Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'll be participating in the A-to-Z Challenge beginning Sunday, April 1st. After that, I'll be blogging every day of the month except Sundays. Successive letters of the alphabet will be my themes. Twenty-six letters. Twenty six days. Of course, all my posts will have something to do with writing.

Then on April 23, I will begin the 10-Week Writer's Challenge. This one doesn't necessarily involve blogging. Participants get to set their own challenge and make their own rules. (I like that!) My tentative goal is to have more than half a novel written by the end of the 10-week period.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Feeding Wonder

Since I’m attempting to write my own middle grade novel, I’m reading a lot of kid fiction these days, but I also devour nonfiction. It’s great food for wonder, which my husband says I have a pretty big appetite for. 

One book I loved so much I read it twice is A History of the Circle by Ernest Zebrowski (1999). It is about the limits of mathematical reasoning, which takes us deep into philosophical nowhere land, but paradoxically allows us to do functional things in the physical world, like build buildings and explore outer and inner space. The math here is accessible even to those, like me, who aren't particularly mathematically minded.

Another nonfiction book that awed me was Life’s Matrix: A Biography of Water by Philip Ball (2000). Water has importance far beyond what we ordinarily consider—and we ordinarily consider it to be pretty important! 

Water is a sort of lone wolf, doing its own thing. One of its unique properties is its stability in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. If it were otherwise, human and biological life would be impossible for reasons that don’t have anything to do with cell hydration. Earth, for instance, was/is hospitable to life because water played/plays its idiosyncratic role in geology, climatology, and oceanography. 

I read this book, coincidentally, right after I’d read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, in which one molecule of ice-nine eventually crystallizes every molecule of water in all the oceans. Yikes! There is indeed an Ice IX—and ice of even higher numbers—created by subjecting water to pressure as it freezes, but it doesn’t do anything as fantastic as ice-nine did in Vonnegut’s novel. Thank goodness. 

I'd love to hear of the nonfiction that feeds your wonder.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Some Like It Hot

One reason I live in and love the South? I dislike cold weather. I have wonderful childhood memories of playing outside on Christmas Day with toys I got from Santa Claus. And adult memories of grocery shopping in December in shorts. On the other hand, I remember the blizzard of March 1993. A real fluke. Thunder snow in drifts of a foot or more through central Alabama that year. The most snow I'd seen before thatother than on Christmas cardswas four inches.

Of course, whenever snow is forecast, everyone panics and the supermarkets run out of milk and bread. If you don't have four-wheel-drive, you'd best just stay home and have peanut butter sandwiches and milk for several meals. We're not the best drivers in winter weather down here.

One February I spoke by phone to a friend, a native Southerner who relocated near Chicago. It was another mild winter in Dixie and, knowing his dislike of cold, I couldn't resist a jab. "Have you plowed your garden spot yet?" I asked him, smirking. 

"Oh, what a cruel beast you are!" The mercury, he said, had not risen above 20 degrees there for days.

This year I think the thaw has come early everywhere. Our peach trees and crab apples have finished blooming. Our birch tree has leafed. Our blueberry bushes are loadedif a late frost doesn't get them.

It's sunny and 77! What's it like where you are?

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Did you know that the eruption of Krakatoa in August 1883 might have prompted Edvard Munch to paint The Scream? Here's the theory circulated by a couple of physicists in an article in 2004.

Munch, they say, while strolling dockside with friends, actually witnessed the extraordinary Oslo sunset he obsessed over. So much so that he painted it at least four times.

Newspaper accounts worldwide in 1883 recorded blood-red skies as well as a "sanguinary" sea. In November, three months after the eruption, an Oslo newspaper recorded a "strong light" in the west that people thought was fire.

The disturbed Munch later wrote: "I stopped, leaned against the railing . . . . And I looked at the flaming clouds that hung like blood . . . . My friends walked on . . . . And I felt a loud unending scream, piercing nature."

The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick (2004) documents this as well as the 1994 theft and recovery of The Scream from Oslo's National Gallery.The thieves raised a ladder to a second story window, and went in and out without setting off an alarm.

I'll bet the guard in the basementwho wasn't watching his monitorsclosely resembled Munch's masterpiece when he finally realized what had happened.

And, by the way, The Scream(s) are painted on . . . cardboard!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What's Natural About Art?
Some people say, “Writing is an unnatural act.”

The idea has been attributed to Carlos Fuentes, who claimed writing was rebellion against God. Writers do exercise godlike creativitynot as rebels but as devotees. (Fuentes is projecting, perhaps?) Creativity, by definition, is an act of love. 
A text book by James C. Raymond, Writing (is an unnatural act), asserts some alternative interpretation, but not having read the book, I can’t say what that is.

I’m assuming the general idea is that we shouldn’t be too surprised the first time we try our hands at writing and fail miserably. In that case writing is an unnatural act. Because anybody can (and lots do) scribble down words and claim they are writers, but that doesn’t make them such. The term “writer” implies a product of a certain quality, like “carpenter,” or “guitarist.”

Writing “well,” especially writing long (for example: novels or biographies), isn’t natural in the sense that breathing or walking is because:  
              1) all writers struggle to one degree or another against an internal editor that is always niggling them to reread, rewrite, rearrange; 

               2) it’s impossible for writers to keep all the elements of a story in view simultaneously, hence the need for all sorts of organizing schemes and visual aids;

               3) it’s virtually impossible for writers to be proficient at all the technical skills required to write well until they’ve written a lot—that is, before they've spent a vast amount of time learning from their mistakes and practicing how to fix them; and

               4) good writing has an undefinable something, a "je-ne-sais-quoi"—and how the heck do you learn that?

Writing is an art. Just like playing piano or drawing portraits or carving cameos. 

Art isn’t natural. (Neither is cooking, but that doesn’t mean we should stop eating.) It takes long effort, sometimes a lifetime, to get really good.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?