By Leslie Lindsay
A curated newsletter on the literary life, featuring ‘4 questions,’ reading & listening recommendations, where to submit, more
Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book
~MUSINGS & MEANDERINGS~
I don’t have an MFA. I’m not really a writer.
Guess what? Same. I didn’t study English or literary interpretation at college. Neither did Courtney Maum, author (most recently) of the memoir, THE YEAR OF THE HORSES (Tin House Books, October 2022, now available in paperback). I had the opportunity to attend a talk hosted by StoryStudio Chicago in which Courtney was in conversation with Megan Stielestra, whom I’ve also interviewed.
I didn’t interview Courtney Maum, but listened to her on David Naimon’s podcast Between the Covers while driving along the Oregon coast to attend a Corporeal Writing workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch. If you don’t know, David is based in Portland. Courtney was talking about her memoir, The Year of the Horses, the craft–and business–of writing, all while I was conjuring the confidence to break out of my I’m-never-going-to-write-again-rainy season.
It all felt kind of kismet.
In case you’re wondering…I’m back…er…on the saddle, writing-wise.
Courtney was warm and genuine, maybe even a little frazzled with plans to meet up with her family in Mexico the very next day, plus it was the evening of elections and all of that ‘stuff’ in NYC.
She spoke to our cozy wine & cheese group about the cross-over between writing and riding. I’ll attempt to paraphrase here:
Have a Writing/Riding Financial Plan:
Neither pursuit is exactly ‘cheap.’ Decide on your most productive hours. Budget time. Budget money. Saddles and riding gear add up, so do lessons, food, and more…you’ll need to take classes, attend conferences, subscribe to lit journals, buy the books, pay the submission fees. If you’re not working because you’re writing, how will you manage? Do you have another income stream?
You’re Going to Fall Off:
In horseback riding, there’s some kind of ratio to how many times a rider falls and how many times she doesn’t. Mostly, she falls. At least at first. For writers/creatives, wanting to quit is part of the game. Aim for failure. Art-making brings constant rejection. Plan for that. Develop friends and a support network across genres.
You Don’t Know Until You Know:
You’re going to make some faux pas, in the riding barn and in the writing workshop. You might not realize you need to build relationships with booksellers, but you do. You may not think sending a thank you card is important, but it is. Do it.
You Are Not in Control.
Yep. The idea is to trick yourself (and your horse/editor/audience) that you are. There’s a powerful pivot from private life to public. As a writer, we’re often alone with our words, and in charge of them…until we’re not…and they are in the public’s reach. Writer’s cannot control who buys their book, if readers like their book, and not everyday is going to be a writing/riding day. Sometimes, you just can’t because life happens or you don’t ‘feel’ the mojo.
You Don’t Have to Write/Ride Everyday:
When that happens, no biggie. You can still blurb, read, teach, watch a movie. Be an active reader, think like a writer. How did the plot progress, how did you feel while watching/reading? Go out into the world. Doing so will enrich your writing/riding life.
You Gotta Get Shit on Your Hands:
Owning and riding a horse is dirty work. You’re going to have to pick shit out of a hoof. In writing, you’re going to have to read the books, the journals, take the low (or no-) paying jobs, go to camps/conferences/retreats. Be a good literary citizen. Go to the signings. Buy from indies. Support the people you want to buy your work when the time comes. All writers/riders works so hard to get where they are. Put out good karma.
Others Will Be Better Than You:
This is a fact of life. That’s okay. There might be competition and envy. Accept that; admire it.
It’s Okay to do Something You Love Even if You’re not Amazing:
Be there. Be obsessed. Find the joy. Keep going. Do it because you love it. It’s about investing in yourself.
[Leslie’s note: As much as I love singing, I’m never going to attempt it professionally!]
Writing/Riding is Scary as Hell, & That’s Okay:
As a writer, we must revisit really tough material. We must. It’s about editing and revision. It’s about making it better. So we writers overthink and dwell and ruminate. It’s akin to the nasty loop of depression. But if we didn’t do this important part of our work, no books would get written. In riding, one must react quickly, be in the moment. It’s similar to writing, but different. It’s about getting out of one’s head.
The Moment of Writing/Riding is a Privilege:
Writing and riding is a process, and can often be spiritual. It’s a privilege to be able to find the time to write/ride not accessible to all. It might be about survival or contentment, but the bottom line is: it’s a gift.
In what ways do you find writing adjacent to another pursuit? For me, sometimes it’s exercise or specifically–yoga. Breath, sequences, how things build on one another. Someone else recently said the act of writing is a lot like falling in love. The spark, the enamored feelings…the rough patches…getting through them. Do you agree? Maybe you have another idea.
Respond here in a comment, or find me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
~Leslie : )
P.S. I also picked up Courtney’s other book, BEFORE & AFTER THE BOOK DEAL(Catapult, January 2022), which I am reading now and absolutely loving. Practical and actionable suggestions for sustaining a writing career. And also, Megan Stielstra’s ONCE I WAS COOL: Personal Essays (NUP, August 2021 re-issue).
Check out my Bookshop.org list of other memoirs/personal essays you might be interested in reading.
This issue of Musings & Meanderings is jam-packed with some really great stuff to get your [writing and reading] year off on the right foot. Coaching, book recommendations, journals to submit to, reading recommendations, author interviews, recently published prose, and a quick 4 questions insights interview with poet Beth Ann Mathews on her memoir, DEEP WATERS. I have new poetry up at Ballast and Empyrean, and a photo-essay featuring miniatures in On the Seawall.
There’s more to this newsletter. Keep Scrolling.
By the way, I do not get any ‘kick-backs’ or other kind of payment (in-kind, or otherwise) for mentioning these classes/workshops/books/individuals. Sharing because if helps me, maybe it’ll speak to you, too.
Some Writerly Things:
- Bellevue Literary Review (BLR) is looking for exceptional work on health, healing, illness, and medicine for their 2023 prize. Polish up your fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and submit by July 1. There is a $20 reading fee. Click HERE for more details.
- Struggling with how to END your story? Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, a novel, or something else, we writers are often looking to subvert, resonate, disturb, or illuminate a reader experience. It’s an art, right? And sometimes it’s satisfying, but more times than not, we want the tingle of the last page to stay with the reader (that means it’s not always satisfying). This LitHub craft essay delves into lots of endings and how their authors did it–from Cormac McCarthy to Toni Morrison and Tobias Wolff to Carmen Maria Machado, you’ll find terrific examples to try on your own.
- I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading that is somehow related to motherhood…maybe it’s that time of year (Mother’s Day is just right around the corner), or maybe it’s just a theme that drives me. This piece, in The Cut, an excerpt from poet Maggie Smith’s memoir, YOU COULD MAKE THIS PLACE BEAUTIFUL (Atria Books, April 11 2023 ) really resonated.
- Kelly Link on writing after 2pm, being purposeful, and why she loves to write, but hates to write, and more in this quick interview.
- Poets & Writers has an online workshop they are calling “Mapping the Maze” in which they provide guidelines & support for poets and fiction writers and the complex steps to publication. Learn more and register HERE.
Some Readerly Things:
- Other motherhood-themed books I’ve loved lately, if you’re so inclined: THE BABIES by Sabrina Orah Mark (Saturnalia Press, ), THE LONG DEVOTION: Poets Writing Motherhood, edited by Emily Perez and Nancy Reddy (UGA Press, April 1, 2022)–this one also contains writing prompts!–THE NURSERY by Szilvia Molnar (Pantheon, March 21 2023), and a few summer domestic thrillers: Shari Lapena’s EVERYONE HERE IS LYING (Pamela Dorman Books, July 25, 2023–look for an ‘Author Insights’ interview here in July) and THE WHISPERS by Ashley Audrain (Pamela Dorman Books, June 6, 2023).
New! Featured Author|Insights
Beth Ann Mathews
DEEP WATERS: A Memoir of Loss, Alaska Adventure, & Love Rekindled
“…an incisive, smartly informative memoir that celebrates the power of the cohesive family unit—its outcome will offer positivity and hope to those facing similar challenges.”
Deep Waters is a gripping, intimate story of relationship resilience, set against the backdrop of Alaska’s dramatic marine wilderness.
Without responding in complete sentences, what would you say DEEP WATERS is about?
Beth Ann Mathews:
Almost losing a loved one can push you to overcome insecurities and fear and live more fully.
Not letting work, even work you love, absorb you so much you don’t take time to stay connected with your partner and family.
The value of spending time in nature to stay centered and whole.
Applying advances in the study of brain plasticity can improve the chances for some people to regain more mobility and function after a stroke.
Where did you write DEEP WATERS? Do you have any special writing routines or rituals? Do they change with each project, or remain constant over time?
Beth Ann Mathews:
I started writing stand-alone stories and attending my first critique group in La Paz while we were living and traveling on our sailboat in Mexico. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that those stories might one day become scenes in a book. Most writing and revising for Deep Waters began two years later in Santa Rosa, California where we moved after cruising for three years. Participating in two memoir writing groups motivated me to polish a scene to read and have critiqued every week.
My routine is to get up ahead of everyone else around six, say hello to our schipperke, make coffee, do a dozen pushups while microwaving a dash of milk in my mug, and go to my desk with coffee in hand. I try to avoid looking at email and instead open Scriviner to the current project. To get back into a productive frame of mind, a ritual that helps me is to respond to feedback from a critique partner. Midday, I’m more distractible. If I check email, two hours can swoosh by before I realize I’m way off track. To counter this tendency, before noon, I often head to a favorite café where I focus best. But I don’t write every day, and I schedule afternoons away from the computer to spend time outdoors and to do my share of keeping our household and lives on track.
The morning part of my ritual is fairly consistent, except when my husband and I are living on the boat for days or weeks where I don’t have a dedicated office. I get up early and start out working at the galley table. After an hour or two, I take him coffee. Once he’s up, I move to the aft cabin to work while he cooks breakfast—a wonderful gift to a morning writer. If there’s a big project on the boat, and he doesn’t need my help, I’ll walk to a café with laptop in my backpack, and hunker down at a small table. I wrote a lot of Deep Waters in cafés.
“If books were birds, this one would be an arctic tern–powerful and graceful, beset by storms and learning to survive and more: to thrive. The writing is feather-light, yet strong.”
—KIM HEACOX, author of Jimmy Bluefeather and The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska
If you weren’t writing, you would be…
Beth Ann Mathews:
If I weren’t writing, I’d be outdoors more, hiking, or exploring a cove on our pedalboard, observing birds and photographing wildlife. I might take up sewing again and learn how to quilt. I’d draw, sketch, and read more. And I’d spend more time with my husband, who sometimes feels abandoned when I’m engrossed in a project. But I’d miss how writing helps me be more self-aware. Like the sentence I wrote about my husband. That came out with no planning–like a confession. Which it is, and I need to do something about it.
What book did you recently read that you can’t stop thinking about?
Beth Ann Mathews:
I’ve recently read Dani Shapiro’s Signal Fires, a novel about how a series of fleeting decisions by members of a family result in a tragic event, which ripples into the future, with major consequences for each person. I was pulled in by Shapiro’s characters and her expertise in writing—without baffling the read–from the points of view of seven people, from a nine-year-old genius obsessed with astronomy to the inner machinations of a mother from her coherent years to her stream of consciousness, late-stage Alzeimer’s dementia.
I can’t stop thinking about the main character, the father. He’s a quietly heroic doctor whose family is torn apart by the secret he, his wife, their daughter and son bury to protect the family. Instead, by not talking to each other, or seeking counseling about what happened, the secret grows like a cancer, damaging each of them.
For more information, to purchase a copy of DEEP WATERS, or to connect with the author via social media, please visit her website.
About the Author:
Beth Ann Mathews grew up in the Midwest. She earned her undergraduate degree at Purdue University, worked in the bird department at the Tulsa Zoo for three years, and earned her master’s degree in marine biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. As a professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, she taught courses in biology, behavioral ecology, and marine mammalogy and led research on harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and harbor porpoises. She has also studied humpback, gray, and sperm whales and—briefly—sleeper sharks, and led undergraduate research programs on board tall ships in the Gulf of Maine and from field camps in Hawaii and Alaska. She’s published numerous scientific papers, and a chapter from Deep Waters placed second in the 2018 Redwood Writers Memoir Contest. Deep Waters is Mathews’s first book. Beth and her husband lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington.
Browse my Bookshop.org for more memoir, what I’m reading in 2023, and …and more!
Some Recently Published Interviews, Prose, Etc.:
- This piece, MODEL HOME: A Study Under Compression, in On the Seawall, is something I am so proud of. It was conceived in a craft store when I wandered down the model train aisle. At home, I already had the moss and tiny house and vials. I wanted to depict something with words and photography that would spotlight my family falling into disarray…my mother’s mental illness, the ‘perfect’ home, the family divided. This was my answer. It’s my first text + image publication. Here’s a sampling:
- I am bowled over by the reception my poem, CREVASSE, received by Luke Johnson in the Spring 2023 issue of Ballast. Check out our dialogue about one another’s work HERE. Also, that landing page! Swooning.
- You can find some of my other poetry at Empyrean Literary Journal. This piece was conceived in a workshop at StoryStudio Chicago in which the prompt was to combine two totally different things with one’s childhood street. I chose my grandfather’s profession as stained-glass artist and the year 1989. The resulting piece is COLLAPSE.
- Super-excited about this illustrated review in DIAGRAM, which has sorta been like a dream place of mine to get work published. It’s a beautiful melding of all things that bring me joy: fonts, words, ideas, art, books, and the human body. I mean…the only obsessions missing for me is architecture, travel, nature, and basset hounds. Check it out and the book, YOUR HEARTS, YOUR SCARS: Essays by the late Adina Talve-Goodman (Bellevue Literary Press, Jan 24 2023), which happens to be a Powell’s pick for January.
- Hippocampus Magazine…Juliet Patterson’s SINKHOLE: A Natural History of a Suicide (Milkweed, September 2022).
- Kathryn Gahl in conversation with me about her poetic memoir, THE YELLOW TOOTHBRUSH (Two Shrews Press, September 2022), about her incarcerated daughter, perinatal mood disorder, more in MER, November 28, 2022.
- Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s HALFWAY FROM HOME (Split/Lip Press, Nov 8) in Hippocampus Magazine, about her working-class unconventional childhood in California, moving across the country to pursue writing, home, displacement, and so much more November 13, 2022.
- Prose in SEPIA Journal Oct/Nov 2022 issue. Interiors is about an Appalachian family, black bottom pie, trains, and ear aches. It was inspired by my own family lore, and also: this journal is STUNNING!
- An essay about an experience at a workshop/retreat, featuring design/architecture, and how we are all works-in-progress, in The Smart Set.
- Speaking of Apraxia: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, 2nd edition (Woodbine House, 2021) through some online retailers, your local library, used bookstores (it’s now officially out-of-print), and the audio edition is downloadable (with additional PDFs, resources) through Penguin Random House.
There’s more to this newsletter. Keep scrolling.
What’s Obsessing Me:
- Jane Friedman recently brought this search engine to my attention and I am obsessed–ddmm is all about stock images for whatever your heart desires. You can filter to show results for creative commons only. I searched up ‘floor plans,’ and was instantly drooling.
- Along those lines, I have started thinking about a playlist for my WIP. Many writers do this to get in the writing mood/mindset, and while that might work for you, I’m using it as an accompaniment for the book itself, sort of a multi-sensory read. Check out the Natural Language Playlist, which is an AI-generated mixtape concept you can download right to your Spotify account. Pretty slick!
- Ruins, architecture, sending my oldest daughter off to college, and how there’s this robin who has returned to the same spot at my house to nest…and there’s an essay in all of that, I am convinced.
- The Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I attended a Story Studio event there recently and was blown away. The brilliant view of Lake Michigan and Buckingham Fountain, the elevator ride, and well–the amazing literary minds. It was originally erected in 1898 and was once a carriage factory. How cool is that?!
You are reading Musings & Meanderings, a consistently inconsistent weekly newsletter about the literary life from Leslie Lindsay, and home of an archive of bestselling and debut author interviews. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can. Feel free to find my book suggestions on bookshop.org, and also check out the authors I’ve hosted in in-depth interviews HERE.
In the meantime, catch me on:
Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.
Thank you for letting me guide you on your bookish journey.
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Some of you have been reading my reviews, interviews, and meanderings for more than a decade now. That’s huge and I am so humbled. Thanks for being here.
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Wishing you much comfort and joy in the New Year!
Created by Leslie Lindsay. I’m a proud book nerd. Connect with me on Instagram, and Twitter. See what I’m reading on Bookshop.org. Find my reviews on GoodReads. I’m also a Zibby Books Ambassador.
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