and I’ve been barely making ends meet with unemployment benefits for a month or so and then part-time teaching work.  I’ve been avoiding thinking about clothes and makeup because I haven’t wanted to make myself I need things I can’t afford.  I’ve been to the mall only a handful of times in the past year, and I haven’t been paying attention to anything going on as far as what’s fashionable.  Instead, I’ve been trying to be happy with what I have.

I’ve also been focusing on writing fiction and reading novels and short stories to learn about the craft from incredibly talented writers. Teaching again and working on an academic article that’s due in October have also kept my brain  working overtime, and I’ve been feeding my mind and forgetting that I have a physical existence.

Given the summer-long heat wave with consistent 100 degree temperatures, I’ve chosen to wear only those clothes that are light and airy and breathable, which limits one’s choices quite a bit.  More than that, though, I’ve found myself throwing on a t-shirt and whatever capri pants go with said t-shirt, not caring if my hair isn’t quite, well, groomed looking, and throwing on makeup quickly without much thought.  I’ve even woken up from a nap with my makeup half worn off and gone to the grocery store in yoga pants and a t-shirt, figuring I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew and knowing that I just blend into the linoleum anyway.

Yesterday, I decided I’ve had enough.  I went to Target and to buy groceries in a carefully chosen outfit, made sure my hair was neatly flat-ironed and my makeup was flawless, and dug into my jewelry box for a couple of pieces to make my outfit pop.  It was a Sunday morning, no need really to dress up, but I felt like a million dollars, about $999,999.99 more than I’ve felt in a long time.  I also decided to have a spa night, and I facialed, exfoliated, lotioned, and pampered the hell out of myself.  By the end of the night, I felt like I was on my way to Fierce and Fabulous again.  I curled up with Weezy in bed, lotioned feet in socks, and reading Jumpha Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, feeling better and more peaceful than I have in ages. 

I wish I could go shopping and buy some clothes that I wouldn’t normally buy, perhaps a great new dress, that pair of brown boots I’ve been wanting for years and, of course, a new handbag.  The majority of my clothes are t-shirts or practical clothes for work, and I’m more than tired of them.  I’m just going to have to be creative and make new combinations of outfits and accessorize them with scarves and bracelets I don’t normally wear, and know that my insides match my outsides – I’m Fierce and Fabulous through and through.   I won’t stop wanting these, though:

My god I want these so bad.

“It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to fall down. GET UP, look sickening, and make them EAT IT!” – Latrice Royale

She’s chunky yet funky, large and in charge; she is LATRICE ROYALE!

Little House of Disappointment

 

I’m a fan no more.

I decided to study literature at the graduate level because I have had a life-long love affair with the written word. Although most graduate students at some point in their studies scratch their heads and wonder, “If I chose this field because I love books and want to read for a living, why am I spending all my time reading criticism about books then writing more of said criticism like a social scientist would? Why don’t I read for pleasure anymore?” I certainly found myself wishing I could read books for fun, without a pencil in my hand, and I felt emotionally disconnected from my research and writing.

But I never expected to end up hating the Little House on the Prairie books.

I grew up in the late 70s and the 80s when the television series was on, and I read the whole set of books over and over and over. They were my first literary collection, housed in a yellow cardboard box that I wrote my name on. I watched the show every week, delighted that it was brought to the small screen. Well, I was delighted until they started straying wildly from the books, to the point that there was some kid named Albert in the family who got addicted to opium, and Pa rescued him from a bender, finding him foaming at the mouth. Then there was some episode about a girl Albert liked I THINK who was raped by a clown. I may be misremembering, but that shit got weird and I was traumatized.

Add to my early fascination though, was the fact that I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, an hour away from Mansfield, where Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder settled. My mom and grandma took my sister and I to see their house (which was two-story but had teeny creepy rooms and tiny stairs) and the adjoining museum, where I was excited to see objects I’d known from the books – Pa’s fiddle and Ma’s China Shepherdess were there. (I think…. it’s been a while). At the gift shop across the street, at various visits, my mom would buy me things to take home – a cookbook, a songbook, and my favorite – my very own tin cup. I was like a Little House superfan. I even would play Little House on the Prairie. I’d put away all of my twentieth century things, like my record player and my lamp, and I’d make my room sparsely decorated. I’d take my bedspread off so that it only had an old quilt on it, and I’d put on a sunbonnet I’d gotten at Silver Dollar City and pretend I was Laura. I had such fond memories of the whole thing, and it was an important part of my childhood.

Then I read Little House on the Prairie for my Women’s Plains Writers class when I was doing my PhD. It was off to a bad start – reading the book as an adult, I was horrified that a) Pa made Jack, the dog, WALK FROM EFFING MINNESOTA TO KANSAS OR WHEREVER and b) that this scene didn’t upset me when I was a kid, because I was as obsessed with dogs as I was with these books. I was a bit turned off, and then – THEN – the student presentation about the criticism on Laura’s books started. Turns out, her motive behind writing the books was in reaction to federal programs in the depression to help the economy. Apparently, Laura felt that HER family had roughed it as pioneers, facing blizzards, hunger, Mary going blind, and she thought that the government shouldn’t give handouts to people. The poor should just pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

Shit.

I now hated these books, because they were conservative propaganda. I mean, yes, people should try to do for themselves, but people also sometimes need help, and I firmly believe that we are on this earth to take care of others in need. Eff you, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Eff you.

None of my other courses ruined my childhood memories like this, and I think it’s better to be disabused of a romantic attachment than to keep on loving something that goes against what you believe, but wow – I think at age 33, my innocence finally ended and my childhood was over.

Oh, and once I mentioned my disappointment to my family, my grandmother, who grew up near Mansfield, said that people that knew Laura found that she was quite a nasty, mean woman.  That sealed it for me.

 

Everything is Illuminated in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Prose

I just finished reading Everything is Illuminated, and it was a wonderful read. I was charmed immediately by the voice of Alex, the Ukranian young man who serves as the author’s translator on his journey. His broken English is hilarious, as he tries to use a grand vocabulary, and I cracked up each time I knew he’d used a thesaurus. The novel goes back and forth in sections: Alex’s, in letters to the author; a narrative about the author’s journey to find the village his grandfather left behind to emigrate to America; and a narrative about the author’s ancestors.
One of the ancestors, Brod, is a woman who was mysteriously “born” from the river following a wagon accident that produced no dead bodies. She arrived in the middle of the river without an umbilical cord, and no one could figure out where she came from or who her parents really were. A rabbi gave her to an elderly man named Yankel, who lived alone, and young Brod lived in loneliness and sadness, as she and Yankel cared for each other but a distance always existed.

One of my favorite passages describes their relationship:

“But more than that, no unloving words were ever spoken, and everything was held up as another small piece of proof that it can be this way, it doesn’t have to be that way; if there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it heavy walls, and we will furnish it with soft red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler’s felt so that we should never hear it.

Love me, because love doesn’t exist, and I have tried everything that does.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

I don’t think I can say anymore. The images, particularly of the diamond falling on felt, soundlessly, softly is perfect. Foer perfectly captures the idea that we strive to love and to care for others, yet we sometimes feel that love doesn’t exist despite our efforts. Given the theme of the novel, that the past of our ancestors is always with us, and we live alongside those that come into our lives whether we choose them or not, this passage expresses the idea that we live both apart from and with everyone else in the world.

I highly recommend this book, though I don’t recommend it for bedtime reading, because it requires more attention that one has in a semi-sleepy state. Also, watch the movie afterward, because the ending was changed in a major way (and I think both endings are perfect). I can’t wait to read more of this talented novelist’s work. And I hope to some day write prose that sounds more like Foer’s than E.L. James’s or Stephenie Meyers’s. :-)

Words Like This: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Last week I complained about popular genre fiction and my consternation about the books actually getting published.  Again, I don’t think genre fiction is necessarily all terrible, but I’m amazed that books of such bad quality aren’t improved with some editing, at least, before they hit the shelves.

Instead of continuing to complain, I thought I’d share some lovely passages from some of my favorite writers.  Perhaps by showing examples of wonderful writing that manages to “tell the truth but tell it slant,” maybe, just maybe, a writer somewhere will read this and think, “Yes!  I want to aspire to this!”

Language, tone, style, voice — all of these are difficult to juggle when writing a story. I sometimes find myself focusing on one and forgetting the rest. Or sometimes I’ll get caught up in just getting the words down, and then they fall flat.  I’ll often have to remind myself of the mood I’m trying to convey, and one revision will be changing the language so that my word choices convey that mood.  These are the moments that I wonder why the HELL does anyone try to write?  It’s hard!

Here are some passages from some great writers who manage to say it, say it well, and leave me wanting more.  They make me feel like I’m present in these fictional worlds, standing next to the characters as the stories unfold.

First, from the master magical realist, one of the most sensual writers I’ve read – Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  This passage is from his short story “Death Constant Beyond Love,” a story about a terminally ill senator in South America who has been doing his job perfunctorily for a long time.  When he is out on a campaign tour of the tiny villages in his district, he meets a woman whose presence eases him through the end.  At the beginning, however, his soul is empty; he has no reason to live the rest of his days.  He is unaffected by the plight of his poor constituents.  In this one sentence, Marquez conveys the setting, his inner turmoil, and his distance from those he serves:

“Senator
 Onesimo
 Sanchez
 was 
placid 
and 
weatherless 
inside 
the 
air‐conditioned
 car,
but 
as 
soon 
as 
he 
opened
 the 
door 
he
 was shaken 
by 
a gust 
of 
fire 
and 
his 
shirt
 of
 pure 
silk was
 soaked 
in 
a
 kind 
of 
light‐colored 
soup 
and
 he 
felt
 many 
years
 older 
and
 more 
alone 
than 
ever.”

He is wealthy, as he wears a silk shirt and enjoys an air-conditioned car so is able to be “weatherless,” in contrast to the very poor villagers he interacts with after this scene.  And that his silk shirt is “soaked in a kind of light-colored soup” is one of my favorite phrases of writing ever – he’s not just sweaty, moist, wet.  He is covered in soup – viscous, hot, thick.  He is immersed in the real world but feels separate from it.  We can feel separate from the world in our loneliness, but we are always connected to others and to the earth through our physical presence.

A lesser writer might say something like “It was hot outside the air-conditioned car, and the senator felt old and lonely.”  Marquez’s prose makes me feel like I can physically feel the hot air and the humidity, as well as the senator’s empty heart.  Such beautiful, wonderful art this is; the words pull the reader in by focusing on the physical.

(I can also say that I’ve been feeling covered in soup a lot lately; this heat wave is killing me.  I keep thinking of this phrase when I go outside. )