Monday, October 26, 2009

Let It Be

This is a re-post of something from a year ago on the Hudson Valley Writers site, but it still applies...

Saturday I finished transforming a jumbled mountain of firewood into rough rows and columns in my woodshed. This monotonous activity, besides kicking several muscle groups into sudden loud protest, made me think about writing. Of course, many things make me think about writing. Like, most of all, not writing.

As I stacked wood, I labored through motions both repetitive and unique, sometimes carefully choosing size, shape, and placement for structural integrity, other times just tossing whatever was available into the row. I had a sketchy vision of the end product: rows relatively balanced and uniform, columns standing tall without collapse or even wobble. I had to keep up a certain pace or never finish; no time for nit-picking. Every log was a word, a phrase, an idea – each with its own ragged edges, annoyingly imperfect, often stubbornly refusing to fit, but still the only thing at hand.

Eventually it was done and I could step back and see the whole thing…. Ouch. All that work, for this? This rough, ungraceful edifice, barely utilitarian, not beautiful at all? But it’s finished. The shed is full. No rewrites allowed on this one (cheering from the sore muscles), so… here’s the difficult part: I have to surrender my perfectionism.

I’m grateful that, in contrast to wood-stacking, my writing affords nearly endless revision. But still, every time, I face the same inner dialogue: this piece of work is not really what I wanted it to be, it didn’t quite capture some exquisite subtlety of mood, some ephemeral shadow of memory, some brief twinge of insight. But I’ve done all I can do. I have to just let it be what it is.

With that motion (figurative) of opening my hands (heart) to let go, as if freeing a dove to the sky, I make room for something new. Like on Saturday, when I stood and stared a long minute at my woodshed, breathed deep and exhaled slow, and allowed in the sweet taste of accomplishment and the warm fuzz of winter security – just like that, every day, I have to release my writing from silly fastidiousness so that it can simply go forth and live. For me, this is a challenge. Thank you, I accept.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire
“Let it be.” -- McCartney

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gratitude for Reviews

It's been a whole month since I wrote here last, an indication of overload at the day job and on the home front. Maintaining a blog is a challenge for the non-loquacious (like me). And I've discovered that now that The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility is out in the world and beginning to toddle on its own two feet, my thoughts are moving on, getting all wrapped up in the next work-in-progress. That's a good thing, but I don't intend to abandon my firstborn... I'll continue a little promotional effort here and there to keep some momentum going. Meanwhile, the next book calls!

Speaking of momentum, these last few weeks have been gratifying as I've seen the results of my early submissions of review copies. Once my first small POD print run was in the works, after several proofs and final tweaking, I e-mailed review queries to two local print publications and three online review sites. One of the websites declined--I suspect literary short stories are not their cuppa tea--but the others accepted and I sent books as soon as they arrived. Then I began counting days and alternately fearing and desiring those imminently-arriving comments from objective strangers (yikes!) who were actually reading my book (wow!).

Now, it's the morning after opening nght, and I'm a happy author as I read the reviews! Here they are so far, in reverse chronological order (click to read each one in full):

In the October Chronogram Magazine, Anne Pyburn manages to capture the essence of my book in three paragraphs that are so eloquent I'm hard-pressed to choose the best blurb... how about "a feast of food for thought, a richly imagined reality that looks much like our own world if we could really see it."

Online at POD People, Cheryl Anne Gardner gives a really thoughtful, in-depth examination of the themes (and their alternates) that she sees at work in the stories and the book as a whole. I'm immensely grateful for this kind of close reading and generous analysis, made even better by the fact that hers is all volunteer labor. Again, so difficult to choose a few words from so many insightful comments; here's one: "...the collection really begged the question: Hope? Is it really genuine or is it something we invent as a way to justify our acceptance..."

At the website Self-Publishing Review, whose mission is to help bring self-published literature to a more respected position in the minds of readers and the industry, editor Henry Baum closes his review with this: "Overall, it’s a collection of very strong writing - thoughtful, full of vivid imagery, sorrowful at times, but never self-pitying. The Lost Symbol it is not, but it’s subtle and moving in a way that Dan Brown dreams of being." (Sorry, Dan!)

The Fearless Reviews website takes just two paragraphs to give a strong impression of the content and themes in my stories, and sums it up with this: "This is a beautifully written, thoughtful collection well worth reading."

In my local paper, the Woodstock Times (scroll down to Storytellers), I was flattered to be reviewed along with one of my writing heroes, James Lasdun. Reviewer Paul Smart says "...the use of a fractured story structure, where characters, actions and similar reactions come together over time, lend the overall work the tragic air of great epics, with people doing all they can to escape fate's plans for them; and yet also the bittersweet quality we recognize in the best comedies, where folks keep pressing on, no matter what pushes them back."

As more and more copies get into the hands of readers, I'm finding that I deeply appreciate knowing that anyone is investing their precious hours to explore the worlds I worked for years to get onto those pages. It's humbling and pleasurable at the same time. Thanks for reading!