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June 2011

Recommended Reading:

Ely & FoggyMy god-daughter Ely Todd-Jones, riding Foggy on a hill near our village. The photo is by her mum, Carol Amos.

* Two fine journals have new issues up this week, full of plenty of good online reading:  Goblin Fruit's Spring 2011 issue, which marks their 5th anniversary (congratulations!), is a feast of mythic poems (including audio versions) by  Catherynne M. Valente, J. C. Runolfson, Paul McQuade, C.S.E. Cooney, and many more. It's a pure delight from start to finish. Mythic Imagination's Spring 2011 issue runs on the theme of "Wilderness and Captivity," with contributions by David Abram, Michael Meade, Bill Holm, K.A. Laity and others. It's lovely to see this worthwhile magazine up and running again.

And if those doesn't keep you busy, here are a few more magpie gleanings:

* Gwyneth Jones (aka Ann Halam) discusses "the princess as role model" and Perseus and Andromeda in Kath Langrish's Fairytale Reflections series (Seven Miles of Steel Thistles).

* J.K. Rowling discusses the fringe benefits of failure and the importance of the imagination in Harvard Magazine.

* Sherman Alexie discusses kids' books written in blood (in response to the recent Wall Street Journal article on Young Adult fiction) in the WSJ's Speakeasy.

* In a short but moving piece, art critic Terry Teachout reflects on the different life paths he and his brother have chosen, at About Last Night.

* Jennifer Cruise explores linear vrs. patterned storytelling structure at argh ink (via Gwenda Bond).

* Rex and Howard are at it again at John Barleycorn.

* Karen Meisner interviews Holly Black, Ellen Kushner, and me about Welcome to Bordertown at Strange Horizons. She also interviews a medley of Bordertown authors.

* Other Bordertown news: Dylan Meconis shows how she created her Bordertown comic over at Tor.com, and does so in a very entertaining fashion. Plus, I loved this little video book review by Morgyn, an articulate young reader on the LexieVamp666 YouTube Channel  (you can fast-forward through the book information at the beginning; the review itself starts at the 2:00 mark) -- which reminded me why those of us who work in the Young Adult fiction field do what we do. 

* Art recommendations this week: Have a look at the amazing  "camera obscura" photographs of Abelardo Morrell on the National Geographic website (via Colleen Mondor); the arresting photo of albino whitetailed deer by Mike at and suddenly, i felt nothing; Christina Cairn's lovely "teabag art" at A Mermaid in the Attic, the magical "kitchen santos" created by Ulla Norup Milbrath at Ullabenulla; and the fabulous doll art of E.J. Taylor.

Also, the Watts Gallery in Compton (near Guildford, U.K.), dedicated to the work of the Victorian painter G.F. Watts, has been rennovated at long last and is re-opening this weekend. The art housed there is glorious, but the gallery itself was in a heart-breaking state of neglect. I'm so glad to hear it's been lovingly restored, and look forward to visiting again.

* Video recommendations this week:  Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie (author of Half a Yellow Sun, etc.)  discusses how she found her voice as a writer. And for those of you interested in the publishing business, Richard Nash discusses how publishers have lost their way (via Erzebet YellowBoy).

Have a good weekend.

Ely,Foggy, & JunoEly, Foggy, and Juno (a great friend of Tilly's). Photo by Carol Amos.


On Your Desk

Womb1

Our next set of intriguing "On Your Desk" photographs comes from reader Icarus! Quinn, who says:

"I'm a writer, photographer, musician, shaman and chaos magician from New Jersey, and my creative/sacred space is called The Womb. It's a two room finished attic which houses all of my books and instruments and computers and assorted toys and stimuli.

"The first photo (above) is of my music/Mac desk. Pretty self explanatory. The second photo (below) is a wider shot of my PC/writing/photoshop desk, with a sneak peek into the front room, where the drums live. The light is always bright in the front room, and always muted in the back, which is a wonderful contrast, especially in the winter."

Womb2

"There are two websites I'd be happy to share. One is my blog, My Icarus Moment, which features a lot of my photography, the occasional poem and daily reflections. The other one is for The Idirlion Project, a shamanic/magickal initiative I co-founded with my teacher last year, taking the sigilization techniques of Austin Spare and bringing them into the 21st century."

Thank you, Icarus!

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All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photo) in the first post of the series, and you can view the full series here.


Trading Stories

A_wlahiri_0519 Jhumpa Lahiri, one of my favorite writers, has a gorgeous piece in the current New Yorker Magazine: "Trading Stories: Notes from an Apprenticeship."  (You can read it in the June 13, 2011 issue , or online on the New Yorker website.) In this short memoir, Lahiri describes her journey from book-loving child to Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and examines the mindset that turns some of us into writers  despite every other intention.

I found "Trading Stories" of particular interest because, despite our vastly different family backgrounds, Lahiri and I have one thing in common: we were both children who wrote incessantly in youth...and who then stopped writing (for a time) in young adulthood, channelling our creativity into other areas instead. She writes:

"As I grew into adolescence and beyond, however, my writing shrank in what seemed to be an inverse proportion to my years. Though the compulsion to invent stories remained, self-doubt began to undermine it, so that I spent the second half of my childhood being gradually stripped of the one comfort I’d known, that formerly instinctive activity turning thorny to the touch. I convinced myself that creative writers were other people, not me, so that what I loved at seven became, by seventeen, the form of self-expression that most intimidated me. I preferred practicing music and performing in plays, learning the notes of a composition or memorizing the lines of a script..." - JL

For me, too, the writing impulse was channeled into theater work, and I actually entered university intending to major in theater -- an intention so ill-suited to my nature that it seems little short of insane to me now. Fortunately it wasn't too long before I found my way back to my true vocation.

Lahiri explains her own detour away from her proper vocation with the following words:

Unaccustomed "For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?" - JL

This too I can relate to. As a child growing up with a mentally ill parent, tossed between various relatives, all I wanted in adolescence was to be ordinary, from an ordinary family. The very things in my background that give me strength and compassion as an adult, both as a woman and as a writer, were the things things that mortified me in adolescence; and I was no more willing to "alchemize" them into prose than I was to strip in public.

"It was not in my nature to be an assertive person," Lahiri continues. "I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to re-conceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, 'Listen to me.'

"This was where I faltered. I preferred to listen rather than speak, to see instead of be seen. I was afraid of listening to myself, and of looking at my life."

I can't help but wonder how many other young writers have likewise faltered in making that step -- or, worse, have stopped in their tracks altogether. It takes courage to write, and to expose oneself. And to be oneself. But then, all art takes courage.

And stubbornness.

And foolishness.

Stirred together with a teaspoon of talent, a tablespoon of craft (or maybe it's the other way around?), a heaping cup of plain hard work, and a pinch of luck.